NFL At The 9/16th Pole

As promised, some thoughts on the lay of the land in the NFL with 7 weeks remaining in the season.  I will work through the 32 teams divisionally, starting with the AFC East:

This division is a jumble of solid teams and its anyone’s guess how it will play out.  The safe assumption is that New England will overcome the loss of Brady to still come out on top, and they have a critical game with New York tomorrow night.  I doubt Miami can win the division, as it strikes me that they probably have a lower ceiling on how well they can do this season, maybe around 9-7.  But they can certainly affect things by winning a key division game or two down the stretch, like they already have against New England and Buffalo.  Speaking of the Bills, they looked great a month ago.  But having taken an 0-3 turn through the division is a real killer for tiebreaking purposes.  Even for a wildcard, as you have to be 2nd in your division, or be 3rd and get the 6th seed if the 2nd place team in your division gets the 5th seed.

AFC North:

This is effectively a two team race between Pittsburgh and Baltimore with the Steelers having won the first h2h matchup and the 2nd being in Baltimore Week 15.  The Ravens schedule gets tougher down the stretch as they still have all 4 games against the NFC East starting this Sunday in New York.  But the Steelers schedule isn’t much easier, with San Diego, New England, Dallas, and Tennessee all looming.  Ben isn’t healthy and the offensive line remains an area of opportunity.  The Browns are not completely out of it, but they are also staring lousy tiebreaking in the face.  They cannot win a tie with Baltimore and their only hope of winning one with Pittsburgh is if the Steelers lose the Cincinnnati and Baltimore games left.  Realistically, the rest of 2008 is valuable learning time for Brady Quinn for 2009, whoever the coach is then.

AFC South:

Tennessee could actually clinch this division in the next couple weeks.  I assume the Titans will not go 16-0 but as long as Kerry Collins is playing well that team has no obvious weakness.  The Colts and Jaguars are still fighting for wildcard spots but will need to get red hot down the stretch.  Both of are quite capable of doing that, especially the Colts whose offense, with the exception of Marvin Harrison, seems to be rounding back into form.  Indy has a better conference record than a number of teams ahead of them in the wildcard standings, and that win against Pittsburgh could always prove useful in the end.  A critical game with the Chargers awaits in a couple weeks, and winning the other Jacksonville game could also be near essential for divisional ranking.

AFC West:

This division is still waiting to see if someone can be better than mediocre.  I think the Broncos look like a 9-7 team.  Not better, not worse.  Good passing game and precious little else.  They are so desperate for a running game they just brought back noted klepto Tatum Bell.  So its up to the Chargers.  A hot 2nd half that gets them from 4-5 to 10-6 likely gives them the division.  Can they play consistent enough defense to do it?  Can the Raiders or Chiefs get a random 2nd half win to spoil things?

NFC East:

Yikes!  Giants appear to be the class of one of the best divisions I can recall.  They are playing consistent on both sides of the ball just like last January.  Eli Manning has come into his own, excellent running game, and the defense doesn’t seem to miss Osi Umenyiora at all.  Redskins have a leg up on Dallas and Philadelphia in the critical race to be no worse than 2nd and in prime wildcard position.  But their offense tends to pull a disappearing act at times.  Much like Buffalo in the AFC the Eagles are hamstrung by having gone 0-3 their first turn through the division and basically need to win their remaining division games to have a legit shot.  Dallas is desperate for Tony Romo’s return, but this team still has other issues.  Everyone likes to tout Jason Garrett as a genius, but I for one don’t think he uses Marion Barber nearly enough.  To the extent I almost wonder if he is sandbagging this season so Wade Phillips gets fired and he gets promoted.

NFC North:

Well, we can rule out the Lions, but I’m not sure we can say much else.  The Bears and Vikings lead the Packers by one game, but this race is still wide open.  Bears are sitting great with 3 division wins, but 2 of those are against the Lions and this Sunday is the first Packers game.  Vikings already have 2 division losses, but if they can win the other Bears game and Lions game they’ll be at 4-2 in the division.  Basically, these teams all going 4-2 in the division by splitting with each other and sweeping the Lions is a very realistic scenario.  If anyone gains seperation down the stretch the Packers strike me as the most likely, as all the pieces that surrounded Brett Favre last season are still there.  Otherwise, the team that gets to 10 wins takes this.

NFC South:

It does not get the publicity that either East division does, but this collection of teams is excellent also.  New Orleans is last by 2 games at 4-5 and by no means out of it with a hot finish.  Did anyone see Atlanta being 6-3 after 9 games.  For that matter, anyone see Carolina being 7-2?  Critical here will be division games, and teams not screwing up any games they still have left with Detroit, Oakland, and Kansas City.  2nd place will be fighting the East division for wildcard spots.  I tend to favor Tampa, but I can’t really offer a logical reason why.  This division is liable to be chaos to the end, especially if the Saints make a run.

NFC West:

Prepare yourself now for a truely strange sight come early January; the Arizona Cardinals hosting a playoff game.  Being 4 games up on a trio of pathetic 2-7 teams, Arizona winning their first division title since 1975 is a fait accompli at this point.  With 3 games remaining against their division winning enough games to sneak into bye seed position is not out of the question, though the 3rd seed and being a home underdog wildcard weekend is the more likely scenario.  But this team will not be easy to beat in the playoffs, especially in Glendale.  With Kurt Warner looking like the Kurt Warner of Greatest Show on Turf vintage, this offense scores points by the gallon.

Bottom line question: what’s gonna happen the last 7 weeks?  Beats the shit out of me.  Just sit back and enjoy.

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2 Responses to “NFL At The 9/16th Pole”

  1. OMAR Says:

    Feel free to eliminate the Jaguars from contention at any time. Without (Falcon head coach) Mike Smith coaching the defense this year they can’t get off the field. The offensive line and receivers aren’t playoff quality either.

    Interesting that you posted the TV listings.

    /born and raised in Youngstown

  2. buckeyenewshawk Says:

    I prefer to hold off considering a team out of it until they have actually taken enough losses they won’t be able to overcome it. At this stage of the game I consider 7 losses likely fatal and 8 definitely so. That having been said, the Jags chances aren’t good at this point. Those O-line injuries early on didn’t help things. I jinxed them; they were my Super Bowl champs on Labor Day.

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