NFL Playoff Predictions: Who Will Get In?

Justin EisenbandCorrespondent INovember 28, 2010

NFL Playoff Predictions: Who Will Get In?

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    NEW ORLEANS - NOVEMBER 21:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints reacts after a first down against the Seattle Seahawks at Louisiana Superdome on November 21, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    NFL Week 12 is about the time of year when the playoff picture begins to take shape. Already we have seen the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, and New York Jets win on Thanksgiving and emerge as favorites for playoff spots.

    The divisional and wild card races this year are sure to be extremely heated. Every NFL division in both conferences has either a tie for the division lead or the top two teams are within one game of each other.

    Some teams like the New England Patriots and New York Jets appear to have locked up spots. Others like the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts face steeper battles.

    As Week 12 approaches, here are playoff projections for how the last six weeks will pan out:

NFC 1. Atlanta Falcons

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    ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 11:  Roddy White #84 of the Atlanta Falcons against the Baltimore Ravens at Georgia Dome on November 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Current Record: 8-2

    At 8-2, the Atlanta Falcons have the best record in the NFC. Their biggest threat to losing the No. 1 seed actually comes from within their division in the New Orleans Saints.

    Atlanta has had one of the most balanced offenses this season led by Matt Ryan and Roddy White, who are both having career years. Additionally, Michael Turner has returned to form from his 2008 campaign after an injury-plagued 2009 season.

    Atlanta's biggest advantage towards their path to the No. 1 seed could be their schedule. Atlanta has two games left against Carolina and one against Seattle.

    However, tough matchups do loom with Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and New Orleans at home. Expect the Falcons to win at least four of those six remaining games.

    Projected Record: 13-3

    Projected Seed: First

NFC 2. Philadelphia Eagles

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    PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 21:  Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates after defeating the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on November 21, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Current Record: 7-3

    The Philadelphia Eagles have ridden a three-game win streak to the top of the NFC East. The wins were not easy, either, coming against the Indianapolis Colts and divisional foes Washington and New York.

    Michael Vick has been unstoppable throughout the season. Despite missing three games and most of a fourth game, Vick has been mentioned in the conversation for NFL MVP this season. Vick is yet to throw a single interception this season and has not lost a fumble yet either.

    The Eagles are on pace to have two 1,000-yard receivers this season in Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. LeSean McCoy has also emerged as a suitable replacement for Brian Westbrook and is on pace for over 1150 rushing yards, 610 receiving yards, and 12 total touchdowns.

    Four of the six games remaining on the Eagles schedule come against sub-.500 teams. The Eagles will likely be able to win either four or five of their remaining games to take the NFC East title.

    Projected Record: 12-4

    Projected Seed: Second

NFC 3. Green Bay Packers

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    GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 03: Greg Jennings #85 of the Green Bay Packers is grabbed by fans after scoring a first half touchdown against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on October 3, 2010 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Lions 28-26. (Ph
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Current Record: 7-3

    After a disappointing 3-3 start, the Green Bay Packers have won four games in a row to put them into a tie with the Chicago Bears for a share of the lead in the NFC North.

    Particularly, Green Bay has been dominant within their last three games. The Packers have outscored the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, and Minnesota Vikings 85-10 over the past three games.

    While not quite as good as last year, Aaron Rodgers is still having a fantastic season. Despite an early injury to Jermichael Finley who is out for the season, the Packers receivers have stepped in to replace the lost production. Greg Jennings is on pace for 14 touchdowns, and both James Jones and Jordy Nelson are on pace for career highs in receiving yards.

    In the next six games, Green Bay has the Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, and the New England Patriots on the schedule; however, they do also have the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers.

    The Packers's playoff position will likely depend on the final showdown with Chicago on Jan. 2. This game could have both divisional and playoff implications. Green Bay seems to have the more talented team, and the home-field advantage should help the Packers secure the division.

    Projected Record: 11-5

    Projected Seed: Third

NFC 4. St. Louis Rams

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    ST. LOUIS - NOVEMBER 21: Sam Bradford #8 of the St. Louis Rams passes against the Atlanta Falcons at the Edward Jones Dome on November 21, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Falcons beat the Rams 34-17.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Current Record: 4-6

    The St. Louis Rams are attempting to become one of the more remarkable comeback stories in NFL history. After a 1-15 record in the 2009 season, the Rams and No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford have a chance to win the hapless NFC West.

    Bradford is on pace for a record-breaking season for a rookie. He is on pace for nearly 3500 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. Lately, the Rams rookie has been even more impressive. In his last five games, Bradford has thrown for eight touchdowns to just one interception.

    Stephen Jackson is on pace for his sixth straight season with 1,000 yards rushing. Danny Amendola has emerged as a top target for Sam Bradford and is on pace for 96 receptions this season.

