Remember weeks ago when everyone was talking about how there were no good teams in the NFL this year and some sort of massive 12-way tie for the playoffs seemed like a possibility? Well those days are long gone. After week 8 only the Patriots were better than 5-2, and they lost in week 9 to fall to 6-2. But since that point the NFL's elite have finally distanced themselves from the pack so it's time for some playoff predictions.
The AFC Wildcards seem nearly set in stone as the Jets, Pats, Ravens, and Steelers all appear headed to the playoffs with the winners of this week's contests holding the upperhand for the division and a first-round bye. Elsewhere in the AFC the Colts have cooled off as they have reached the point that Manning has to have a great game for them to win. However, looking at the rest of the AFC South, the Colts are still the pick to win. In the AFC West the Chargers have made their traditional mid-season push and made all of us who wrote them off look stupid again, but the Chiefs still hold the lead and this race will likely go to the wire.
AFC East - Patriots (1 seed)
AFC North - Ravens (2 seed)
AFC South - Colts (4 seed)
AFC West - Chargers (3 seed)
Wildcards - Jets (5), Steelers (6)
In the NFC things are much more confusing. The Falcons have distanced themselves from the rest, but have been far more impressive at home than on the road. Of course this won't much matter if they lock up home field throughout the playoffs. The Eagles looked to be the other elite team until their loss to the Bears, leaving them tied with the Giants. The Bears meanwhile, went from a 4-3 team that looked like it could finish 6-10 to an 8-3 team that is a legitimate threat (although they have a very hard schedule to close out the season). The Saints and the Packers both appear to have corrected some early to mid-season problems and look like playoff teams. Factor in the 7-4 Bucs and two solid (solid might be a stretch, but winning) teams will be missing the playoffs. Then of course there is the NFC West, which could probably be won by the Urbania Little Giants.
NFC East - Eagles (2 seed)
NFC North - Packers (3 seed)
NFC South - Falcons (1 seed)
NFC West - Rams (4 seed)
Wildcards - Saints (5), I was ready to predict a 3 way tie for the 6-seed at 9-7 between Bears, Giants, and Bucs. But with Shaun Hill out I doubt the Lions can upset the Bears this week and I say the Bears get 10 wins and take the 6-spot.
On to the picks.
Last week: 7-9
Lock of the Week: 10-2
Home Team in CAPS
Texans (+8) over EAGLES
If the Eagles are missing Asante Samuel it'll be pretty hard for them to keep the Texans from scoring with Andre Johnson somehow not suspended. I'm pretty happy with the result of that fight seeing as Cortland Finnegan is my least favorite player who I know very little about. Every time he is in the news it's for being a punk, not unlike Sean Avery in the NHL.
Bills (+6) over VIKINGS
People watch Bills games right? I know they are 2-9, but they are 5-0-1 against the spread in their last six games and seem to play everyone close, even the NFL's elite, so I'm fairly confident in assuming they can beat the spread against the Vikings. I saw the Vikes in person last week and they are not elite. But if the Bills don't cover the spread I think we all know who is to blame, God.
DOLPHINS (-4.5) over Browns
This pick is assuming Colt McCoy isn't ready and the Browns go with Jake Delhomme. But the Browns future looks pretty good between McCoy and Hillis, if they can find someone they can actually throw the ball to.
TITANS (-2) over Jaguars
Who knew Kerry Collins would be the dependable QB a team would be desperately waiting on to get healthy. But now that he's back it's a major upgrade from Rusty Smith.
CHIEFS (-8.5) over Broncos
The Chiefs have to be looking for revenge against the Broncos after their 20 point loss a few weeks back. Remember that was the game that ended with Todd Haley angrily pointing at Josh McDaniels instead of shaking his hand. I'm sure he's irrationally angry about something and looking to pour on points.
Redskins (+7) over GIANTS
The Giants have owned the Redskins of late, but the Redskins season has been about winning, or playing close, in games they shouldn't (minus the Eagles of course). In addition the Redskins are better coming off a loss and playing on the road.
Bears (-4) over LIONS
I was all set to pick the Lions in this game for no other reason than karma deems they are owed a win against Chicago this season (remember Calvin Johnson's non-TD catch in week 1?), but I can't pick them when they are down to their third QB.
PACKERS (-9.5) over 49ers
At first glance it looks like the 49ers are finally coming around. They've won four of six and are only a game out of the playoffs. But the two games they've lost were miserable. One was a 21-0 shutout by the Bucs, and the other was a loss to the Panthers. Two of their wins are over the Broncos and Cardinals. All that considered I'll take the Pack in a blowout.
Saints (-6.5) over BENGALS
The Saints seem to be finally playing near last year's level. The Bengals would like to say the same, but it appears likely they'll end the season on a 13-game losing streak.
Falcons (-3) over BUCCANEERS
This is the biggest road test remaining for the Falcons this season. If they can win here they really have the inside track on the top seed and home-field throughout the playoffs.
Raiders (+13) over CHARGERS
Even though that Raiders 3-game win streak seems forever ago, it's still too recent for me to lay the points here. Thirteen is too many points for most any team, especially for two teams that are only one game apart in the standings.
Panthers (+6) over SEAHAWKS
It just took me about 15 minutes to convince myself to write down the Panthers after I decided they were the smart pick. In reality the Seahawks aren't a whole lot better.
Cowboys (+5.5) over COLTS
It's arguable that the Cowboys have been the better team over the last few weeks and they could easily send the Colts into a full-scale freak out if they win this week. But then the Colts will get Bob Sanders and Joseph Addai back, win their last four games of the season and be considered a threat in the playoffs.
Rams (-3) over CARDINALS
Lock of the Week
Derek Anderson isn't laughing. Nothing is funny. Derek Anderson isn't laughing! I think if I were a Rams defender I would face paint myself with a smiling/laughing face and see if he goes insane.
Steelers (+3) over RAVENS
Jets (+3.5) over PATRIOTS
Taking the points in both these games because I expect both to be very close, I might not take these underdogs to win, but the points are enough to sway me.