2011 NFL Playoff Predictions: Eagles Not Included in Playoffs After Week 10
Go ahead, plan a post-Christmas vacation. As hard as it is to swallow, the Eagles will not be in the 2011 playoffs.
But that's where a loss to the Cardinals will get you.
With the rest of Week 10 in the books, the NFL playoff picture is beginning to take shape.
Currently, if the NFL season would end today, 21 teams would either be in the playoffs or just two games out.
With Week 10's results and key injuries taken into account, here are the squads that have the best control over the landscape of teams headed toward postseason play.
NFC No. 1 Seed: Green Bay Packers (9-0)
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One of the few sure bets in the NFL, the Packers have blown through opponents' defenses easier than Sunday morning, scoring no less than 24 points in each contest. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is on pace for 50 touchdown passes, 5,100 yards and just five interceptions.
The only issue with the Packers seems to be the team's pass defense, currently ranked 31st in the NFL by allowing more than 280 yards a contest, according to ESPN.com statistics.
But that same defense leads the league in picks with 17 interceptions on the year. The Packers are also third in the league in total offensive drives, according to FootballOutsiders.com, meaning opponents are getting the same amount of opportunities against the Green Bay defense, thus inflating numbers. In short, the secondary is much better than its 31st ranking.
With a three-game lead in the NFC North and a Thanksgiving showdown with the Lions, the Packers could seal the division as early as Week 13.
By then, however, we may be discussing the possibilities of a 16-0 team...if we weren't already.
NFC No. 2 Seed: San Francisco (8-1)
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What can be said that hasn't been already about the job first-year coach Jim Harbaugh has done with the 49ers? The scoring defense is the best in the league, allowing little more than 15 points per game. The team has the highest turnover differential in the NFL at plus-13. The offense, while not the strongest in the league, has done enough to help put up 25.7 points per game, good for seventh-best in the NFL.
By all accounts, the red-and-gold are clicking on every cylinder.
The 49ers have built a five-game lead in the NFC West, and with five of their remaining seven games against lowly interdivisional foes, 13-3 could be a realistic number for San Francisco, setting the 49ers up to host their first playoff game since the 2002-03 playoffs.
That is, after the perk of an extra bye week, of course.
NFC No. 3 Seed: New Orleans
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With Week 10's 26-23 overtime win over Atlanta, the Saints have taken full control over the NFC South.
Drew Brees once again leads one of the most potent offensive attacks in the NFL. The Saints have put 31.3 points per game, good for second-best in the league.
The Saints must take care of the football if they wish to keep a strangle hold on their division. The squads minus-five turnover differential is third-worst in the league. The team must also be weary of penalties, as Sunday's eight for 79 yards—including a holding call late in the fourth quarter that pushed the team out of field goal range—was too much.
Coming out of a Week 11 bye, the Saints next contest pits them against a better-than-expected New York Giants squad in a matchup that could determine the top NFC Wild-Card seed.
NFC No. 4 Seed: New York Giants (6-3)
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The Giants have been better than many would have thought. They've fought through early injuries, pulled off an unlikely win in New England and came within 10 yards of forcing overtime against the NFL's second-best squad on the road.
Eli Manning has been tremendous this year, and as he goes, so do the Giants. In six wins this season, Manning has thrown just two interceptions. In New York's three losses, however, Manning has thrown six total picks. The Giants clearly lean on their leader, and if Manning can withhold the weight, New York has already shown they can play with even the best of opponents.
Unfortunately, the battle to get to the postseason could wear on the Giants so heavily, one would have to wonder how much they would have left in the tank should they secure a postseason spot.
NFC No. 5 Seed: Chicago (6-3)
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Four straight wins will do a lot for a team's confidence.
The Bears, after a 2-3 start, have done just that and in the meantime solidified themselves as the No. 2 team in the NFC North after drumming the Lions in Week 10.
Credit the turnaround to defensive takeaways (their plus-nine turnover differential is the third-highest in the league, and the team used four picks to sink the Lions Sunday) and putting a lot of points on the board (the Bears averaged 32.5 points/game during their four-game win streak).
The Bears get four straight AFC West opponents, all teams considered that they will matchup favorably against—Tim Tebow is the only AFC West quarterback who has thrown more touchdowns than picks (can we even count Tebow as a quarterback at this point?). Chicago's defense should have a field day against teams with haphazard ball control.
NFC No. 6 Seed: Dallas (5-4)
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Haven't heard much from the "Occupy Dallas QB" camp lately.
I suppose that's what a five-game stretch from Tony Romo featuring nine touchdowns and only two interceptions will do.
Much like the Giants, the Cowboys will go as far as their quarterback will take them, and if the past handful of games are any indicator, the sky is once again the limit in Big D. Add in the emergence of rookie sensation DeMarco Murray and the Dallas offense ranks among the NFL's most potent.
Dallas has a favorable schedule heading into the final stanza of the season. With five of the team's remaining seven games against teams currently below .500, Dallas could very easily reach 10 wins and seal themselves a spot in the postseason.
