NFL Playoff Odds For All 32 Teams; Who Will Play In January?
NFL Playoff Odds For All 32 Teams; Who Will Play In January?
Every year, 32 NFL teams begin the season on statistically even terms. No matter where they finished the previous season, they all start on even footing, each team ready to make their run to the playoffs.
As the 2012 NFL season heads into its 7th week, we are starting to make out the murky outlines of the playoff picture. Some of the teams are exactly who we thought they would be, while other teams shock and surprise on a weekly basis. Parity is one of the key components of the NFL, constantly changing the postseason landscape year after year, and this season is no different. There are several teams that made the playoffs in 2011-12 sulking around the bottom of their division, with little hope to make it back to the promised land. This of course means other teams are stepping into the vacant positions in the NFL hierarchy.
To figure out the odds each team has of making the playoffs, we allow that each team began the season with a 100% shot at going to the postseason. Then we have to look at what they have done so far this season, what their schedule looks like the rest of the way, past history, division strength, and team tendencies. The odds are then based on each team’s ability to win their division based on those factors. Beyond the best chance for division leaders, the percentages also show the top candidates for the four Wild Card slots available, two for each conference. Every team’s chances to win the division is listed, as well making the division, by whatever means necessary.
Keep in mind, this is not an NFL Power Ranking, and with the season still in its earlier stages, the numbers will inevitably change as the games are played. Eventually, the percentages turn into reality, and the table will finally be set for an another Super Bowl Champion to be crowned.
Jeff Everette is a Featured Columnist for RantSports.com, covering the NFL and NBA. Follow Jeff on twitter @jeverettesports, like his page on FaceBook, or add his Google + to your circles for all of his latest articles, thoughts, and rants.
NFC SOUTH Carolina Panthers (1-4) DIVISION~2% PLAYOFFS~6%
A team that had high hopes for the 2012-13 season, the Carolina Panthers were thinking they could build off the record breaking skills displayed by quarterback Cam Newton. Instead, it has been a rough sophomore season for Newton, who has thrown for 456 less yards, and has scored 5 less touchdowns, than he had at the same point last season. Whether this is teams finding success at game planning against him, or Cam crumbling under the pressure, the bottom line is Carolina is not winning games.
The Panthers rank in the bottom half of the league in nearly every single statistical category, both offensive and defensive, which is a far cry from the Super Bowl contenders center Ryan Kalil guaranteed they would be before the season began. The Atlanta Falcons are unbeaten at the top of the NFC South, and all of the Panthers’ losses came within their conference. This gives Carolina the worst playoff odds in the entire NFL.
AFC SOUTH Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) DIVISION~4% PLAYOFFS~7%
Despite featuring Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the most reliable running backs in the league, the Jacksonville Jaguars have shown that having the reigning rushing leader in the backfield does not equate to having a winning team.
The Jaguars poor performance comes a bit of a surprise after 2nd year quarterback Blaine Gabbert had an impressive camp and preseason. It looked as though the team had turned the curve and was on their way towards becoming a solid football squad once again. Instead, Gabbert looks hardly improved from the “deer in the headlights” quarterback we saw on the field last season.
Mathematically, Jacksonville should be higher on this list. They are at .500 within their division, and have only lost 2 games in their conference. Both of these facts would give the Jags a boost in the numbers, but this team is a mess, with their only win coming in the final seconds against the Indianapolis Colts. The Jaguars will not see the postseason this time around, nor will they for the foreseeable future.
Future of the Browns
AFC NORTH Cleveland Browns (1-5) Division~5% PLAYOFF~9%
The Cleveland Browns looked to have won the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft when they selected running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden. So far, neither has looked like the answer to Cleveland’s woes, but the pairing has had enough bright spots to give hope for the future. As of now though, the Browns rank among the worst in the league on the defensive side of the ball, and the offense isn’t much better.
The Browns finally got their first win in Week 6, but playoff hopes have already been shifted to next year. Of course there is the chance that this could be the jump off point for them, and Cleveland could go on a streak and win every game from here on out. It may not be healthy to hold your breath waiting on that one, though.
