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NFL Playoff Projections and Game Picks for the Stretch Run

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NFL Playoff Projections and Game Picks for the Stretch Run
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AFC

1. Houston Texans (AFC South Champs)

Record: 10-1

Projected Record: 14-2

Week 13 at Tennessee: Win

Week 14 at New England: Loss

Week 15 vs. Indianapolis: Win

Week 16 vs. Minnesota: Win

Week 17 at Indianapolis: Win

 

Although the Texans haven’t looked particularly impressive in their past two games, I would still be quite surprised if they didn’t end up with home-field advantage in the AFC. With only one loss, the Texans are at least two games up in the loss column on every other AFC team except for the Ravens.

 

2. Baltimore Ravens (AFC North Champs)

Record: 8-2

Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Projected Record: 12-4

Week 12 at San Diego: Win

Week 13 vs. Pittsburgh: Win

Week 14 at Washington: Win

Week 15 vs. Denver: Win

Week 16 vs. Giants: Loss

Week 17 at Cincinnati: Loss

 

After beating Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the Ravens hold the inside track to the AFC North title. The main reason I think they’ll win the division is Ben Roethlisberger’s injury. It was the main reason the Steelers lost in Week 11, and it’s looking doubtful that Roethlisberger will be able to play in Week 13 as well. With a sweep of the Steelers, the Ravens would have to really fall apart down the stretch in order to not win the division.

 

3. New England Patriots (AFC East Champs)

Record: 8-3

Projected Record: 12-4

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Week 13 at Miami: Win

Week 14 vs. Houston: Win

Week 15 vs. San Francisco: Loss

Week 16 at Jacksonville: Win

Week 17 vs. Miami: Win

 

As usual, it looks like the Patriots are going to win the AFC East. If they can finish the job, it will mark the Pats' ninth division title in 10 years, which is exactly why I consider the AFC East to be the most boring division in the NFL year after year. The Patriots will head into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league—no one is going to want to play them.

 

4. Denver Broncos (AFC West Champs)

Record: 7-3

Projected Record: 11-5

Week 12 at Kansas City: Win

Week 13 vs. Tampa Bay: Loss

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Week 14 at Oakland: Win

Week 15 at Baltimore: Loss

Week 16 vs. Cleveland: Win

Week 17 vs. Kansas City: Win

 

The Broncos are in the AFC West driver's seat, but how they finish the year will be crucial for them in terms of seeding. The way Tampa Bay is playing right now, I see an upset brewing Week 13. Picking the Ravens to lose at home is usually a bad idea, so I see another Broncos loss coming in Week 15.

 

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 6-4

Projected Record: 11-5

Week 12 at Cleveland: Win

Week 13 at Baltimore: Loss

Week 14 vs. San Diego: Win

Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Week 15 at Dallas: Win

Week 16 vs. Cincinnati: Win

Week 17 vs. Cleveland: Win

 

This is probably the riskiest set of picks I made due to the high level of uncertainty surrounding Ben Roethlisberger. If Roethlisberger was more likely to return for Week 13 at Baltimore, I probably would have picked the Steelers to win that game. With San Diego and Dallas fading, the Steelers have a solid chance to beat both teams, even if Roethlisberger isn’t able to return in time. The Steelers can lean on their No. 1 defense and improving running game in Roethlisberger’s absence. He had better be back in time for the key Week 16 matchup against the Bengals, which could determine a wild card spot.

 

6. Cincinnati Bengals

Record: 5-5

Projected Record: 9-7

Week 12 vs. Oakland: Win

Week 13 at San Diego: Win

Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Week 14 vs. Dallas: Loss

Week 15 at Philadelphia: Win

Week 16 at Pittsburgh: Loss

Week 17 vs. Baltimore: Win

 

The likelihood of the Bengals beating out the Colts for the final AFC wild card spot is a little above 50 percent in my opinion. While the Bengals are a game behind the Colts in the loss column heading into Week 12, they have more momentum right now. I think Baltimore will have the division wrapped up by Week 17 and sit some starters, giving the Bengals a solid shot to win and secure a playoff spot.

 

Indianapolis Colts

Record: 6-4

Projected Record: 8-8

Week 12 vs. Buffalo: Win

Week 13 at Detroit: Loss

Week 14 vs. Tennessee: Loss

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Week 15 at Houston: Loss

Week 16 at Kansas City: Win

Week 17 vs. Houston: Loss

 

I have a feeling the Colts are really going to fall apart down the stretch. The truth is they’re lucky to be sitting at 6-4 right now. The Colts have a below-average defense, an average running game, and a rookie quarterback who has thrown just as many interceptions (12) as he has touchdowns. Despite being 6-4, the Colts are minus-50 in point differential this season.

 

NFC

 

1. Atlanta Falcons (NFC South Champs)

Record: 9-1

Projected Record: 13-3

Week 12 at Tampa Bay: Win

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Week 13 vs. New Orleans: Loss

Week 14 at Carolina: Win

Week 15 vs. Giants: Loss

Week 16 at Detroit: Win

Week 17 vs. Tampa Bay: Win

 

The Falcons have some tough games remaining, but I still expect them to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Sunday’s upcoming game at Tampa Bay was a tough call, but I think Matt Ryan should be able to rebound and have a big game against the Bucs' weak pass defense. I think they’re going to catch the Saints at the wrong time and lose in Week 13. The Week 15 Giants game will depend largely on what kind of momentum the Giants will be carrying.

 

2. Green Bay Packers (NFC North Champs)

Record: 7-3)

Projected Record: 12-4

Week 12 at Giants: Win

Week 13 vs. Minnesota: Win

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Week 14 vs. Detroit: Win

Week 15 at Chicago: Loss

Week 16 vs. Tennessee: Win

Week 17 at Minnesota: Win

 

After trailing the Bears for much of the season in the NFC North race, the Packers are now favorites in my eyes to take home the division. Their schedule the rest of the way isn’t easy, but they’ve now won five in a row and are only getting healthier as a team. The only games I can see them losing are this week against the Giants and Week 15 at Soldier Field, but I think they’ll beat the Giants.

 

3. San Francisco 49ers (NFC West Champs)

Record: 7-2-1

Projected Record: 11-4-1

Week 12 at New Orleans: Loss

Week 13 at St. Louis: Win

Week 14 vs. Miami: Win

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Week 15 at New England: Win

Week 16 at Seattle: Loss

Week 17 vs. Arizona: Win

 

The NFC West race is closer than I initially expected it to be this season, but there’s still no doubt in my mind that the 49ers will win the division for the second year in a row. The only thing I could see tearing them down would be if Colin Kaepernick regresses and is replaced by Alex Smith, who in turn is short on confidence as a result of being benched by Jim Harbaugh. Due to this possibility, I disagree with Harbaugh’s decision to start Kaepernick over Smith in New Orleans this week.

 

4. New York Giants (NFC East Champs)

Record: 6-4

Projected Record: 10-6

Week 12 vs. Green Bay: Loss

Week 13 at Washington: Loss

Week 14 vs. New Orleans: Win

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Week 15 at Atlanta: Win

Week 16 at Baltimore: Win

Week 17 vs. Philadelphia: Win

 

I think the Giants' November struggles will continue against the Packers and carry into Washington in Week 13. None of their remaining games will be easy, but I think the Giants will catch fire at the right time as they often do for the stretch run and hold off the Redskins and Cowboys in the NFC East.

 

5. Chicago Bears

Record: 7-3

Projected Record: 11-5

Week 12 vs. Minnesota: Win

Week 13 vs. Seattle: Win

Week 14 at Minnesota: Loss

Week 15 vs. Green Bay: Win

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Week 16 at Arizona: Win

Week 17 at Detroit: Loss

 

Right now Jay Cutler’s status for Week 12 remains up in the air, but my gut feeling is that he will play. Although the Bears appear to be falling apart right now, I think Cutler’s return will get them back to playing the kind of football they were earlier in the season.

