Week 12 of the NFL will end with one of the uglier Monday Night games we have seen in a long time, with the 3-7 San Francisco 49ers going to play the 3-7 Arizona Cardinals.
With the year almost three-fourths of the way over, it is time to start looking at the potential playoff games that will happen. These projections are still relatively early given the fickle nature of the NFL.
So a lot of the current matchups will likely not be the same ones that actually happen.
Here are the current playoff teams in both conferences right now:
Philadelphia wins the East.
Chicago wins the North and first-round bye.
Atlanta wins the South and first-round bye.
St. Louis wins the West (because league rules say someone has to go to the playoffs from that division).
New Orleans & New York Giants earn the two wild-card spots.
New York Jets win the East and first-round bye.
Baltimore wins the North and first-round bye.
Jacksonville wins the South.
Kansas City wins the West.
New England & Pittsburgh earn the two wild-card spots.
These two NFC Eastern division rivals would meet up in one of the two wild-card round games.
It would be the third matchup between the two teams this year.
The Giants are a Jekyll and Hyde kind of team. They have the parts to make a run at another Super Bowl; it's just a matter of which team shows up.
They started the year looking awful in two games against Indianapolis and Tennessee. Then they won five games in a row and looked like one of the best teams in football.
Then, an ugly loss to Dallas and a hard-fought loss to the Eagles had them going into another downward spiral. They came back in Week 12 to beat Jacksonville.
They are in the top three in both total offense and defense. It's just a matter of if they want to play.
This has been the year of redemption for Michael Vick. He took over at QB for the Eagles in Week 1 when Kevin Kolb got hurt, and has been playing the best football of his life.
He did miss a few weeks with a rib injury. But he has been an MVP candidate for this Eagles team that would not be where they are without him.
They have some of the best playmakers in the NFL with Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek.
These two teams match up very well against each other. I would give the edge to the Eagles since the game is in Philly.
Eagles 27, Giants 21.
If everything holds, at least St. Louis could take comfort in the steps that they took this year.
Sam Bradford has shown that he has all the tools to be a top-flight NFL quarterback.
The Rams were supposed to be bad this year and start to show improvement next year. Steve Spagnuolo has this team playing good football.
They are still young and there have been some growing pains. But this year has been better than most people would have expected.
New Orleans has been one of the quietest defending Super Bowl Champions in recent memory. No one is talking about them because Atlanta is leading their division.
They have not been the explosive offense that we have come to see the last four years. Drew Brees has thrown 15 Interceptions already this year.
With that said, their defense has been playing better this year than last year. They may not have the turnovers like they did last year, but they aren't giving up the yards like they used to.
St. Louis is a nice story. But the story will end after one playoff game.
New Orleans 27, St. Louis 13.
Kansas City has surpassed most expectations already with seven wins.
The Chiefs can hang with anyone because their running game is so good—first in the NFL with 174 yards per game. The problem comes when they get into a game where they have to throw the ball.
Matt Cassel is not a good NFL quarterback. He is serviceable and can make a play or two on occasion, but he is not consistent enough to be starting every week in the NFL.
That's what makes this matchup with the Steelers a really bad one for the Chiefs. The Steelers don't let anyone run on them.
You have to be able to throw the ball if you want to beat them.
Pittsburgh is doing what they always do: Play solid offense and let the defense make plays to set up the offense to allow them to score. Roethlisberger has been playing very well since he came back from suspension and has opened up the offense even more for this team.
His ability to scramble and keep plays alive has really made the difference for this Steeler team. When he was out, you could see the difference in this team.
Pittsburgh looks poised for a deep playoff run. Kansas City is the first obstacle.
Pittsburgh 31, Kansas City 13
When this season started, I thought that New England's offense would be the best in the NFL.
Granted, I thought that would be with Randy Moss at receiver. To see what this offense is doing without Moss has been somewhat shocking.
They have gotten better without him, and with Deion Branch. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised since they have the best QB in the NFL, and he made his name by making plays with really average receivers.
The defense scares me because they are so young. They give up a lot of yards and are starting to give up a lot of points.
That likely won't be a problem in this round, but it will catch up to them later.
Jacksonville is an ugly team, but they get wins. They aren't going to WOW anyone with their play, but they do just enough to win some games.
They have a great shot to make the playoffs this year, especially since everyone on the Colts is injured.
They win close games and lose a lot of blowouts. They have been outscored 294-240, but have a 6-5 record.
David Garrard has a good QB rating (92.7), but the Jaguars are 29th in pass yards per game.
New England brings the heat to Jacksonville.
New England 35, Jacksonville 20
These teams have a game left against each other in Week 16 that could decide who wins the NFC South.
Atlanta won the first game between the two in New Orleans 27-24 in an exciting overtime finish. It looked like New Orleans had the victory until Garrett Hartley missed a 29-yard field goal.