Jamaal Charles- Kansas City Chiefs
AFC WEST Kansas City Chiefs (1-5) DIVISION~7% PLAYOFFS~10%
The teams of the AFC West all bring enough to the table that it is possible for them to make a run at any point in the year, and this includes the Kansas City Chiefs. Unfortunately for them, starting quarterback Matt Cassel leads the league in interceptions and was cheered by fans when he went down with a concussion in Week 5. This is not what General Manager Scott Pioli was hoping for when the season began, and after the drubbing they took in Week 6, it is doubtful that Brady Quinn can be the answer while Cassel is out.
A bright spot for the struggling Chiefs has been the return of Jamaal Charles. The explosive running back was lost for the season in 2011 due to an ACL tear, yet he is leading the league in rushing through the first 6 weeks with 591 yards. The Chief are likely to lean on Charles until their quarterback situation improves, which will lead to teams daring the Chiefs to beat them through the air. This could impact Charles’ ability to lead the team to a string of victories, or on a personal note, win the rushing title.
It is unfortunate the Chiefs are unable to field a competitive team. Their schedule is ripe for a playoff push, but it is doubtful the team can pull it off, especially if Charles is the only offensive threat they can come up with.
NFC SOUTH New Orleans Saints (1-4) DIVISION~8% PLAYOFFS~12%
t seems impossible that the New Orleans Saints could be so far out of the playoff hunt, but the fallout from the offseason bounty scandal has left the Saints searching for answers, on both sides of the ball. Being led by an interim-to-an-interim head coach cannot be easy, and quarterback Drew Brees looks like he is pressing, trying to take it upon himself to heal the Saints.
Unless he is as good at defense as he is at breaking records, Brees won’t be able to solve the problems that are killing his team. The defense, ranked last in the league, has been unable to slow anyone down, not even at home, where the Saints were once dominant. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has had great success getting his guys settled down and dialed in, but a 1-4 record leaves very little wiggle room, and the defense will need to improve greatly if there is to be any change in New Orleans
On a brighter note, the Saints are coming off of an emotional win in the Superdome on a night that saw Brees break Johnny Unitas record for consecutive games with a touchdown. The Saints are hoping to build off of that win, but with games against the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys, plus 2 games against the 6-0 Falcons the Saints may have their work cut out for them.
AFC WEST Oakland Raiders (1-4) DIVISION~8% PLAYOFFS~15%
The Oakland Raiders seem like a team that should be so much better than they actually are. They have a former number 1 pick at quarterback, who while in the twilight of his career, is far from finished with the game. They have one of the best backs in the league in Darren McFadden who, when healthy, can cause damage from anywhere on the field. The receivers are fast and agile, the special teams boast two of the strongest legs in the history of the NFL, and the defense is solid from the front to the back.
With this being the first real season without the guidance of Al Davis (RIP), the Raiders hoped to move into a new era with new leadership, in the front office and on the sideline, but so far, Oakland looks less impressive than they did at this time last year. Still, with the talent in place, and the fight they have shown in closely contested losses, it may just be a matter of time before rookie head coach Dennis Allen gets the team playing up to their potential.
AFC SOUTH Tennessee Titans (2-4) DIVISION~8% PLAYOFFS~17%
It seems that the Tennessee Titans are only as good as their running back, Chris Johnson, and for the most part Johnson has been struggling. There have been issues with protection and blocking for the last two years, and the lack of production in the run game has put the pressure on a defense and passing attack that is unprepared to handle the weight.
The interesting thing about the Titans is the way they have upset the Detroit Lions in Detroit and the Pittsburgh Steelers at home. Pulling off wins against teams they have no business beating shows that they can put it together when pressed. The Titans have the capability of becoming a Wild Card team, it just won’t be this year.
NFC NORTH Detroit Lions (2-3) DIVISION~13% PLAYOFFS~22%
One of the biggest disappointments this season, has been the play of the Detroit Lions, who made the playoffs last year for the first time since 1999. What was expected to another huge season, has instead fallen on hard times and the Lions find themselves at 2-3 and in the bottom of their division.
