Back in early September, I made my Super Bowl pick (http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5773256/breakdown_of_the_2010_nfl_season_pg5.html?cat=14). I, like many, was completely wrong about the Cowboys. I still feel fairly confident in the Ravens pick, though.
Since the NFL season is already at its mid way point, it’s time to find out who will make the playoffs and who are just those dreaded pretenders. Buffalo, Cincinnati, Denver, Dallas, Detroit, Carolina and San Francisco will be left off of the discussion as a result of their win/loss records.
Arizona (3-5; 3rd in the NFC West): The Cardinals have always been somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde team but it is now even more apparent with future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner no longer at Quarterback. Their remaining schedule is not bad so they could wind up at around 8-8 which is probably good enough to win the worst division in football.
Atlanta (6-2; 1st in the NFC South): Matt Ryan just does not lose at home as he is 17-1 there throughout his young career. I picked the Falcons to win the division before the start of the season. They have some big games remaining on their schedule (Baltimore tomorrow night, Green Bay on 11/28, @ Tampa Bay on 12/5 and New Orleans on 12/27). If they go 3-1 in those games then they should win the division. They’ll make the playoffs either way.
Baltimore (6-2; 1st in the AFC North): They have looked a bit underwhelming at times but they just do not lose at home. The defense is not as good as it once was and they could be picked off in the playoffs because of that. They are a top contender.
Chicago (5-3; 2nd in the NFC North): After a good start, they have faded. Cutler makes too many mistakes and their offensive line does not block. While they are very good against the run, their defense has always been overrated, especially in big games. They have a very tough remaining schedule and it would not surprise me to see them finish under .500.
Cleveland (3-5; 3rd in the AFC North): One of the big surprises in the league thus far. Just let Colt McCoy play and do not even think about going back to Delhomme at Quarterback. They could certainly cause some problems for playoff contenders down the stretch.
Green Bay (6-3; 1st in the NFC North): They have been able to overcome big losses due to injury. Their defense has started to gel at the right time. They have some tough games left against Minnesota, Atlanta, New England and the Giants. They should be able to get to 10 wins which will get them into the playoffs. If they do not lose anymore players to injury then they will be a main contender in the NFC.
Houston (4-4; 4th in the AFC South): The Texans have been pretenders for a few years now. They started off great with a huge win over Indianapolis on opening day but have lost some bad games along the way. Their remaining schedule is tough and they will finish around .500 like they seemingly always do.
Indianapolis (5-3; 2nd in the AFC South): They have had key injuries but, seriously, it all comes down to Manning. The Colts could actually go 11-5 and miss the playoffs. They have two games against Tennessee that will be crucial.
Jacksonville (4-4, 3rd in the AFC South): The Jaguars, like their Quarterback, can look good one week and terrible the next. They do not necessarily have a tough remaining schedule but the AFC playoff picture is so crowded that they will likely miss out. They could cause problems for contenders, though.
Kansas City (5-3; 1st in the AFC West): The Chiefs are coming together at a quick pace. They have a lot of talent on both sides of the football. They need to continue to beat teams that they are better than down the stretch. They are right on the line of contender/pretender.
Miami (4-4; 3rd in the AFC East): The AFC playoff picture is too crowded and it does not help that the Jets and Patriots play in the same division. They still do not know how to beat good teams and, as a result, will finish around 8-8/9-7 and miss the playoffs.
Minnesota (3-5; 3rd in the NFC North): What a circus. The Vikings might actually be the most talented team in the league. It is amazing to me how some of the most talented teams have such poor head coaches (see: Dallas, Minnesota, San Diego). They could actually sneak into the playoff picture and, quite possibly, go all the way if they got in. Right now they are a pretender but [i]if[/i] they beat Chicago and Green Bay in the next two weeks, they are right back in the thick of things.
New England (6-2; 2nd in the AFC East): It all comes down to coaching. The Patriots are not nearly the most talented team but win games because they outcoach and outsmart the opponent. They have some tough games remaining (@ Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Jets, Green Bay) and they could miss the playoffs with a good record.
New Orleans (6-3; 2nd in the NFC South): I thought that they would falter a bit as a result of a Super Bowl hangover and they have. They’ll make the playoffs, though, and will be contenders in a weakened NFC.
New York Giants (6-2; 1st in the NFC East): I did not expect this. The D is led by a rejuvenated pass rush. To be fair, they have beat up on some bad teams and looked poor against good teams (Indy, Tennessee). Their two games against Philadelphia will be big. They will make the playoffs as either the division winner or wildcard.
New York Jets (6-2; 1st in the AFC East): They looked very good to start but have since faltered and do not dominate games. They have pulled out games they would not have in the past, though, which is the sign of a winning football team. Because they did that and their remaining schedule is not too tough, they will win the division.
Oakland (5-4; 2nd in the AFC West): No one wants to face the Raiders. I knew they would be improved because their defense has always been pretty good. Their running game is one of the best in the league. They have a handful of tough opponents remaining and, as a result, will probably finish around .500 and miss out on the playoffs.
Philadelphia (5-3; 2nd in the NFC East): Michael Vick has been surprisingly very good as he is surrounded by a lot of weapons on offense. Oddly, they have only played one divisional game. They will make the playoffs and should cause some damage there.
Pittsburgh (6-2; 2nd in the AFC North): For the most part, they have looked like the best team in football. Aaron Smith was a huge loss on the defensive line. They tend to get injuries down the stretch so they need to stay healthy. They should be a main contender.
San Diego (4-5; 3rd in the AFC West): Every year, they are picked to be a contender and it seems like they start slow and come out of nowhere and finish strong. That is what is happening again this year. Rivers has probably been the best Quarterback in the game and they will need to continue to follow him down the stretch. They have a key three game stretch against Indy, Oakland and KC left.
Seattle (4-4; 2nd in the NFC West): They have been better than expected and Mike Williams is the comeback player of the year. Although their division is very weak, they will miss out because they are way too inconsistent.
St. Louis (4-4; 1st in the NFC West): I am shocked that Sam Bradford has done as well as he has. They are clearly not the most talented team but have found ways to win. It is between them and the Cardinals, who they have already lost to once. The division will probably come down to the least game of the season.
Tampa Bay (5-3; 3rd in the NFC South): One of the biggest surprises but, ultimately, a pretender because of their crowded division. Raheem Morris is building a winning foundation which was not expected this early, though.
Tennessee (5-3; 1st in the AFC South): Randy Moss was a good pickup although the injury to Kenny Britt could be a huge loss. They have a stretch of tough opponents in the second half. They need to split against Indy, at the very least.
Washington (4-4; 3rd in the NFC East): They are fading quick and are having a lot of problems. It looks like a certainty that McNabb will be elsewhere next year. They are a big pretender.
Who makes the playoffs?
AFC: New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers
NFC: New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals
Main Contenders: Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Titans in the AFC
Everyone but the NFC West winner (in this case the Cardinals)
Super Bowl: I’ll stick with the Ravens in the AFC since I already picked them. I could see the Titans representing the AFC, though. I’ll go with the Packers in the NFC.