With four weeks left in the NFL season, now is what we call crunch time.
Today we're going to take a look at who would be in and who would be out if the season were to end today.
I know it seems a bit premature to look at the playoff picture, but each week it will get more and more clear, so why not start now?
It will get clearer as the weeks go by, but hey, it's fun to speculate, right?
Here's a look at who's in and who's out.
The Buffalo Bills started the season 5-2 and looked like the darlings of the AFC.
Four weeks later they've lost twice to the Jets, got blown out by both the Dolphins and Cowboys, and then on Sunday lost to the Titans in convincing fashion.
Next week they'll take on the Chargers, another team that's practically out of it, but after that their season will only get tougher.
They host Miami (which defeated them 35-8 the last time they played and have been the de facto AFC spoilers), Denver (more on them later) and then end the season against the Patriots (due to the fact that New England might have at least a second seed in the AFC wrapped up by then, that might be Buffalo's best chance at their next victory).
Arizona would have to hope for a collapse by Chicago (very possible), Dallas (it is December, so possible), New York (Coughlin-coached), Detroit (lack of experience) and Atlanta (looks like it's already starting) to have a shot at the playoffs.
What I'm saying is that Arizona has a shot at the playoffs. Its only hindrance is a schedule that include the 49ers and a trip to Cincinnati, plus a final game of the season against Seattle.
Hey, speaking of Seattle...
Next week the Seahawks host the Rams on Monday Night (11 days rest, pretty sweet if you ask me), then travels to the imploding Chicago Bears followed by hosting the 49ers (whom I'm sure you will remember was a closer game in Week 1 than the score will indicate) then travelling to Arizona.
The way I see it, Seattle will be 8-7 going into its final game in Arizona. Keep an eye out for the Seahawks.
A tremendous effort by the Giants on Sunday afternoon against Green Bay convinces me that the Giants are probably the best team in the NFC East.
Does that mean they'll win the NFC East? It depends on their games against the Cowboys. However with Chicago and Detroit fading fast, they could still grab the wild card.
The Jets are out of the playoffs for now, but I've seen this movie twice already, I know how it's going to go.
See you guys in the AFC title game.
After getting dismantled by Miami, I'm now off the Raiders bandwagon.
That was a terrible performance, and with Green Bay coming up next week (while Denver gets the reeling Bears), Sunday afternoon's action looked like a harbinger of things to come for both Oakland and Denver.
Chris Johnson seems to have woken up, which is just in the nick of time for Tennessee. Only problem they have is that Houston (which is two games up but has one more game left against the Titans) just can't seem to lose even when it lost their star linebacker and star running back.
I'll talk more about the Texans later.
Atlanta would be out today, but it has the most favorable schedule out of the NFC wild-card contenders going forward.
The only team with a winning record on the Falcons schedule is New Orleans, and the Falcons have the Bears and Lions, two teams fading quickly, out in front of them.
Expect the Falcons to rise up as the Bears and Lions continue to fall.
Why are the Dolphins in this article? Why?
Because out of all the teams out of it, they're the only one I like (I'm somewhat of a homer) and their last four games are against three of the teams on this list (Philadelphia being the other).
Next week the Dolphins play the Eagles, which I expect to be a Dolphins victory. That will eliminate the Eagles from the playoffs once and for all.
Then the following week they play the Bills in Buffalo. The Bills should be eliminated by then, but it will still be a big game.
That's followed by Christmas Eve in Foxborough, where they could be the difference between the Pats being the first seed and the third seed. Then finally they get the New York Jets at home.
They're not playing for anything, but fear the Dolphins, as I'm sure the Oakland Raiders would tell you.
My father is a diehard Chicago Bears fan and stated a couple of weeks ago that this is the best the Bears have played since 1988 (that season the Bears went 12-4 and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs but wound up losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game).
Now the Bears are starting to look like the Erik Kramer/Dave Wannstedt-era Bears as injuries have decimated a team that at one point looked like the one NFL team that could derail the Packers. They now are just lucky to hold the tiebreaker over the Falcons for the final NFC playoff spot.
With Denver, Seattle and Green Bay coming up for the Bears, the tiebreaker will become moot, as you can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.
In a weird way, this makes Jay Cutler an MVP candidate, a far cry from what he was considered at the end of last season. With Cutler, the Bears looked super. Without him, not so much.