The problems in Detroit are often self inflicted. The passing game is nearly the best in the league, but they are 12th when it comes to putting the ball in the end zone. In consecutive weeks, the game was essentially lost on special teams, and the defense, which should be among the best in the league at getting to the quarterback is instead ranked 20th.
The Lions had been hoping to get Jahvid Best back from the physically unable to perform list, but this looks to have fallen through, and they will need to depend on Mikel LeShoure for the foreseeable future. The offense has also been lacking one of its staples from the year before. Last season, quarterback Mathew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson connected for 16 touchdowns. It was expected they would pick up where they left off, but, to the detriment of fantasy teams everywhere, they have failed to hook up for a single score so far this season.
The Lions pulled out a gutsy win against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6, coming from behind to get the win in overtime. This could signal the return of the Lions everyone expected at the start of the year, but the schedule will not help them make a playoff run. Detroit faces the unbeaten Falcons and the 5-1 Texans. They have two games with the Packers and Bears, plus the Eagles, Vikings, and Seahawks making the chances of Detroit fighting their way back into the hunt incredibly slim.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC SOUTH Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) DIVISION~10% PLAYOFFS~19%
The offseason saw a bunch of new faces coming to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers , including guard Carl Nicks and wide receiver Vincent Jackson. The high priced talent have struggled getting their offense going, with Tampa gaining just 313.4 yards a game (27th). Rookie running back Doug Martin showed promise as the season began, but has only managed to gain 323 yards and a touchdown. If things continue along this path, coach Greg Schiano may have to look elsewhere for backfield production, which could mean the hurdling tank, LeGarrette Blunt, taking back the starting job.
The Buccaneers looked fierce in their win against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6, but it only gives them a slight bump in the odds. Shutting down Brady Quinn in his first game under center this season, doesn’t make Tampa a playoff team. If they keep on winning, and that could change
NFC EAST Dallas Cowboys (2-3) DIVISION~19% PLAYOFFS~25%
The Dallas Cowboys started the season by beating the Giants and immediately the talk started about Dallas being over the hump, and being ready to make it to the Super Bowl. Five weeks later and the Cowboys sit at 2-3 and have looked like a middle of the pack team along the way.
Tony Romo is at the point where he needs to be the quarterback we keep being told he can be, rather than the guy that just can’t get it done. There has been times where the receiver and Romo were running completely different plays, and there has been an obvious effort to force the ball in to Dez Bryant. Austin Miles is said to still be dealing with the hamstring issues that plagued him all last season, but whenever Romo targets the 7th year receiver, good things happen. It could be in the Cowboys best interest to have Romo relax and throw to the open guy, rather than forcing the issue, and leaving the consequences for the defense to deal with.
While the rest of the season does not play out nice and easy for Dallas, there is not a team on the list that they could not beat if they learn how to stop beating themselves
AFC SOUTH Indianapolis Colts (2-3) DIVISION~14% PLAYOFFS~28%
Owner Jim Irsay put it all on the line this off season, releasing the face of the franchise in Peyton Manning, and entrusting the future of the Indianapolis Colts with rookie Andrew Luck. While it is still to early to tell whether this was the smart play or not, Luck has done well in showing why he was worth the first pick in this year’s draft. Upsetting the Green Bay Packers in Week 5 goes a long way in raising the young quarterback’s stock, but it was the way he led the team from behind, with time running out, that should have Colts fans excited about the future
The Colts benefit from a weak schedule the rest of the way through (Browns, Titans, Jaguars, Bills, Lions, Chiefs, all among the worst records in the league), and could make their way in based on that alone.
In Week 5 the team played with an emotional spark, fighting for head coach Chuck Pagano, who was diagnosed with leukemia during Week 4. They lost in a blowout the Week 6, but it is still easy to see the Colts overachieving their way into January.
