With the September and October months behind us, it's time to start evaluating the current NFL standings and begin to humor the playoff scenarios that would exist.
I will do this each and every week until the actual playoffs commence. Without further ado...
AFC Playoff Picture
1. Tennessee Titans (7-0)
The Titans would have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if the season ended today. Of course, it doesn't appear to matter whether they're home or away.
They just win.
I don't see much of a reason for this to change between now and January. The Titans appear to have the proper formula in place to keep on winning. I think they're biggest concern will be keeping everyone on defense healthy, and I have to wonder if a quarterback controversy will arise at some point.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
Pittsburgh currently holds the tie-breaker over New England by way of an undefeated conference record (5-0). They may very well slip down a few seeds before the end of December, if they play like they did against the Giants on Sunday.
I realize it was the defending champs they were playing against, but c'mon. It looked as if the Steelers didn't want to win that game. They gave the Giants every opportunity to win the game late... and the G-Men gladly accepted their gift.
3. New England Patriots (5-2)
The Pats, at this point in time, would win the AFC East with a better division record than the Buffalo Bills.
With Matt Cassel finally beginning to look comfortable, and the Patriots' defense displaying the ability to perform at a high level...a strong playoff run is not out of the question for these guys.
The main question going forward will be whether or not the offensive line can give Cassel enough time to stay comfortable. I have to hand it to him though...Even though he's been sacked consistently, you'd rather see that than have him throwing interceptions on a regular basis.
4. Denver Broncos (4-3)
Denver grabs the four seed by currently standing atop their division. I can't say that I see this team doing much come January, as their defense is just plain awful. The Broncos have allowed 22 more points than they've scored.
San Diego has put themselves in a tough spot, with five losses already in the books. But, don't be surprised if they make a late run at the division title.
5. Buffalo Bills (5-2)
The Bills would be the strongest five seed I've seen in quite some time. Trent Edwards is the real deal, as are Lee Evans and Marshawn Lynch. The defense is opportunistic; these guys will be right in the thick of the AFC East title hunt until the end of December.
Buffalo has a chance to improve their division record (0-1) this weekend as they host Brett Favre and the New York Jets.
6. Baltimore Ravens (4-3)
I'm thinking this six seed will be like a revolving door over the next two months. The Jets currently own the same record but have a weaker conference record than the Ravens. New York and Baltimore do not play each other in the regular season this year, so conference play will be very important in November and December.
Only the Chiefs, Raiders, and Bengals would be dreaming if they thought they had a chance at the sixth seed in the AFC. Other than that...it's wide open.
NFC Playoff Picture
1. New York Giants (6-1)
The Giants would currently claim home-field advantage throughout their quest to defend their championship. If the defense keeps playing the way they have been, I'd like to wish the rest of the NFC luck in trying to take down the G-Men in January.
The question remains...Can Eli Manning maintain his composure and further cement himself among the league's elite quarterbacks? Also...Will Plaxico Burress stop acting like a child and help his team win some games?
2. Carolina Panthers (6-2)
These guys have all the tools to do well in the cold months of December and January. I'm sure Panther fans everywhere are optimistic that they'll get to see how they fare in a February game as well.
Carolina has a stout defense, and suddenly that defense is complemented by a very potent offense. But, right on their tails is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who currently have an equal division record and a better conference record. This division will be up for grabs until the final week of the regular season.
3. Chicago Bears (4-3)
Two things. First, the Bears get the nod over the Cardinals for the three seed due to a better non-conference record (1-0). I think that's how it would go, since they have equal division and conference records. Correct me if I'm wrong.
Secondly, Chicago and Green Bay are basically equal right now. I think Chicago is only on top of the Packers in the standings right now due to alphabetical order. We still have two Packers/Bears matchups to look forward to this season though...So that will change, and we'll have a clear-cut winner of this division at some point.
4. Arizona Cardinals (4-3)
There will only be one team from the NFC West playing in January, and it's going to be the Cards. How well they'll do against the rest of an unusually strong NFC remains to be seen. I have a feeling a Super Bowl is not in their near future though.
5. Washington Redskins (6-2)
As with the Bills, we've got another very strong five seed here in the Redskins. Washington is neck and neck with the Giants at this point, but I have a feeling this division will be all but decided by the end of November.
The Giants travel to Washington on Nov. 30, in a game that could be for all the marbles. I'm extremely impressed by how the Redskins have responded after the beating they took in Week One. Can they keep it up?
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3)
The Bucs edge out the 5-3 Cowboys with a better conference record. Tampa Bay has played strongly thus far. Do they have what it takes to hang out near the top of the NFC South for another two months?
Right now, this division is 16-1 at home. Only the Saints have lost a home game.
Here's what we'd be looking at for Wild-Card matchups:
Ravens @ Patriots; Bills @ Broncos; Bucs @ Bears; 'Skins @ Cardinals
Well there you have it. If the playoffs started today, there would be no Colts, Chargers, Cowboys, Saints, Vikings, Packers, Jaguars, Jets...not what you expected, eh?
Stay tuned for next week's playoff scenarios, as the 2008 NFL season continues on.