They would be in today, but they're missing the playoffs this year.
I'm sorry, but they're still a year away.
The Lions...eh, I'm not sold on them.
They still have one more game without Suh (against the very feisty Vikings) and then have the Raiders in Oakland and host the Chargers before finishing up in Green Bay.
But for some reason, I just don't seem them finishing well. Much like the Bengals, they seem like they're still a year away.
It's December, and Sunday's game against the Cardinals was a late 2000s Cowboys Classic.
I'm starting to think that the winner of the NFC East this year will be a fail-forward team. At least the Giants and Cowboys have two games against each other, but watch one of them end in a tie.
I see an NFC Championship Game rematch that will be reminiscent of the Cowboys-49ers NFC title game matchups I grew up with in the 90s.
I don't know if the Saints can beat Green Bay, especially in Lambeau Field, but they can definitely keep up with them better than just about any team in the NFL right now.
That Steelers-Bengals game...wow, talk about taking a team out to the woodshed.
Pittsburgh and Baltimore are the two best teams in the AFC, and the AFC's conference representative will come from that group.
I am scared to death to root or pick against the Denver Broncos.
You have to admit, their run has been a bit weird, divinely weird.
Sure they only went 1-1 against other possible playoff teams since Tim Tebow became the official starter, but they'll have three games at home (one against a struggling and unhealthy Bears team, then against a Patriots team that will likely have their division wrapped up already, and the other against Kansas City) and their one road game left is in Buffalo.
That smells like 3-1 at worse, plus they hold a tiebreaker over the Raiders. If that fails, they also hold the tiebreaker over the Bengals and Jets. And they could still beat New England.
We might be talking about Tim Tebow, Super Bowl quarterback by the time everything is said and done. They don't have the talent of Baltimore, New England and Pittsburgh, but if they happen to host one of them (if the playoffs started today they'd host Pittsburgh), would you be surprised if they won?
At this point, would you be surprised if they somehow ran the table?
Look at Baltimore's remaining schedule: Indianapolis at home next week, followed by a trip out to San Diego, Cleveland at home and at Cincinnati.
That looks like a 13-3 season and first seed in the AFC...book it now!
This clip exemplifies why the Texans are winning the AFC South this year.
"Now stand aside worthy adversary" (Matt Schaub injury). "Please but a scratch!"
"Victory is mine!" (Matt Leinart injury) "Come on then! Have at you!"
Tennessee Titans: "You are indeed brave sir knight, but the fight is mine!"
Houston Texans: "Oh had enough eh!"
Tennessee Titans: "Look you stupid (expletive) you have no arms left!"
No, literally they don't; both Schaub and Leinart are hurt, but they still have legs (Arian Foster).
And both their quarterbacks being out for the season and relying on T.J. Yates? "Look! Just a flesh wound!"
Too bad for the Titans the Texans don't plan on calling it a draw.
If New England holds on to a top-two seed in the AFC, then I'll consider them more likely to be a favorite.
Actually, I take them more seriously than most people, but I still think they're a notch below Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
For now, that is.
Congrats to the 49ers on their first NFC West title in nine years.
A 10-year-old Thomas Galicia would never believe such a thing would ever be said, but it's true.
However, I don't really believe in San Francisco too much if for no other reason that their first playoff opponent will likely be the New Orleans Saints. As good as the 49ers defense is, I do believe that there's only two teams that they can't shut down.
But if the 49ers prove me wrong, then you can leave troll comments calling me an idiot. That's just how I feel this week.
I really think that the 2011 Packers will go undefeated, but even if they don't, I do believe that they will be considered one of the greatest teams in NFL history.
They're my pick to win it all, in fact here are my predictions...on the next page.
1. Baltimore (13-3)
2. New England (12-4)
3. Houston (12-4)
4. Denver (10-6)
5. Pittsburgh (12-4)
6. New York Jets (10-6)
1. Green Bay (16-0)
2. San Francisco (13-3)
3. New Orleans (12-4)
4. Dallas (10-6)
5. Atlanta (10-6)
6. Seattle (9-7)
Wild Card Round:
Jets over Texans, Broncos over Steelers, Falcons over Cowboys, Saints over Seahawks.
Ravens over Jets, Broncos over Patriots, Saints over 49ers, Packers over Falcons
Ravens over Broncos, Packers over Saints
Packers over Ravens
Until next week...