Atlanta was able to take advantage of the special-teams blunder and won the game on Matt Bryant's field goal late in overtime.
The Falcons have been practically unbeatable at home since Matt Ryan was drafted three years ago, going 19-1 in that time. Michael Turner is running like he did two years ago, when he ran for nearly 1,700 yards.
The Falcons' secondary is shaky, but they don't give up a lot of points.
Matt Ryan is a star at quarterback. Roddy White is one of the best receivers in the league.
This could be one of the most intriguing playoff games because these two teams know each other so well and they play each other two times every year. I think this will be a very close game.
New Orleans 27, Atlanta 23
Philadelphia is the scariest team in the NFC—in my opinion—because of all the weapons that they have.
They play smart football, they don't beat themselves. They are the most dynamic team in the league and can play any style of football.
If you want them to run, they can do that. If you want them to pass, they can do that.
The defense is solid, not spectacular, and they don't make mistakes that cost them points.
Chicago, despite their record, still doesn't have the feel of a great team. I know they just beat Philly and maybe I should think more of them.
But there is one reason that I don't: Jay Cutler.
He is an enigma, unlike any other QB in the league. He will make you love him or hate him on a week-to-week basis.
He can throw four touchdowns in a game and look like a Hall-of-Famer. Then, he will come out and throw four interceptions and look like he has never seen a defense before.
The defense has been great for them. Julius Peppers has taken over Brian Urlacher as their best defensive player.
He has brought so much to this team, rushing the passer and creating matchup problems for opposing offenses.
If Philadelphia can create big plays and limit Chicago's big plays—something that they didn't do in their Week 12 game—the Eagles will play for the NFC Championship.
Philadelphia 24, Chicago 20
The AFC is so good and so evenly matched up that Pittsburgh, who right now would be the sixth seed in the playoffs, could very well end up as the No. 1 seed.
That belongs to the Jets right now.
This game would be a good old-fashioned boxing match. These two teams are built on their defenses.
They are built on smash-mouth, run-the-ball-down-your-throat football.
This could be the most physical playoff game that we have seen in a long, long time.
If Mark Sanchez can take the next step in his development—which he has shown signs of doing so far this year—the Jets may well be the team to beat.
If you get great quarterback play to go along with that defense and LaDainian Tomlinson, who has found the fountain of youth, the Jets would be very difficult to beat.
I pick the Steelers. But if the you want to argue for the Jets, I could be persuaded to switch my vote.
Pittsburgh 17, New York 13
This is a rematch of last year's AFC Wild Card Playoff game.
Baltimore was all over New England en route to a 33-14 victory that was actually not as close as that final score would indicate.
Baltimore dominated New England in a way that has rarely been seen in the Brady/Belichick era.
The defense was swarming and didn't give anything to the Patriots. The offense chopped the young Patriots defense up, and it was over before it began.
This is a new year, but I don't see a lot different between the two teams from that game. New England's defense is still young and they haven't looked very good, especially in the last month or so.
Brady is still under center, so I would never completely discount the Patriots.
But Ray Lewis and Co. seem poised to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 10 years.
Baltimore 27, New England 20
This game could turn into a shootout.
New Orleans can score with anyone, and Philadelphia is as dynamic as any team in the NFL. If this were to be the game that determines who represents the NFC in the Super Bowl, it would likely have more offensive playmakers than any other potential matchup in either conference.
There would be Vick, Brees, Jackson, Colston, Bush, McCoy, Maclin, Shockey, Henderson & Celek.
This game would be back-and-forth, up-and-down for four quarters in what could be one of the most exciting conference title games ever. Of course, it could turn into some defensive struggle with points at a premium.
I would expect the former much more than the latter.
Philadelphia 38, New Orleans 30
Basically everything I said about the Steelers-Jets game would apply here, too.
Two of the best defenses in the NFL go up against one another.
This would be the polar opposite of the NFC Championship Game. The first team to get to 20 would likely win this game.
I give a very, very slight edge to Pittsburgh. I think that every positional matchup is basically even, and I give Pittsburgh the edge because their rush offense.
And defense is slightly better than the Ravens right now. Unless Ray Rice can find what he had last year—that would easily sway my choice in this game.
Pittsburgh 13, Baltimore 10
The Super Bowl prediction, if the season ended today, would be the Steelers and the Eagles meeting in Dallas on Feb. 6.
Quite the contrast in styles between these two teams. The Steelers—the physical, in-your-face, hit you until you can't get up team—taking on the Eagles, who have as much pure team speed at the skill positions as anyone in the NFL.
The two most maligned quarterbacks before the season started would get their chance at redemption on the biggest stage in the biggest game of the year.
Andy Reid, one of the best coaches in football searching for his first Super Bowl, against Mike Tomlin, the tough, no-nonsense coach looking to add to his and the Steelers' legacy.
Pittsburgh 24, Philadelphia 17.