NFL Playoff Predictions: Who's In, Who's Out?

Carl RagsdaleCorrespondent IIIDecember 2, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 22:  Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings rushes against the Seattle Seahawks at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on November 22, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Here's my assessment of every team that is within two games of a playoff spot, and my prediction as to how far they will go. I know that things get crazy in the playoffs, and that I will probably be wrong on more than one team, but here's how I see things going for each team in their playoff aspirations.


Definitely in:

Indianapolis Colts : They've already clinched the AFC South, making this one pretty easy. With a three game lead over the second place teams in the conference, they should wrap up homefield. Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark are all playing at an amazing level, and the defense has quietly become one of the top units in the league. The only concern here is if the lack of a running game will come back to haunt them in January.

Prediction: Clinches homefield. Upset by San Diego for the third year in a row to fall short of a Super Bowl.

New England Patriots : While they got toasted by the Saints on Monday Night Football, the Patriots still have a two game lead in the division and only has to win three of its final five games to make it into the playoffs. While none of their five remaining opponents are terrible (Dolphins, Panthers, Bills, Jaguars, and Texans), none of them have been very consistent this year. With a top tier offense, they should get into the playoffs. The major issue could be defense if Belicheck doesn't get things straightened out. They've also been incredibly inconsistent on the road.

Prediction: Might get a first round win at home, but hard to imagine them going on the road against the Chargers, Colts, or Bengals and getting a win. One win, then out.

San Diego Chargers : It might sound a bit premature to put the Chargers in when they only have a one game lead in the division, but they have been on fire the last six games. They have a recent history of finishing the season strong, and it's looking like they will do so again on their way to another AFC West title. This is a team to watch in the playoffs because they have upset the Colts several times in recent years, including Indy's last two playoff losses.

Prediction: They always match up well with the Colts, and nobody in the AFC is playing better than they are right now. More than capable of going into Indianapolis and getting the upset. Second seed in the playoffs, AFC Champions.

Cincinnati Bengals : They have a two game lead over the Steelers and Ravens and have swept both teams. They only need three more wins to clinch the division, or some Steeler and Raven losses. They get to play Detroit and Kansas City. December 13th they have a road game against the Vikings which should give us a good indication as to whether or not this team is ready for a Super Bowl run.

Prediction: They have a really good team, but I'm still convinced the Chargers and Colts are better. Wins in the first round at home, but loses in the second round.

Fighting for a spot:

Baltimore Ravens : This is a team that is better than their record indicates. They gave the Colts all they could handle, took the Vikings right down to a missed field goal, and came within a few plays of beating the Patriots. They have shown the potential to be one of the best teams in the conference; they just have to play that way on a consistent basis.

Prediction: With Detroit, Oakland, and Chicago on the schedule, they get to 10 wins and get a wild card. Could be an interesting matchup if they play the Bengals again.

Denver Broncos : They got off to an extremely hot start, but are now fighting to keep up with the Chargers. Still in good position for a Wild Card though, and they get two games against the Chiefs and one against the Raiders. AFC West division games are always tough, but if they keep their focus, they are more than capable of winning all three and getting to at least 10 wins.

Prediction:The get one of the Wild Card spots. Their playoff success depends on which division winner they play. If they get New England, they have a good chance based on recent history to get a win. If they get the Bengals, they get a first round exit.

Pittsburgh Steelers : They are the defending Super Bowl champions, and have the talent on both sides of the ball to be competitive, but they need to stop the slide. They've lost three in a row and are now tied with the Jaguars and Ravens for the sixth playoff spot. They have a good chance of turning things around with the Browns and Raiders as their next two games, but they have to play better if they want to get back to the Super Bowl. They need Roethlisberger back, and not having Polamalu hurts their chances.

Prediction: Fall short of the playoffs

Jacksonville Jaguars : This is a team that doesn't get a lot of attention from the media, but they are tied with the Steelers and Ravens for the last Wild Card spot. Maurice Jones-Drew is vastly underappreciated, and they are quietly in a good position to possibly make a playoff push. They have to play the Colts and Patriots, but remember that they gave the Colts all that they could handle in Week 1, and the Colts might have homefield clinched by that point. It's not entirely impossible, but I still say they fall short.

Prediction: Fall short of the playoffs

Tennessee Titans : They got off to an 0—6 start, but have managed five wins in a row to put them in position to possibly scoop up a Wild Card. The defense has been much more consistent since the Patriots game, and Chris Johnson has really come alive in his second season. They still have to play the Colts and Chargers though, but by Week 16 the Chargers might have the AFC West wrapped up and not be playing for anything. We'll see, but I think the magical run falls just short.

