5. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4)
I am still not sold on this team. They look to have one of the most-talented groups in the NFL, but can David Garrard truly win when it is asked of him?
I struggle to say that they can beat any team (outside of the Chargers and Browns) in the AFC. They have already dropped two this season to the Colts, and as hard as it is to beat a team three times in one year, Tony Dungy has established a special team that is quite possibly the exception to such rule. There is no way they beat the Patriots, and I don’t see them going into Pittsburgh and winning again.
Surely this team is good, and I am not sure whether they deserve this spot, but I think that all of those saying they could possibly be Super Bowl-bound are in for a rude awakening.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5)
A solid defense—third in yards allowed—is the main thing this team has going for them.
They have an old quarterback, and one big hit could knock him out of the game like it has throughout the season. Then, behind center would ol' Luke McCown, the kind of guy any team would love to go to a championship with. That is, as a third stringer.
Earnest Graham has had a good year replacing Cadillac Williams, but this team really hasn’t been challenged. And when they are, I don’t see them rising to the occasion. Assuming things stay as they are now, they would be facing the Giants in the first round. They could win there, but if you send them into Dallas or Green Bay, Brad Johnson and Aaron Rodgers, respectively, should warm up their arms.
3. Minnesota Vikings (8-6)
An average of 170 yards per game really shows what a solid o-line can do for you. Ever since Minnesota stole Steve Hutchinson out of Seattle, the Seahawks have been 24th in yards per game—and the Vikings 1st.
But a line to create holes and protect doesn’t make up for a less than stellar quarterback. Tarvaris Jackson has been the top passer in one of the ten games he has started—out-done by Atlanta’s Joey Harrington, Chicago’s Brian Greise, and even the 49ers’ Shaun Hill.
They say the run sets up the passing game—but in Minnesota’s case it doesn’t, making them a threat solely on the ground. I’d take those odds if I were the defensive coordinator of a playoff team.
2. San Diego Chargers (9-5)
Just five weeks ago, many were counting this team out of a playoff run. Now, they are among the top teams in the AFC. Why? The collapse of the already shaky AFC West.
So what makes this team such a threat? LaDainian Tomlinson—everything else about their team is mediocre at best. Philip Rivers, however accurate he may be, is proving along with Eli that the 2003 quarterback draft class isn’t exactly the future of the NFL.
And the defense? Sure they have big names with Shawne Merriman, Jamaal Williams, and Shaun Phillips up front, but who do they have in the secondary? Surely a close observer notes they have Florence and Jammer, but they don’t exactly have Polamalu’s curly locks blocking the visibility of the deep receiver.
Oh, and then there is Norv Turner. Let’s face it, the team was good last year, they are decent this year, and expect an early exit by this team yet again.
1. New York Giants (9-5)
When Eli Manning wasn’t being himself, this team excelled. When he was, well, a 67.7-rated quarterback averaged over three games (two wins and one loss), he's not exactly a capable quarterback in this league.
With Jeremy Shockey gone, he is forced to throw to a lazy Plaxico Burress and an old Amani Toomer. The run game is alright, but to win in the playoffs you need two sides of the ball. The defense is middle-of-the-pack, and their ability to surprise a team is unlikely.
With the yearly Tom Coughlin collapse perfectly intact, expect this team to go into Tampa Bay and lose just like they did last season in Philly.
(I don’t know what to do with this Cowboys team, as I don’t believe they are as good as their record shows.)