The Driver’s Seat

A few weeks ago I foolishly said that the playoff races should start clearing up, making everything nice and easy.  Then everyone was basically tied with each other.  So this week, I’m foolishly again going to say that some things have cleared up (I won’t be so foolish as to say that things are clear).  Before getting to playoff scenarios, let’s start with the power rankings:

The Chargers are still on top and the top four teams are the same.  There was some shuffling in the rest of the top ten though.  San Francisco’s big win moved them out of the basement, but with Frank Gore out things might not be so rosy going forward.  Now on to the season predictions:

I’ll break it down by division like last time.  I have a bit of a summary at the end if you want to skip the details.

NFC West: Since I mentioned the 49ers we’ll start here.  You can see that Seattle actually has the highest predicted EV, which is a combination of ability and schedule.  But their 5 current wins plus 2.2 predicted wins going forward is still only 7.2 wins.  The Rams are at 7.5, the 49ers 6.1, and the Cardinals only 4.9.  Seattle and Saint Louis both play San Fran and each other still, so they control their destinies.  Seattle’s loss and St. Louis’ win changed the balance of power a bit, but this will still likely come down to week 17.

NFC South: Atlanta has 12.3 predicted wins, New Orleans 10.8, Tampa 9.6, and Carolina 2.5.  Atlanta’s win was the only big leverage game there, and likely gives them the division and a bye.  The Saints opened a bit of breathing room for a wild card.

NFC North: Green Bay has 10.3 projected wins, Chicago 10.2, Minnesota 6.5, and Detroit 4.1.  Despite Green Bay losing and Chicago winning, not much has changed here.  Besides playing each other in week 17, both play the Lions and Patriots; Green Bay gets the Giants while Chicago gets the Jets, and Chicago gets Minnesota while Green Bay gets San Fran.

NFC East: The Giants and Eagles are tied now, and both project to have about 9.8 wins.  Washington is at just under 7, and Dallas is at 5.4.  The Eagles’ loss hurt, since they had about a game advantage last week.  They play in week 15.

Playoffs: It looks like Atlanta is running away with their bye, and the other will probably go to the winner of Green Bay/Chicago.  The loser of that race and the Saints will get the two wild cards (or at least playoff spots), and the winner in the East along with the “lucky” team between Seattle and St. Louis will fill out the bracket.  If I were in charge of the last two, I would decline and ask for a better draft pick.  Since that probably won’t happen, the loser of Giants/Eagles and Tampa will miss out on the playoffs despite having 9 wins.  It’s possible that Green Bay or Chicago could also fall off (I’m giving the North the edge since both teams are about half a game ahead of the NFC East teams), so those four teams especially should feel very strongly about winning the division.

AFC East: everyone is excited about Monday Night Football this week with Pats-Jets.  They should be, since they project to 11.9 and 11.7 wins.  Miami should have 8.4 wins and Buffalo only 4.  The Jets and Patriots have very similar schedules after playing each other, so this weekend definitely will give one team the edge.

AFC North: Pittsburgh has 11.1 wins, Baltimore 10.9, Cleveland 6.3, and Cincy 3.8.  The game in Baltimore this weekend is also critical, since both the Steelers and Ravens have three easy and one hard game afterward.

AFC South: The four teams are tied for the lead and one game back right now; they sort out to Houston 7.4, Tennessee 7.5 (perhaps worse if Collins can’t come back and play ok), Indy 8.8, and Jacksonville 8.2.  I’m not even going to speculate here.

AFC West: Kansas City is at 10.1 wins, San Diego 9.6, Oakland 7.1, and Denver 5.  The Chargers get their chance to catch up when they play the Chiefs in San Diego in week 14.

Playoffs: Right now it looks like the winners of Pats/Jets and Pittsburgh/Baltimore will get the byes while the losers might have to fight with the loser of KC/SD for the two wild card spots.  I don’t have a clue who will win the South, especially since each of the teams there still has at least three division games left.  But there’s a chance the winner could only have 8 wins and keep a better team out.

The driver’s seat:  Somewhat unfortunately, the worst divisions in the league (the NFC West and AFC South) are in control.  Whoever manages to win will likely keep a more deserving team out of the playoffs, and no one else in their divisions are a threat for a wild card.  The Jets, Pats, Steelers, and Ravens are in strong positions, each having a game against their division rival and relatively easy schedules afterward.  Atlanta is the only team in the league with a clear hold on their division.  That leaves the Giants, Eagles, Packers, Bears, Chiefs, and Chargers fighting for every win in an attempt to win the division and guarantee a playoff spot; 3 will succeed and three will likely be left fighting for one wild card.  At least the league was smart enough to put this weekend’s two big games on Sunday night and Monday night where everyone can see them.

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