    The defense has been much improved in the second season under Steve Spagnuolo. The Rams have allowed more than 20 points just three times this season and rank 10th against the run in the NFL.

    The remaining schedule features the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, and the season finale on the road against the Seahawks. Likely, the Rams will have to win all four of these games, with the other two against tough teams Kansas City and New Orleans.

    If the Rams do make it to 8-8 and win the finale against Seattle, they would have the tiebreaker against the Seahawks.

    Projected Record: 8-8

    Projected Seed: Fourth

NFC 5. New Orleans Saints

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    NEW ORLEANS - NOVEMBER 21:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints signals a first down against the Seattle Seahawks at Louisiana Superdome on November 21, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Current Record: 8-3

    The defending Super Bowl Champions will have a difficult path to the playoffs this season. In the competitive NFC South, which features three teams at 7-3 or better, only one team can emerge as division champions, leaving the other two fighting for wild card spots. With Atlanta projected to win the division, the Saints will have to claim one of these spots.

    Drew Brees continues to demonstrate why he is the best quarterback in the NFC with terrific performances and is on pace for another season with 4,500-plus passing yards and 30-plus passing touchdowns.

    However, his interception totals are uncharacteristically high. Brees already has thrown 15 picks which is four more than his overall total of 11 last season.

    The Saints haven't been as dominant this year because of injuries in the running game. Pierre Thomas hasn't played since Week 3, and Reggie Bush just returned this week against the Cowboys.

    With both players expected to rejoin the offense fully within the next couple of weeks, expect the Saints to improve on their 25th-ranked rushing attack.

    The next two weeks against the Bengals and Rams should allow the Saints to reach 10 wins. New Orleans will have to then win at least one game out of the next three against Baltimore, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay.

    Two of those three games are on the road. New Orleans should be able to get to 11 wins and guarantee themselves a wild card spot.

    Projected Record: 11-5

    Projected Seed: Fifth

NFC 6. New York Giants

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 14:  Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants reacts against the Dallas Cowboys on November 14, 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Cowboys defeated the Giants 33-20.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Current Record: 6-4

    The New York Giants looked like the best team in the NFC until the last two weeks. The Giants lost against both Dallas and Philadelphia to lose control of their own destiny within the NFC East.

    The Giants also face an uphill battle against injuries. Wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith will both be sidelined for a couple of weeks. Fumbling problems have led to the benching of Ahmad Bradshaw in favor of Brandon Jacobs.

    Still, the Giants have the talent to get to the 10 wins likely needed to get a wild card spot. Despite a tough schedule in which only one of six remaining games is against a sub-.500 opponent, the Giants have the tools to succeed.

    New York has one of the best defenses in the NFL and rank in the top five against both the pass and the run. Offensively, the Giants have scored 20 or more points in six of their 10 games.

    The Giants will need to avoid slips like the one against the Cowboys, but if they do, they have the chance to make some noise as the sixth seed in the NFC this year.

    Projected Record: 10-6

    Projected Seed: Sixth

AFC 1. New England Patriots

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    DETROIT - NOVEMBER 25:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots drops back to pass during the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on November 25, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. New England defeated Detroit 45-24.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Current Record: 9-2

    Even without Randy Moss, the New England Patriots are finding ways to win. Despite a young defense that has not been as good as previous New England teams, the Patriots offense has lifted this team to a 9-2 record.

    Tom Brady has some new targets in all-around player Danny Woodhead (running back, wide receiver, special teams), tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and second-year wide receiver Brandon Tate.

    BenJarvus Green-Ellis, nicknamed The Law Firm, has emerged as a featured back in the carousel of running backs that is characteristic of a Bill Belichick team.

    As long as the Patriots continue to overcome a pass defense that ranks second-worst in the NFL, they have the inside track to the No. 1 seed.

    A home game next Monday night against the New York Jets will likely decide the fate of both the division and the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

    Projected Record: 13-3

    Projected Seed: First

AFC 2. Baltimore Ravens

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 21:  Ed Reed #20 of the Baltimore Ravens against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 21, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Current Record: 7-3

    Baltimore has emerged from a very difficult first 10 games to share the division lead with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens have already played New England, the New York Jets, Pittsburgh on the road, and Atlanta this season. Against the rest of their opponents, Baltimore has five wins and zero losses.

    Joe Flacco has established an excellent rapport with new addition Anquan Boldin. Now in his third year, Flacco has improved in each of his seasons in the NFL. While not quite as dominant as last year, Ray Rice has been excellent in the backfield for the Ravens.

    As always, the defense has been balanced and effective in limiting opponents' scoring. The Ravens have given up more than 20 points in just three games this season. Since Ed Reed's return from injury, he has four interceptions and a forced fumble in four games.