AFC NORTH Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3) DIVISION~14% PLAYOFFS~29%
It is odd having the Pittsburgh Steelers fall so low, but no one can say they didn’t see it coming. While the Steelers are still a very dangerous team, key injuries on the defensive side of the ball have made them extremely vulnerable. A one-and-done Wild Card team last year, Pittsburgh will likely only make post season play if the Baltimore Ravens lose often, while the Steelers are winning.
Big Ben Roethlisberger has a talented group of receivers around him, but the offense is going to continue to struggle until the running game can become more productive. Currently the Steelers backfield is mangled by injury, and who they will put on the field has been decided on a week to week basis. The Steelers are not likely to make the playoffs if this continues.
NFC EAST Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) DIVISION~24% PLAYOFFS~30%</strong>
With Michael Vick giving up the ball an average of 2.2 times a game, it is hard to give them much credit for leading their division through the first 5 weeks. Especially when the division had been so tight one loss dropped them from first, to third, behind the Washington Redskins, and the New York Giants
While Philly boasts one of the best receiving corps in the league, Vick needs time to deliver them the ball, and when he has time, he needs to make the right read. The running game with LeSean McCoy</strong> has not been nearly as explosive as it was last year, but much of this seems to fall on the play calling, rather than actual performance issues from the dynamic back.
Getting Vick and the offensive line on the same page, and having coach Andy Reed rely on the run, would be huge steps in taking this team to the next level, but until Vick protects the ball, the Eagles will continue to be a team that dominates on paper, and fails miserably on the field.
NFC WEST St. Louis Rams (3-3) DIVISION~16% PLAYOFFS~7%
The St Louis Rams went into Week 6 above .500 for the first time since quarterback Sam Bradford was selected with the first overall pick in the 2010. Bringing in Jeff Fisher as the head coach has made an obvious change in the attitude surrounding the club, and the winning record shows it. The remainder of the season is going to show how far along the Rams truly are, starting with how they respond to a Week 6 loss at the hands of the Miami Dolphins.
The season steadily getting worse from the Rams from here. In consecutive weeks St.Louis plays the Packers, Patriots and the first of two games against the 49ers. Running through a gauntlet of this order will likely push the Rams down the power rankings, and January football will not likely be in their future.
AFC NORTH Cincinnati Bengals (3-3) DIVISION~17% PLAYOFFS~32%
Very few teams had been looking as Wild Card ready as the Cincinnati Bengals, who had been playing very good football this season, despite losses to the Ravens and Dolphins. Now the Bengals can add giving the Cleveland Browns their first win of the season, and the Bengals have to be asking each other what they are doing wrong.
Andy Dalton and A.J Green have been causing defensive coaches headaches, and with promising signs coming from Andrew Hawkins, and free agent acquisition, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Bengals offense can be extremely potent when it is clicking. The defense is a bit less effective than it was last season, but many of the problems there can be solved through proper execution.
The defense is going to need to make the efforts necessary to get it right because the schedule gets no easier for them, with games two games against the Steelers, one with the Giants, Broncos, and Chargers, and a season-ender against the Ravens. If Cincinnati wants to earn the Wild Card, like they surprisingly did last season, they are going to need to win the games they are supposed to win, and stop giving up the big play.
NFC NORTH Green Bay Packers (3-3) DIVISION~18% PLAYOFFS~32%
If the Lions are the one of the biggest surprise in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers have to be the biggest shock of them all. Going into Week 6, the mystique of the 2010-11 Super Bowl champs had all but disappeared, and Aaron Rodgers looked like a shadow of the shoe-in Hall of Fame quarterback that led his team to a 15-1 record last season. In Week 6 the Packers offense began to look more like the unstoppable machine fans had become used to, but they will need to continue this trend to get make the memory of their pathetic ways fade.
Rodgers favorite target, Greg Jennings, has been plagued by a groin injury, an aging Donald Driver is less than healthy, and Jermichael Finley still cannot catch the call to save his life. The Pack had seemed to be finding a groove in the running game, but a season ending injury to free agent addition, Cedric Benson, puts the onus back on Rodgers and the passing attack. Maybe that is what Aaron Rodgers needs to get motivated, throwing for 6 touchdowns and beating the then unbeaten Texans in his last outing.
