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Wednesday, December 14, 2005
NFL Playoffs Look

Thought I'd take a look at the postseason picture this morning. There are six playoff spots in each conference, with four division winners and two wild cards. Here's how the picture looks as of now:

1. Indianapolis (clinched #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs).
2/3. Denver/Cincinnati (have not clinched anything, but each is two games up for the division lead)
4. New England (have not clinched but appear to be solidly set for the #4 seed; they are up two for the division and have beaten Buffalo twice, so the Bills would need to win out and for New England to lose out. They appear to be unlikely to catch Denver or Cincinnati for the #3 seed, as they are two games behind and have four conference losses to the Broncos' two and the Bengals three AFC defeats. They would also lose a tie-breaker to the Broncos on head-to-head.
5. Jacksonville. Appears to be sitting tight in the first wildcard position. They're a game ahead of the other wc contenders and have a very easy schedule coming up: San Francisco and Tennessee at home, and Houston on the road. Those teams are a combined 7-32 for the year.
6. Pittsburgh/Kansas City/San Diego. All are 8-5, but the Steelers need some help. They have not and will not play KC or SD, so the tie-breaker for them will come down to conference games, where they are 6-5, while the Chiefs are 7-3 and the Chargers 6-3. Fortunately, the Steelers have an easier schedule ahead, and can look forward to either KC or SD losing in the next to last game, as those teams face each other. A lot will be determined this weekend as all three face tests: Pittsburgh at Minnesota, KC at the NY Giants, and San Diego at Indianapolis.

1. Seattle. The Seahawks have clinched at least a Division title and cannot be lower than a fourth seed. They look reasonably good for the #1 seed as they are two games in front and have beaten the Giants, Falcons and Cowboys, three of the teams that could tie them. They will have a conference record edge over Carolina and Tampa Bay. Chicago is the only team that has a realistic chance of nosing them out without the Seahawks losing all three remaining games.

After that, the NFC is a complete scrum. Nobody is safe, and a lot of teams are in the mix. The Giants, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Carolina all have 9-4 records, while Dallas, Minnesota and Atlanta can't be counted out at 8-5. Washington still has a shot at 7-6, although they clearly need to run the table. Three of those teams will not be playing in the Super Bowl Tournament.

This weekend will tell the story for a lot of those teams. Carolina seems to have the easiest game, visiting the 3-10 Saints, but the rest of them have tough tests. Atlanta at Chicago will be a key NFC matchup, as will Dallas at Washington.

Atlanta has the toughest schedule, as all of their remaining games are against teams that are 9-4 currently. Of course, if they win out, they'll be picking up some tie-breakers as well Nobody has a cakewalk like Jacksonville's remaining schedule; all the other NFC contenders will face two teams with winning records in their remaining three games.
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