Now that week 16 is almost in the books (other than the one Min/Chi game that would not affect the standings), let's take a look at how the playoff picture looks now.
Right now, there are five teams in the wild-card race. If Baltimore Ravens win against the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets win against a Bengals team that might be looking to rest their starters, and I believe they will, then the two teams will secure the two wild card spots, with the Ravens being the higher ranked team based on a better record against common opponents.
For the sake of discussion, we shall assume that the Jets and Ravens both win.
AFC Wild-Card Round
The Jets will face division rivals the Patriots in what is surely to be a heated contest. The Ravens will then face their division leaders as well in the Cincinnati Bengals, while players from the Chargers and the Colts can enjoy the action from their living rooms as they get a bye.
New England Patriots vs. New York Jets
Their four straight victories leading up to week 16 claimed the AFC East Crown, and also unveiled the Tom Brady of old. The Patriots defense looks suspect at times, but expect the Moss-Welker-Brady axis to be too strong for the Jets defense.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Jets 10
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens
The Cincinnati Bengals play with heavy hearts, as they lost two endearing members of their team. The wife of defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, was like a mother to the players, while wide receiver Chris Henry passed away in an unfortunate incident.
The Ravens have been inconsistent this year, and have not strung together consecutive victories since Week 3. Expect the Bengals defense to torture Joe Flacco and the Bengals to come out on top.
Prediction: Bengals 21, Ravens 17
AFC Divisional Round
Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots
There is no way to choose between the two most successful franchises of the decade and be absolutely sure of your decision.
I'll go with the New England Patriots because they have a coach in Bill Belichick, who has to be considered in "best coach ever" debates, while Jim Caldwell is still unproven in the playoffs. Expect a squeaker.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Colts 27
San Diego Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The Chargers are riding a 10 game winning streak and there have been calls for Phillip Rivers to be considered as NFL MVP of the season. I don't think he deserves the award.
I also don't think their defense can stop Cedric Benson. The bye week is probably a bane rather than a boon for the Chargers, who I predict will go one and done in the playoffs, then costing Norv Turner his job.
Prediction: Bengals 21, Chargers 17
New England Patriots vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Yes, I'm predicting the third and fourth seeds to be in the AFC Final. It'll be a classic battle of a running Bengals offense against a passing Patriots offense in a battle to see who can wear down the opponent more. The Bengals are going to the Super Bowl!
Prediction: Bengals 17, Patriots 14
For NFC and Super Bowl predictions, go to wearesports.wordpress.com