AFC No. 1 Seed: Pittsburgh (7-3)
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Luckily for the Steelers, they don't have to play the Ravens anymore this season.
The only opponent the Steelers have given up more than 20 points against—Baltimore.
Aside from those two games, Big Ben and Co. have been dangerous on offense. The passing attack has yielded the seventh-most yards in the league, with wideout Mike Wallace on pace for nearly 1,500 receiving yards.
Defensively, the Steelers are sixth in the NFL in total yards allowed and fourth in points allowed/game.
Pittsburgh showed they can still hang with the league's best when they handled the Patriots in Week 8, and later showed they are not too old to compete when they defeated the youthful Bengals on the road in Week 10.
Five of the Steelers remaining six games come against sub-.500 teams. Should they win the games in which they will be favored, the Steelers could reach 12 wins, and with a tiebreaker over New England, that may be enough to secure the AFC's top spot.
AFC No. 2 Seed: New England Patriots (6-3)
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How dare ye who doubted Tom Terrific.
Now that New England got the losing bug out of its system, the team can return to what it has done for last dozen years—dominate football games.
When everyone believed the Jets were primed to take control of the AFC, it was the Patriots who snagged the lead.
The defense finally put together a performance resembling something other than jello attempting to stop a spoon's penetration.
The receivers managed a way to get decent separation out of press coverage. And Tom Brady delivered a slew of terrific second-half completions.
With Houston on the ropes, and if (IF) the Patriots defense can continue to shut down opponents like they did the Jets, veteran leadership and know-how should give the Patriots an edge.
With remaining contests against Kansas City, Denver, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Miami and Buffalo, 12-4 could be enough to secure the AFC's No. 2 seed as the Steelers, also at 12 wins, hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over New England.
AFC No. 3 Seed: Houston (7-3)
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Who needs a quarterback when two of the league's most prolific runners call your backfield home?
With Matt Schaub apparently done for the season, Houston will need to lean heavily on running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
By allowing a league-low 267.9 yards/game, the Texans already were built to be a physical, grind 'em out team. Now with Schaub down, Houston will have no choice but to live up to that billing.
The only way Schaub's injury could hurt the Texans is if they find themselves down early and must resort to passing the ball. Backup quarterback Matt Leinart hasn't thrown a meaningful pass since 2009, so the jury will be out as to how well the league's 13th-ranked passing attack will operate under his tenure.
AFC No. 4 Seed: Oakland (5-4)
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This week, it's the Raiders. Next week, who knows.
Just when the AFC West looks like it has a front-runner, that team drops consecutive games and another team retakes command. Heck, at this point, don't be surprised to see the Denver Tebows sneak in a week or two as shareholders for first place.
Really though, there is no reason Oakland should not hold onto the lead this time. The Raiders are as physical as any team in the league. The defense has had its issues, but when it came time to preform against San Diego's offense, Oakland stood its ground.
In fact, the whole team has had its issues. From injuries to turnovers, at times, the Raiders have looked like a mess. But with wins over the Jets, Texans and now Chargers, the Raiders have also shown they can beat any team any given week.
Give quarterback Carson Palmer a few more weeks to work with Oakland's young, talented receiving corps, give running back Darren McFadden a couple weeks to heal up and Oakland should be able to secure the AFC West with a 9-7 record.
AFC No. 5 Seed: Baltimore (6-3)
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There is no reason Baltimore should not be undefeated along with the Packers, but that is where a lack of focus will land a team.
The Ravens three losses (all on the road) were each jaw-dropping upsets—a loss to 5-4 Tennessee, a loss to three-win Jacksonville and a loss to three-win Seattle are all inexcusable. One could argue the Ravens simply are not a good road team, but how does that explain a win in Pittsburgh?
When the Ravens are operating smoothly, the offense is explosive and Baltimore wins games.
In three losses, Baltimore scored a total of 37 points. A little more than 12 points/game won't win any team many games, regardless of what defense it fields.
Maybe the Ravens need to feed the ball to running back Ray Rice more often. Maybe Baltimore needs to stop telling themselves quarterback Joe Flacco is a game-changer rather than a game-pacer. Either way, bank on Baltimore to drop another head-scratcher or two.
AFC No. 6 Seed: Cincinnati (6-3)
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There has not been a bigger surprise team this season than the Cincinnati Bengals.
Set aside for a moment the teams impact offensive rookies, quarterback Andy Dalton and wideout A.J. Green. Forget for a minute that this Bengals offense puts up nearly a field goal's worth more per game under the two rookies than it did with Palmer and receiver Chad Ochocinco.
Instead, focus on the Bengals defense, a unit that has not allowed more than 24 points in any contest this season, a unit that allows the fourth-least points/game (18.2).
Things have developed quickly in Cincinnati, but all signs point to the Bengals being legitimate postseason contenders.
This young squad has a tough road a head of them, but with an impressive record already and contests against Cleveland, St. Louis and Arizona, it may take just one more upset win to put the Bengals in the playoffs, thus proving every preseason NFL know-it-all wrong.