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Baltimore and New England look like they will clinch a playoff berth soon.
With only five weeks left in the regular season, you would like to believe that any division leader with at least a 2.5-3-game lead would be safe for the postseason.
Sure, anything can happen, but the main reason that these teams have such a wide margin is that they are all really good, well-balanced teams. Major injuries would have to strike for these teams not to qualify for the postseason.
As we stated in the cover slide, Atlanta and Houston have already clinched a playoff spot.
We will group San Francisco, New England, Baltimore and Denver into this "teams that are safe" slide. A brief note on each team heading into the postseason:
No. 4—Baltimore: The Ravens (9-2) continue to find ways to win, even though their overall defense is a shell of what it used to be. Key injuries have created some depth issues, and teams are able to move the ball on the defense much easier than in prior years. The expected return of Ray Lewis would help, but the Ravens don't seem to be as strong as they were in 2011.
No. 3—Denver: Even though the Broncos (8-3) won the AFC West and picked up a playoff win against Pittsburgh in 2011, they look to be markedly better on both offense and defense this year. Credit goes to Peyton Manning and Von Miller for leading each unit respectively. The Broncos will be a dangerous team if they get to play a game or two at home in the playoffs. For that to happen they can't afford to lose any more games.
No. 2—New England: The Patriots (8-3) have to hope that Rob Gronkowski will be healthy and ready to go when the playoffs begin. He is such an important part of their offense( as noted earlier, he's tied with A.J. Green for most touchdown receptions in 2012 with 10).
Despite numerous injuries to key offensive players, the Patriots are able to reload from one week to the next and keep rolling along. The defense has improved since last year, and the rookie additions have helped out more than most people expected.
No. 1—San Francisco: The 49ers (8-2-1) have some controversy over who Jim Harbaugh should name as starting quarterback. Is this a good problem, or something that will be a major distraction that could divide the locker room?
The veteran players probably side with Alex Smith, while the younger players like the energy that Colin Kaepernick brings to the offense. The 49ers will be a scary team either way in the playoffs, thanks to their tremendous defense.
Since Kaepernick has led them to wins over Chicago and New Orleans, it would not be a surprise if he winds up starting the rest of the way.
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