With just a couple of games to go, it's time to take a look at the playoffs. And luckily for you, I have all the answers. First the NFC:
All divisions have been decided, with Dallas, Green Bay, Tampa and Seattle taking the top spots. Even the byes have been decided, with the Packers and Cowboys wrapping those up. Let's check the prognosis of each team as we head into the playoffs.
Dallas: The Jessica Simpson crapola aside, Dallas has some actual problems. Dallas' great offensive line took a hit with Andre Gurode out of practice this week. Also, Terry Glenn has been banged up, and with opponents focusing on shutting down T.O., Dallas' offense has not been what it was the past two weeks. Dallas needs to take care of business the last couple of games (both away from Dallas) at Carolina and at D.C. The bye week will help Gurode, Tony Romo and Terry Glenn get the rest they need, heading into the playoffs.
Prognosis: Still the leaders. They win and they get the no. 1 seed. Have talent on both sides of ball to make a run to Super Bowl, but are one significant injury away from a quick exit.
Green Bay: The Packers would relish home field advantage through the playoffs forcing opposing teams to visit Wisconsin in January. Their young defense also, is making life very hard for opposing teams. This week, they face the immortal Kyle Orton and the next week, the Detroit "Which abyss did they fall into?" Lions. All in all, in very good shape.
Prognosis: Very good. Easy schedule, and may have finally found a running game. Could make for a fairy tale exit for Farve.
Tampa Bay: Granted, the NFC South was not the division it was supposed to be (not one player from the NFC South made the Pro Bowl), still, Tampa is 9-5. And they've done this using their 3rd string running back, undrafted dude Earnest Graham. Also, their defense is still stout, ranked third in ypg. The bad news is that the Bucs are 1-3 against teams with winning records. Not good going into the playoffs.
Prognosis: May scrape out a win in the first round, but that's about it.
Seattle: Unbelievable, but the Seahawks still aren't over letting go an offensive guard two years ago. That's when the Hawks let go Steve Hutchinson as a free agent to Minnesota and since then, Seattle hasn't been able to run the ball. At all. And now with Walter Jones unable to practice, Seattle finds itself struggling to retain the no. 3 seed. Defensively, Seattle is in good shape, with Kearney being the best free agent pickup last year, with 13 1/2 sacks so far.
Prognosis: Shoot Shaun Alexander. His 3.3 ypc need to be put down for the playoffs. Maybe then, they make it to the second round.
The Rest: The Giants are done. Period. They are 0-4 against quality opponents, and now, Shockey is down, Kiwanuka is down and Ward is down. The tabloids are circling. At Buffalo this week, followed by the Patriots next week. Over. Minnesota is in good shape, getting hot at the right time. And they are winning playoff musts: they are no 1 in rushing offense (Steve Hutchinson, remember?) and rushing defense. But they've lost to the better teams of the league, including Green Bay twice and Dallas. New Orleans and Washington are dead.
NFC Sum-up. I'm gonna go out on a limb and pick the fairy tale. That is, I say Brett Farve makes it to one more Super Bowl. Green Bay has the defense (they are no. 1 in the league in stopping opponents on 3rd down), they seem to have found a running game, and their special teams has won the last two games for them. And besides, its about time for T.O. to implode.
Now the AFC:
New England: Absolutely no chance to make the Super Bowl. Seriously, to pick some nits. They don't run the ball as well as you'd like. Their linebackers don't cover as well as they once did. But come on, the Super Bowl goes through Foxborough.
Indy: Last year, I didn't think they'd make it, then their defense suddenly started playing like run-stopping men. This year, I again don't think they can make it. They are decidedly middle of the pack at stopping the run. And without Peyton's Mind Meld Wide receiver, Marvin Harrison, the offense doesn't seem to scare as many people as it once did. (They needed a last minute score to beat the Raiders.) Also, with both offensive tackles injured, both Joseph Addai and Peyton haven't had the usual time needed to find their marks. As a matter of fact, they could start their own hospital with their injured list. The good news is that the Colts have already clinched the division and a first week bye. Also, the last two games are played at home.
Prognosis: Might have some problems against some matchups, but should make it to Foxborough
Pittsburgh: Up until Willie Parker got injured, I thought the Steelers would represent pretty well in the playoffs. Now, we'll see if Najeh Davenport can become "The Bus Part 2." Also, the once proud offensive line of Pittsburgh has been decidedly mediocre this year, allowing 47 sacks (including 4 against the Rams) and 4.3 ypc. If Najeh can't call on the ghosts of Franco Harris and Bettis in the snows of Western Pennsylvania, teams might gain up on Big Ben and dare him to win it all by himself.
Prognosis: Not exactly a pushover, but won't make it to the AFC Championship
San Diego: The Chargers are everybody's favorite "going into the playoffs really hot" team, having won 4 in a row. The only problem is, 3 of those 4 teams are Baltimore, Kansas City and Detroit (a combined 0-21 in their last 21 games). A closer look reveals that the Chargers are 2-4 against quality teams. Which reminds of me of why I remain skeptical about the Chargers. They are coached by Norv Turner.
Prognosis: Upset victim: don't make it out of first round.
The rest: Jacksonville, in my opinion has it all to make a serious run. They play tough defense, pressure the QB, have a passer that doesn't make mistakes and lose the game himself, and have two running backs who can grind it out and take it to the house. And they've already beaten the Steelers and the Chargers. The Titans seem to do it with mirrors. Yes, Vander Bosch and Haynesworth make for a nice D-line. But Young is "inexperienced" at best and LenDale White seems to fall forward for 3 yds a carry each time. And name one of their receivers. Lastly, their O-Line is banged up at the worst time. And while Cleveland can make some noise in the playoffs with an offense that can score by big play or by grinding it out, they aren't ready for the Big Boys. Also, they play Cincinnati and San Fran, so they should make it no problem.
AFC Sum-up: The match up I'd like to see, Jacksonville and New England could happen. Indy and Pittsburg are banged up, San Diego is unproven while Tenn and the Browns are not ready for Prime Time. But really, when it comes down to it, it's the Patriots House. We're all just renting space.