There are those who will point to the call at the end of the Seattle game as the focal point of the Green Bay troubles, but that call didn’t have Rodgers on the ground 8 times in the first half, nor did it make them lose a 3 score lead against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5. There are problems in Green Bay, but if there is ever a team built to overcome adversity, it is the Packers, and the Week 6 win in Houston is a good start. Don’t count them out just yet.
NFC EAST Washington Redskins (3-3) DIVISION~28% PLAYOFFS~34%
Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III got off to a hot start, but the Washington Redskins were given a good scare when he was knocked out of the game with a concussion in Week 5. After taking the hit while trying to run on the Atlanta Falcons defense, his status for the future was in question, and pundits everywhere were begging him to be more careful. Griffin answered by running all over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6, racking up 138 yards, and inspiring teammate Fred Davis to dub him “Black Jesus”.
Their schedule has them facing 6 teams with .500 or better records, and they still have all 6 games within their division to go. The emergence of Alfred Morris as the number 1 back is a plus, but the loss of key members of their defense has them among the worst in the NFL at points allowed, pass defense, and total yards. RGIII makes the Redskins an interesting team to watch, we just won’t likely be watching them in January.
AFC EAST Buffalo Bills (3-3) DIVISION~20% PLAYOFFS~37%
The Buffalo Bills made the some of the loudest moves in the offseason, including landing the biggest defensive free agent available when they signed former number one pick, Mario Williams. Unfortunately, the offseason hype has not add up to regular season wins for the struggling Bills. What makes it worse for Buffalo is that it has been the defense they paid so much for that has been their biggest weakness, giving up nearly 450 yards a game, and worse, they are dead last in allowed points at 35.2 per game.
At 3-3, Buffalo comes off a win against the Arizona Cardinals, who missed an easy walk off field goal in Week 6, and are tied with the rest of the AFC East. The Bills have only been able to beat the worst of the worst, and until the Cardinals, have failed to even out up a fight against teams with a .500 record or better.
Buffalo’s abysmal performance over weeks 4 & 5 was nearly enough to write them completely out of contention, but their 5th ranked run game and 23.6 points a game keep them in contention with the other teams in their division . If their defense can find a way to come together, they could fight their way into the play off race, but if there is no change, the Bills could easily end the season at 4-12.
AFC EAST Miami Dolphins (3-3) DIVISION~24% PLAYOFFS~40%
Before the start of the season, the Miami Dolphins were near the bottom of nearly every ranking index out there. The preseason failures of the team was well documented, and then shared with the rest of the world, via HBO’s Hard Knocks series. Yet for all of the early struggles, the Dolphins have performed well in all 6 of their games. The team could easily be 5-1 were it not for a myriad of missed field goals, and questionable play calling. Other factors come in to play in regards to their record, but nevertheless, the Dolphins have been impressive, and their rookie quarterback looks to be the real deal. Should the Patriots continue to inexplicably lose games, this is the team that could be in position to take their place as the team to beat.
The Dolphins upcoming schedule is by no means easy (2 games against New England, and an away game with the San Francisco 49ers), but there are several games where a competitive Miami should be able to rack up wins (@New York Jets, 2 with the Buffalo Bills, and home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Seattle Seahawks) making them a possible playoff contender.
AFC WEST San Diego Chargers (3-3) DIVISION~36% PLAYOFFS~45%
The San Diego Chargers hold a share of the lead in the AFC West, but they share it with the team that just thumped them at home, the Denver Broncos. The Chargers gave up a 24-0 lead at the half, and lost by 11. The results of that game are very telling, and provides great insight concerning the Chargers chances for making the post season.
Even though they relinquished their edge in the division, San Diego should still be seen as one of the strongest contenders for an AFC wild card slot, if they do not come back and take the division from the Broncos. Phillip Rivers will not turn the ball over 5 times in a half often enough to keep the Chargers from contending, and the results of a Week 12 meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals may be the difference between watching the games in January and playing in them.
