There weren't many big surprises in Week 13—except the Browns' win over Miami—and this year's playoff picture is starting to come into focus.
With only four games left in the season, the stage is nearly set. And without any major upsets, the playoff race is already mapped out for us.
January will be full of obvious wins and impressive showings, of repeat offenders and new blood, rife with rivalry and thick with anticipation.
Baltimore should have no problem with their remaining schedule—the only remaining team with a winning record is the New Orleans Saints, and while the Saints have shown talent in recent weeks, they have also allowed squalid teams like Arizona and Cleveland to best them and lowly teams like Carolina and Cincinnati to come close.
Otherwise, Baltimore will enjoy thrashing the Texans, Browns and Bengals before the season is out.
Kansas City has the AFC West wrapped up and faces only .500-or-less teams the rest of the season. If they stop doing what they’re doing and let San Diego come away with a win in Week 14, the race gets a little tighter, but after the surprising season the Chiefs have had, they’re unlikely to end their winning streak now that it really counts.
Despite the Chiefs’ Cinderella-like story, their season will end here. Baltimore is the better team and has proven it with a much tougher schedule and wins over Pittsburgh and the New York Jets (let’s just ignore Baltimore’s early loss to Cincinnati).
The Jacksonville Jaguars have quietly taken hold of the AFC South over last year’s Super Bowl runners-up, the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are only a game back, and the rest of their schedule isn’t hard.
Let’s remember, though, that the Colts have won only two of their last six games and Peyton Manning has not been himself lately (not to mention the debilitating list of injured starters—Joseph Addai and Austin Collie, particularly).
The Jaguars remain the divisional leaders, but their season ends when they face the New York Jets in the Wild Card Round.
Despite last week’s showing (or lack thereof) by the Jets, at 9-3 they are still out of reach in the AFC wild-card race. They are still a solid team with at least two more wins to notch into their belts before the season is out.
They’ll beat the Jags, too, and move on to a more worthy foe in the divisional round.
We won’t know until the very end which of these teams is the division champion and which is the Wild Card. But with Michael Vick eating passing yardage as part a healthy breakfast and the New York Giants simplifying their playbook to accommodate their star-studded injury list, it’s likely Philly will be in the driver’s seat here.
Both have pretty tough schedules, but both (especially the Eagles) are up to the task. Unless the Cowboys manage another (or even two more) upsets against the Eagles and Green Bay out-scores Eli and company, it’ll all come down to Week 15 when the two teams meet in Jersey to hash it out.
Regardless of the winner there, in the Wild Card Game the Eagles will be playing with a vengeance. As long as the Giants don’t claim another quarterback’s season in one of these two matches, Michael Vick and the Eagles will advance.
Atlanta has taken a firm grip on the NFC South, leaving last year’s Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints, with a mere wild-card spot. New Orleans will meet the winner of the NFC West.
The St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks are tied for the division lead (the Rams have the tiebreaker). Neither team has been particularly consistent throughout the season (though the Rams have the edge there), and each team has two conference games and two tough matches left.
Everything comes down to the last week of the season when the two teams (who could still be tied for first) face each other in Seattle. Seattle’s home-field advantage has been nullified this season, and the Rams have exhibited better play, overall.
St. Louis wins the division, faces the Saints in the wild-card round, and ends their season.
After the Ravens prove the system works by beating the Kansas City Chiefs (who will have finished with a lesser record despite having led their division) they’ll move on to face the conference-leading New England Patriots.
Defensively, the Patriots are lacking.
But, offensively (despite the high turnover ratio) New England has the edge.
The Patriots have 48 touchdowns to Baltimore’s 29. They average almost 15 yards per game more than the Ravens do.
Plus, the Patriots have not forgotten Baltimore dethroning them last year (Baltimore was the first team since 1978 to beat the Patriots in the playoffs at home). New England will be seeking retribution, and they are likely to find it.
The Jets have better offensive numbers, but the Steelers outrank them, defensively. Overall, they’re very evenly matched, but Mark Sanchez is inexperienced, and his team can only carry him so far.
The Steelers illustrated their completeness as a team when Ben Roethlisberger sat out on suspension and they didn’t miss a beat. They were also uninhibited by Roethlisberger’s return and continued through the season with hardly a hiccup.
Plus, the Steelers boast the better coach in Mike Tomlin, and the Jets haven’t seen a Super Bowl since 1968 (the Steelers have been champions twice in the last five years).
Pittsburgh comes ahead again and advances to the conference championship.
Despite their 10-2 record (so far), Atlanta will find they are a lesser team than the Eagles. The Falcons’ schedule has not been nearly as rigorous, and their two losses come from fellow Super Bowl contenders, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Ever since Michael Vick returned after the bye week, the Eagles have been ripping opponents to shreds.
Philly has won four of their last five games, losing only to the Chicago Bears.
With their pass defense ranked 26th overall, the Falcons don’t stand a chance of shutting down Vick and will have to wait until next season to keep their championship hopes alive.
The Chicago Bears have been given very little credit this year (especially after their loss to Seattle in Week 6), but the Saints deserve less.
Chicago has won every game since their bye week, including a shocker against Philadelphia. Neither team has faced a terribly difficult schedule, and each team has failed to capitalize on the right moments. Both have suffered defeats at the hands of sub-par teams.
New Orleans' losses, though, have been worse. Higher point differentials to worse teams (Arizona and Cleveland vs. Seattle and Washington).
Chicago capitalizes here and advances to the championship.
The Patriots have played in the Super Bowl four times in the last 10 years (winning three). The Steelers have laid claim to only two championships in the same time period, but both appearances are recent.
New England outranks Pittsburgh offensively, but they have barely any defense to speak of.
The Steelers’ defense is currently ranked fifth overall.
Just like the 2008 Patriots-Giants Super Bowl, a strong defense is the difference between a victory and a defeat.
In a nail-biter, Pittsburgh takes the game and dashes the hopes of all of New England for another year.
Chicago’s mild schedule will hurt them here to the tune of a two-touchdown differential.
The Eagles don’t bother to give the Bears a fighting chance and pummel them into early submission. Jay Cutler won’t be able to keep up with Vick’s arm and mobility, and Chicago simply won’t get as many points on the board.
The Eagles move on to the Super Bowl.
No one would have guessed it when the season started, but this season’s championship is effectively the battle of Pennsylvania.
Terrible Towels meet the vicious violence of a hoard of diehard Philly fans.
Those towels will come in handy when it comes time to clean up the mess the Eagles leave the Steelers in.
Pittsburgh’s No. 1-ranked rush defense is worthless against Vick’s 105.7 percent QB rating.
Roethlisberger isn’t far behind with 95.7 percent and will do his best to keep up, but will ultimately fail.
On the ground, all Philadelphia has to do is shut down Rashard Mendenhall.
Pittsburgh will have to worry about Vick, as well as LeSean McCoy—Vick holds the second-highest rushing yards of the team with nearly 500.
This will be a high-scoring, high-flying match that will prompt the rest of Philadelphia (those who haven’t already) to forgive Michael Vick and most of Pittsburgh to move south.