ESPN's Playoff Machine is a terrific tool--just plug in who you think will win each game the rest of the way and the Machine calculates the tiebreakers and spits out the playoff bracket. It's not without its flaws--picking game-by-game doesn't allow you to factor in consistency. How often do you look at a team and say "I know they'll lose a game I just can't say where"? But with only three weeks to go the game-by-game simulator has increasing relevance. And even though I picked the Packers to reach the Super Bowl at the start of the season, have not wavered off that all year and have them winning two of their final three games, the simulator tells me their resultant 10-6 record would leave them home for the playoffs. One reason is that the Chicago Bears seem to have the NFL's version of the Red Sea opening in front of them. Just a couple weeks ago the coming Monday night trip to Minnesota and an ensuing home game with the Jets looked imposing. With the Vikings having only a wounded Brett Favre or an incompetent Tavaris Jackson to choose from, the prospects of a home upset look increasingly unlikely. The Jets fall from grace makes the odds of them going on the road and winning look like a longshot. Thus, Green Bay could beat the Giants and Bears to end the year, but without winning at New England on Sunday night they end up out in the cold.
My other preseason Super Bowl choice was the Baltimore Ravens and they were the result of another surprise in the simulator. I think the Ravens are going to win out, and if they get a break and have Cleveland upset Pittsburgh in the season finale in the Dawg Pound, that hands Baltimore the AFC North title. By the finale, Cleveland should have Colt McCoy back and this is a spot that just has upset written all over it. I have Baltimore stealing the North by coming through the backdoor.
Uncertainties are quarterback are the reason for some other choices as well. If Matt Cassell can play and play effectively in St. Louis this Sunday, Kansas City will win the AFC West. But right now I'm not sure enough about that and I like the way the Rams play, especially at home. If you pencil in a KC loss--even one--you need San Diego to lose to the likes of San Francisco, Cincinnati or Denver. So right now, the Chargers are back as the projected West division champ. Here's how the entire bracket simulated out...
1st Round: #6 Philadelphia at #3 Chicago, #5 New Orleans at #4 St. Louis
Byes: #1 Atlanta and #2 NY Giants
1st Round: #6 NY Jets at #3 San Diego, #5 Pittsburgh at #4 Indianapolis
Byes: #1 New England and #2 Baltimore
Image from everyjoe.com
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.