AFC EAST New York Jets(3-3) DIVISION~30% PLAYOFFS~45%
The New York Jets have lived up to the circus billing that has been a part of the teams identity since Rex Ryan took over as head coach in 2009. The Jets came into the season begging for trouble, as they had traded for the phenomenon that is Tim Tebow. Tebow was advertised as a back-up to Mark Sanchez, with a possible weapon in a Wild Cat scheme. What we have seen is a righty, lefty combination that has been inconsistent and uncertain in most games, although it worked effectively against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 6.
The loss of defensive leader, Darrell Revis, led to Ryan going into Week 5 with running back Joe McKnight in the secondary. To make it more interesting, an injury to offensive weapon, Santonio Holmes, had defensive back Antonio Cromartie playing wide receiver. That is how backwards this season is for the 3-3 Jets.
The Jets seem like they are ready to be written off, but even with a loss in Week 5, it is obvious how deep they are digging in, and as long as no one in their division is pulling away, they have a chance at scrapping their way into the playoffs.
Peyton Manning at the line
AFC WEST Denver Broncos (3-3) DIVISION~39% PLAYOFFS~47%
The Denver Broncos appear to have a healthy Peyton Manning and that alone makes them a playoff contender. So far the Broncos have had a tough time putting all of the pieces together, getting off to slow starts in 4 of their first 5 games. The second half of these games have seen the Broncos begin to click outscoring opponents by the staggering amount of 78-6 in the 4th quarter alone, but they will need to figure out how to start as strong as they finish if they want to make it to the playoffs.
The biggest free agent of the offseason, Manning, came to the Broncos surrounded by questions about his health, and his ability to play at the same level he had for so many years in Indianapolis. After witnessing what Manning and the Broncos have done in the second half of every game this season, there seems to be little doubt about his health and ability.
The come from behind victory against the Chargers in Week 6 puts the Broncos in control of their own future, and if the defense can return to mid-Tebow form from last season, the Broncos could be hard to stop.
AFC EAST New England Patriots (3-3) DIVISION~28% PLAYOFFS~47%
Last season’s Super Bowl runner-up have started the season out looking as though they have returned to Earth, and are mere mortals once again. Coach Bill Belichick’s decision to veer away from wide receiver Wes Welker early in the season proved to be detrimental to the output of the Tom Brady led offense, and they dropped two games early. After incorporating Welker as a main target once again, the New England Patriots had gotten back on track, winning two games that made them look like a team intent on winning their 4th Super Bowl in 11 years.
A Week 6 road trip brought the Patriots back down to mediocrity, when they were beaten by a 4th quarter drive put together by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. A true sign of the changing times may be the trash talk aimed at Brady by corner back Richard Sherman. The two had exchanged twitter jabs before the game, and Sherman got the last laugh, intercepting Brady, and securing a one point win for the Seattle Seahawks.
The untouchable mystique of the Dynasty Patriots seems to have slipped away after losing their last two trips to the Super Bowl, and the way defenses are playing against them shows it. Now tied with the rest of the AFC East, New England is going to have to fix what ails them if they want to maintain their winning ways. Blood is in the water, and the sharks are circling.
NFC WEST Seattle Seahawks (4-2) DIVISION~25% PLAYOFFS~48%
With the best record of the 5 rookie quarterbacks that started the season, Russell Wilson and his Seattle Seahawks have been flirting with the bottom of their division all season. Admittedly, the NFC West has been extremely competitive this season, but the Seahawks boast a top ten running game, a defense that ranks 2nd in points allowed per game (15.5), and going into Week 6, they gave up the least amount of yards per game (258.6).
Such good statistics make it hard to understand how they are just 3-3 (or 2-4 if you ask the Green Bay Packers). The players have the fight in them to win, showing up Tom Brady shows that, but whether Pete Carol can coach this team to their potential remains to be seen. Wilson had been rumored to be on the hot seat, but after his 3 touchdowns in the win against the Patriots, he should be the starter going forward. Seattle is playing a physical brand of football, and the playoffs are becoming a strong possibility for the American Northwest.
San Francisco Power Running
NFC WEST San Francisco 49ers (4-2) DIVISION~31% PLAYOFFS~49%
Besides a flop against the Vikings, the San Francisco 49ers had been playing inspired football, beating their week 4 & 5 opponents by a combined score of 79-3. Then the New York Giants came to town, and the 49ers looked far from the Super Bowl favorites they were thought to be.
A team whose success in 2011 was attributed to a ferocious defense, the 49ers offense is 1st in the league in rushing and are putting up 25.3 points per game. Alex Smith is growing into a threat at the quarterback position, only throwing one interception going into Week 6. Michael Crabtree, who was all but nonexistent against the Giants, may finally be developing into the number one receiver he was drafted to be. Tight end Vernon Davis is among the best at his position, and creates matchup problems for every team they meet. And the defense is still smothering, giving up just15.7 a game (3rd), and opponents have only managed 275.8 yards per game (1st).
Defenses in the NFC West have been surprisingly tough this season, and the ‘9ers still have to face any of them. They also have games against the Bears, Dolphins, and Patriots, none of which will be easy wins. This leaves very little room for error the rest of the way, and if they do not make adjustments after the beat down they suffered in their own house, San Francisco could easily fade into the background.
NFC WEST Arizona Cardinals (4-2) DIVISION~29% PLAYOFFS~50%
The Arizona Cardinals went into the season with a quarterback controversy, but with Kevin Kolb taking over for an injured John Skelton, the Cardinals have been winning games in tough situations. A blowout against the Eagles, a 4th down, 4th quarter play to squeek past the Dolphins, and a shocking upset at Gillette stadium, have gotten the Cards the attention of the rest of the league. The question is whether they can continue to win, or if they were simply overachieving.
A loss to the St.Louis Rams in Week 5 saw Kolb battered and bloodied, and a missed field goal gave away a game to the Bills the next week. How the Cardinals respond to the back to back losses will decide whether they play in the post season or not.
NFC EAST New York Giants (4-2) DIVISION~36% PLAYOFFS~51%
Despite losing the first of two games against division rival Dallas Cowboys, and Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants still appear to have one of the most well rounded teams in the league. As long as Eli Manning is throwing the ball to playmaking wideouts Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, and the defense stays healthy, the Giants have to be considered a playoff favorite.
The Giants sent a strong message to the rest of the league with their dismantling of the heavily favored 49ers, but New York’s schedule does not give them much time to rest on their reputation. Instead, the Giants will have to play exceptional football during their post season run. With games against the Packers, Falcons, and Ravens coming up, the Giants will be tested often and harshly the rest of the way. If the Giants win enough to make the playoffs, the rest of the league should take note of the road they took to get there, and be very afraid.
NFC NORTH Minnesota Vikings (4-2) DIVISION~35% PLAYOFFS~52%
The Minnesota Vikings are the most unlikely surprise of the NFL season thus far. After finishing with the 3rd worst record in the league last season, and losing Adrian Peterson to a torn ACL at the end of the season, no one picked the Vikings at the top half of a division that boast two of last years hottest teams. Another surprise may be how well Adrian Peterson has bounced back from such a devastating injury, and the consistency of tight end Kyle Rudolph, who leads all tight ends in touchdowns.
Minnesota lost to the Redskins in Week 6, and it is just going to get rougher. Their upcoming schedule includes 2 games with both the 4-1 Bears and the Green Bay Packers, as well as a tough Seahawks team and the 5-1 Texans. This may prove to be too much for sophomore quarterback, Christian Ponder, and the Vikings will end up being another tale of a team that started fast and fell apart late.
Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall
NFC NORTH Chicago Bears (4-1) DIVISION~40% PLAYOFFS~60%
The addition of Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall made the Chicago Bears a strong candidate for an NFC Wild Card slot, but with the Packers and Lions both struggling, the division title is easily within reach. At 4-1, the Bears are off to a fantastic start, but their one loss to the Packers was so devastatingly thorough, critics and analysts have had a hard time letting it go. A frustrated altercation with an offensive lineman, along with his poor performance in the loss to the Packers, made Jay Cutler the villain of the NFL once again, but Cutler refuses to apologize for himself and simply goes out and plays.
The loss of rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will make it easier for opposing defenses to key in on Marshall, but Cutler looks at his favorite target as un-coverable, and there is little doubt the offense will continue to produce. Matt Forte looks to be recovering from an earlier ankle injury, and back up Michael Bush has been the perfect addition to an already deadly running attack.
While the offense is working towards reaching its potential, it has been the Bears defense that has truly won the day. The thought of a dominant Bears defense is hardly a new concept, but the Bears seemed to have been on a decline over the last few years, and the resurgence is exactly what the Chicago offense needs. After all, when the defense is holding teams to an average of 14.2 points per game, it doesn’t take much to get the lead.
AFC NORTH Baltimore Raven (5-1) DIVISION~70% PLAYOFFS~85%
The Baltimore Ravens were a missed chip-shot field goal away from their second Super Bowl appearance in team history last season. They have started this season looking to finish what they started last year, and are off to a very good start, but will now need to overcome the loss of two key defensive players.
Defensive legend Ray Lewis, playing in his 16th NFL season, was lost for the year in Week 6, as was the Ravens top corner back, Lardarius Webb. The Ravens vaunted defense was already below the high level it has been in seasons past, and the remaining players will need to hold it down until the return of last season’s defensive MVP, Terrell Suggs.
Fortunately for the Ravens, whatever tribulations the defense has been going through, the offense has been making strides to steadily improve. While their remaining schedule has a few challenges (at 5-1 Texans, 2 with division rival Steelers, and home for the Broncos and Chargers), the Ravens should be able to pull out enough wins to take the division, as well as a first round bye.
AFC SOUTH Houston Texans (5-1) DIVISION~73% PLAYOFFS~87%
The Houston Texans looked fantastic last year before quarterback Matt Shaub went down for the season with a foot injury, and they were continued to win, even when they were forced to turn to 3rd stringer, T.J. Yates. The Texans made the playoffs for the first time in team history and winning their first match-up, before being bounced by the Baltimore Ravens.
Once again, Houston looks fantastic, and with Shaub and Andre Johnson complementing the running attack of Arian Foster, there is very little this team could not accomplish. The defense is just as impressive, ranking in the top 5 in nearly every statistical category.
The Texans are balanced and talented, but they were abused at home by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The defense that had been so good gave up 5 touchdowns to the reigning MVP, but it was the way the Packers defense held Arian Foster to just 29 yards is what comes as the biggest shock. Foster did score two touchdowns, keeping thousands of fantasy owners from committing suicide, but the inability to move the ball on the ground caused the whole offense to struggle. The Texans are going to need to study that loss, and make the adjustments to keep it from happening again.
Tony Gonzalez- Atlanta Falcons
NFC SOUTH Atlanta Falcons (6-0) DIVISION~86% PLAYOFFS~90%
Led by Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons offense has been incredibly effective this season, scoring nearly 30 points a game in route to a perfect record. The defense has done its part as well, giving up the 6th least points across the NFL.
What has been impressive about the Falcons is the way they have won blowouts and close games, both at home and on the road. Being able to win in tough situations, no matter what the circumstances are, will come in handy come playoff time. Since drafting Ryan, the Falcons have made the playoffs, just to disappear in their first match-up. The experience of gutting out tough wins may give them the edge they need to get over the hump.
An interesting stat is the rest of Atlanta’s schedule going forward. Going into Week 6 the Falcons had an unbelievable 7 games against lined up with teams that had just 1 win through the first 5 weeks of the season. The Falcons won the first of those contests when they beat the Oakland Raiders on a last second field goal, and talk of a perfect season may soon be in the Falcons future.