 

6. Seattle Seahawks

Record: 6-4

Projected Record: 10-6

Week 12 at Miami: Win

Week 13 at Chicago: Loss

Week 14 vs. Arizona: Win

Week 15 at Buffalo: Loss

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Week 16 vs. San Francisco: Win

Week 17 vs. St. Louis: Win

 

There’s a lot to like about the Seahawks in 2012, and I think they will indeed make the playoffs. However, with some tough games remaining, I don’t expect the Seahawks to finish with a better record than 10-6.

 

New Orleans Saints

Record: 5-5

Projected Record: 9-7

Week 12 vs. San Francisco: Win

Week 13 at Atlanta: Win

Week 14 at Giants: Loss

Week 15 vs. Tampa Bay: Win

Week 16 at Dallas: Loss

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Week 17 vs. Carolina: Win

 

I think the Saints will stay hot the rest of the way, but it’s going to be too little too late. Even with them knocking off the 49ers and Falcons in the coming weeks, I still don’t think they’ll make it. I could be wrong in my predicted Week-16 upset, but either way I doubt the Saints win five out of their remaining six with their lethal schedule.

 

Tampa Bay Bucs

Record: 6-4

Projected Record: 9-7

Week 12 vs. Atlanta: Loss

Week 13 at Denver: Win

Week 14 vs. Philadelphia: Win

Week 15 at New Orleans: Loss

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Week 16 at St. Louis: Win

Week 17 at Atlanta: Loss

 

The Bucs are a really good story this season, but I don’t think they’re a playoff team. The remaining record of the rest of their schedule is 38-23-1. I don’t like the way their defense matches up against the Falcons' potent passing attack, and don’t see them winning either game against Atlanta. If I’m right about Atlanta, then even if they can knock off Denver or New Orleans, it would still leave them on the outside looking in at 9-7.

 

Minnesota Vikings

Record: 6-4

Projected Record: 8-8

Week 12 at Chicago: Loss

Week 13 at Green Bay: Loss

Week 14 vs. Chicago: Win

Week 15 at St. Louis: Win

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Week 16 at Houston: Loss

Week 17 vs. Green Bay: Loss

 

The Vikings have the hardest remaining schedule in the league with a combined opponent record of 41-19-1, but they don’t belong in the playoffs anyway. The Vikings just simply aren’t good enough. If their defense was better it would help make up for their underwhelming passing attack; they’ve given up 132 points in the last five games and rank 30th in passing yards per game.

 

Washington Redskins

Record: 5-6

Projected Record: 8-8

Week 13 vs. Giants: Win

Week 14 vs. Baltimore: Loss

Week 15 at Cleveland: Win

Week 16 at Philadelphia: Loss

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Week 17 vs. Dallas: Win

 

With the Redskins' big Thanksgiving win over the Cowboys, not only are they still alive in the NFC East, they’re becoming fashionable picks to win the division. I say not so fast. The Redskins beat a Cowboys team that frankly isn’t very good. I think they’ll get to at least 8-8 and I’m picking them over the Giants in Week 13, but I still don’t see them winning the division.

 

Dallas Cowboys

Record: 5-6

Projected Record: 7-9

Week 13 vs. Philadelphia: Loss

Week 14 at Cincinnati: Win

Week 15 vs. Pittsburgh: Loss

Week 16 vs. New Orleans: Win

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Week 17 at Washington: Loss

 

The Cowboys are basically done now after losing at home to the Redskins, but I never thought they had much of a chance of making the playoffs anyway. With road tests remaining at Cincinnati and Washington, and home games against the Steelers and Saints, the Cowboys would be extremely lucky to make it back to .500 by season's end.

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