Prediction: Fall short of the playoffs

Houston Texans : They sit at 5—6 after being 5—3 not too long ago. Three heartbreaking losses in the fourth quarter in their last three games has them in a tough spot. If they want to make a playoff push, they have to get better at finishing games. Other than that, they do have the talent to be competitive, and they had the Colts on the ropes in both matchups this year. The potential is there for the next few years, but not this year.

Prediction: Fall short of the playoffs

Miami Dolphins : They have the potential to compete against elite teams, which they showed in competitive games against the Saints and Colts. They just have to turn those close games into wins. Not having Ronnie Brown or Chad Pennington is a huge blow to the offense, and I think the injuries cause them to fall short.

Prediction: Fall short of the playoffs

New York Jets : At one point, this team looked like it might win the AFC East. However, with 4 losses inside of the division, any hopes of that are faint at best. Their last two games are against the Colts and Bengals, which might be good if both teams have wrapped up a playoff spot by then. I just don't see this team playing well enough to make it it.

Prediction: Fall short of the playoffs

Buffalo Bills : With 7 losses already, they would need some serious help to make the playoffs, even if they do win out. New England and Indianapolis are on the schedule, making it that much more difficult.

Prediction: Fall short of the playoffs


Definitely in:

New Orleans Saints : They made a serious statement when they picked the Patriots apart on a nationally televised game. Their offense is playing at an unbelievable level, the defense is first in the NFL in takeaways, and they only need one more win or one more Falcons loss to clinch the NFC South. Brees is my pick for league MVP right now. The only possible concern is the run defense, but the Saints overcome it and end the playoff woes of this franchise.

Prediction: Super Bowl champions

Minnesota Vikings : Getting Brett Favre was exactly the thing this team needed to compete for a Super Bowl, and he's playing at an unbelievable level. The running game is very solid with AP, and the defense is playing very well. While I still think the Saints will knock them out of the playoffs, it could very well go the other way.

Prediction:No. 2 seed, lose to Saints in NFC Championship Game

Arizona Cardinals : The fact that they are in a weak division and have a two game lead puts them in. While I don't think they will win a Super Bowl, they showed us last year just how crazy things can get in January.

Prediction: Win a home playoff game, knocked out by Saints or Vikings

Fighting for a Spot :

Dallas Cowboys : The main reason I don't have them as definitely in is that they have a recent history of struggling in December, the Eagles are still right on their tails, and they still have to play the Chargers, Saints, Giants, and Eagles. Also, they looked very unimpressive against the Packers and Redskins. Despite all of that, they are still 8-3 and in good position to get a playoff spot. My bias as an Eagles' fan prevents me from giving them any more than a Wild Card berth.

Prediction: Wild Card, maybe one playoff win

Philadelphia Eagles : They are at 7—4 and one game out of first place in the East. Plenty of explosive weapons on offense, but they need to play with more consistency. Injuries in the linebackers could come back to haunt the defense, but they still have a good chance of taking the East.

Prediction: Win the NFC East, get a playoff win at home then lose to either the Saints or Vikings

New York Giants : The Giants have lost 5 of their last 6 games, and things don't get any easier with their next three games all within the division and a road game against the Vikings to close the season. If Eli Manning's new injury is anything serious, this situation could get ugly.

Prediction: Fall short of the playoffs

Green Bay Packers : After getting upset by the Bucs, the Packers have won three in a row. The offense is improving its protection, and the defense is first in yards allowed. If they can keep improving, they could be a force in the playoffs. Any hopes of winning the division were crushed when the Vikings swept them, but they could be a surprise team in the playoffs.

Prediction: Wild Card team, possibly get an upset win or two, but eventually knocked out

Atlanta Falcons: At 6—5, they still have a shot. They need to be more consistent, and not having Matt Ryan hurts. If Chris Redman does a good job or Ryan gets back immediately, they might make it in by the skin of their teeth. If not, they still have the pieces in place for years to come.

Prediction: Fall short of the playoffs

San Francisco 49ers : They are two games back in both the division and the Wild Card race. With a win against Arizona early in the season and another game against Arizona coming up, they still have the potential to be a serious surprise. They haven't shown me enough to get the benefit of the doubt though, and I'm picking them to fall short.

Prediction: Fall short of the playoffs