    In order to win the division, Baltimore will likely have to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Dec. 5. If the Ravens get the best of the Steelers in this game, not only will they have a chance to have a better record, but will guarantee themselves the tie-breaker against Pittsburgh.

    Projected Record: 11-5

    Projected Seed: Second

AFC 3. Indianapolis Colts

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    FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 21:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots on November 21, 2010 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Colts 31-2
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Current Record: 6-4

    While at 6-4, the Indianapolis Colts remain tied for a share of the division lead in the AFC South, Peyton Manning is not used to fighting for his playoff life this late into the season.

    The Colts are most definitely not the same team they have been in recent years; however, any team with Peyton Manning has a great chance to make their way into the playoffs.

    Manning is second in the NFL in passing yards per game at just a hair under 300 passing yards per game. The problem has been consistency in the running game.

    The Colts rank just 28th in rushing yards per game in the NFL. Donald Brown has been ineffective and an injury to Joseph Addai has kept him on the sidelines since Week 6.

    The Colts' schedule is no cakewalk the rest of the way, but they should pick up at least four wins that will probably be necessary to take the division.

    Projected Record: 10-6

    Projected Seed: Third

AFC 4. San Diego Chargers

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    SAN DIEGO - NOVEMBER 22:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers prior to the start of the NFL football game against Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium on November 22, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Imag
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Current Record: 5-5

    The San Diego Chargers are working their way back after an abysmal 2-5 start. The Chargers have won their last three games by an average margin of just under 12 points.

    San Diego is led by Philip Rivers and the number one passing game in the NFL. Rivers is on pace to eclipse the 5,000 passing yards benchmark this season and will only improve with the return of one of his favorite targets, Vincent Jackson, who ends his holdout this week.

    The rushing game has struggled without LaDainian Tomlinson, especially considering Ryan Matthews has disappointed as a rookie. Mike Tolbert has filled in nicely, but the Chargers are clearly a pass-first offense.

    The defense has been particularly impressive this season and much improved. The Chargers have the top-ranked passing defense and No. 4-ranked rushing defense in the NFL this season.

    Out of San Diego's six remaining opponents, four teams have records of .500 or worse. Additionally, three of the opponents are in the AFC West, so the Chargers will have greater control of their own destiny.

    Even if the Chargers lose at Indianapolis this week, they could run the table against the rest of their opponents if they continue the way they have been playing.

    Projected Record: 10-6

    Projected Seed: Fourth

AFC 5. New York Jets

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 25: Head Coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets watche the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at New Meadowlands Stadium on November 25, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets defeated the Bengal 26-10.  (Photo by Chris
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Current Record: 9-2

    Unfortunately for Rex Ryan, the New York Jets play in the same division as the New England Patriots, which means unless they can beat the Patriots next Monday, they will likely have to settle for a wild card spot.

    Mark Sanchez has displayed tons of improvement in his second season as Jets quarterback. He is on pace for more than 3,500 passing yards and has improved dramatically on his interception problem.

    The Jets have some of the best offensive weapons in the AFC including Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jerricho Cotchery, Dustin Keller and Shonn Greene.

    Defensively, the Jets continue to stifle opponents as they did last year with the No. 1 defense in the NFL. While lapses have been more common this season, the Jets defense has still carried them in several games this season. Overall, this is a much more balanced team than last year's squad.

    The Jets could have trouble next week visiting the Patriots and the rest of the schedule is not much easier. Four of the five remaining games come against teams that are .500 or better, including road games against the Patriots, Steelers, and Bears.

    Consequently, the Jets will probably have to settle for a wild card spot despite the terrific 9-2 start.

    Projected Record: 12-4

    Projected Seed: Fifth

AFC 6. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 21:  Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after catching a pass for a first down against the Oakland Raiders during the game on November 21, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerha
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Current Record: 7-3

    Another perennial playoff team, the Pittsburgh Steelers will once again find a way to get into the postseason. The Steelers have had trouble with talented teams this year losing to New England, New Orleans, and Baltimore this season. All three teams have records of 7-3 or better.

    Ben Roethlisberger has been terrific since coming back from suspension. Mike Wallace has sufficiently replaced Santonio Holmes' production and has also displaced Hines Ward as the No. 1 receiver in Pittsburgh.

    Rashard Mendenhall has improved immensely in his third season and has been counted on to a greater degree as a featured back with Willie Parker gone.

    The defense again is impressive holding opponents to just 63 rushing yards per game. Aside from New England's 39 point performance against the Steelers, the defense has held all opponents under 23 points this season.

    The schedule is much more favorable from here on out. The Steelers should be able to blow through Cleveland, Carolina, Cincinnati, and Buffalo, although the team may find trouble against the Jets and Ravens. Look for the Steelers to get to 11-5, but lose the tiebreaker to the Ravens.

    Projected Record: 11-5

    Projected Seed: Sixth