Updated NFL Playoff Predictions
As the ninth week of the 2011 NFL season draws to a close (with the exception of the Bears vs. the Eagles), it's about time to update our NFL playoff predictions.
Teams like the New England Patriots took a step back this week, while teams like the Cincinnati Bengals made a move forward.
Which 10 teams will be standing at the end of the season?
AFC East: New England Patriots
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Yes, I know, the Patriots just lost two games in a row, and yes, I know the New York Jets just humbled the Buffalo Bills.
It was difficult to pick against the Jets today, but I'm trying not to get too fickle with my predictions. I still think the Patriots will pull it out in the end because, well, it's Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
New England definitely needs to finish strong though, and that starts with much better play from their defense.
The Jets might be rounding into shape and the Bills own a win over the Pats, so this division is still wide open.
Other possibilities: New York Jets and Buffalo Bills
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
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This is a really tough call, because the Baltimore Ravens' win over the Steelers tonight keeps them in a very tight race for the division.
Still, the Steelers have looked like the more consistent football team leading up to this week, so I'll say they make the playoffs yet again.
Baltimore will certainly be in the thick of it to the end, as will Cincinnati (who got a raw deal in a really tough division), but I like the Steelers to pull it out.
Other possibilities: Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals
AFC South: Houston Texans
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Riding a three-game winning streak, the 6-3 Houston Texans are starting to pull away in their division.
The Colts are downright awful, the Jaguars don't stand a chance and the Titans are slowly slipping behind at 4-4.
Houston has found itself a punishing ground game with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, who dominated the Cleveland Browns' highly-rated run defense. Once Andre Johnson is back in the lineup, the passing game should return to full strength as well.
The defense is playing at a high level under Wade Phillips, and this team looks to be far and away the best team in the division.
Barring a major collapse, the Texans have their division in the bag.
Other possibilities: Tennessee Titans
AFC West: San Diego Chargers
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This is another division that's wide open, but after what transpired today, I have to stick with the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers got beat by the undefeated Green Bay Packers today, but they showed some fight that seems to have been lacking for most of this year, so I like their chances, even at 4-4.
Kansas City returned back to early season form, laying a giant egg in a 31-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins, while the Oakland Raiders got burned at home by Tim Tebow and the crappy-but-scrappy Denver Broncos.
Let me put it this way: if the Chargers don't win this division, it will be because they gave it away, not because someone took it from them.
Other possibilities: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders
NFC East: New York Giants
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There has been a lot of love for the 3-4 Philadelphia Eagles lately, but with the way the New York Giants played against the Patriots today, it's hard to bet against them at this point.
The Giants improved to 6-2 on the season, while the disappointing Dallas Cowboys sit at 4-4 and the collapsing Washington Redskins sit at 3-5. The Eagles play the Bears on Monday Night Football.
Eli Manning is playing at a high level, and he's getting a ton of help from his defense, who harassed Tom Brady into three turnovers and two sacks.
The Giants are the best team in this division, and if they can continue this level of play, they shouldn't have a lot of trouble winning the division unless we see an enormous Eagles comeback.
Other possibilities: Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
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This division is one of the easiest to pick, seeing as how the Packers are the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL and have a two-game lead on the Detroit Lions.
The Lions are in good position for a wild-card berth at 6-2, but to win the division they would probably have to beat the Packers twice.
The Chicago Bears are still hanging on by a thread at 4-3, and if they beat the Eagles on Monday, things could get interesting when they face the Lions again.
The Minnesota Vikings are looking better as of late, but with six losses, they are a non-factor.
Still, it's pretty safe to say Green Bay has the division in the bag at this point.
Other possibilities: Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
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The New Orleans Saints have had their ups and downs this year, but at 6-3 they are sitting in a pretty good position at this point.
Giving them a run for their money will be the Atlanta Falcons, who improved to 5-3 with an easy win over the Indianapolis Colts this week. The game between the Saints and the Falcons next week will go a long way in deciding this division.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still holding on for dear life at 4-4, but it would be a long shot for them to make the playoffs, let alone win the division, at this point. They are too inconsistent.
Other possibilities: Atlanta Falcons
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers
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This is by far the easiest division to predict. The San Francisco 49ers are 7-1, and the biggest threats to their lead are the 2-6 Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.
The Cardinals barely topped the 1-7 St. Louis Rams in overtime today, while the Seahawks sputtered to a 10-point loss against the Cowboys.
For this division to go any other way, it would take both a collapse and a surge of epic proportions.
Other possibilities: None
AFC Wild Card: Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets
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This spot is very, very difficult to project, because there are a handful of teams that I didn't pick to win their divisions that are still very strongly in the wild-card race.
I'm going with the Ravens and the Jets, though, because assuming the Steelers and Patriots win their respective divisions, these two teams have the inside track. Baltimore just took out Pittsburgh, while the Jets finally seem to be coming around.
Other possibilities: Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans
NFC Wild Card: Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons
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I like the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons to grab the AFC Wild Card spots. Detroit plays stellar defense and gets dominant play from receiver Calvin Johnson. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been an excellent facilitator and playmaker, as well.
The Lions need to find something of a running game for this to come to fruition, but Jahvid Best's return should help alleviate that problem.
The defense continues to play at a high level behind Ndamukong Suh, and if this team can keep from imploding down the stretch, the wild card is theirs to lose.
Atlanta is also playing pretty well lately and looks to be the most talented team outside of the Eagles and the Cowboys, both of which have struggled this season.
Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Julio Jones should be able to secure them the other spot.
Other possibilities: Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers