There are four weeks left to go in the regular season and nearly half of the teams’ playoff hopes have officially ended. But for those still alive, every game is a must-win at this point.
In the NFC, we have 10 teams with a realistic shot of still playing in January. Atlanta, San Francisco, Green Bay, New York, Chicago, and Seattle currently sit in the playoff spots (in that order). Seattle and New York’s 7-5 records are very important here, because the four teams gunning for them — Washington, Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota — are only a game behind.
If the Seahawks and Giants can win their matchups, they’ll force the minimum win total up to eight, meaning that the four teams on the outside will need to go at least 2-2 to close out the season. A Giants loss will fling the gates open for Washington and Dallas to tie or take the division lead. Plenty of fun left to be had in the NFC.
With only seven teams left in the AFC, the division race isn’t nearly as muddled. Houston, Denver, Baltimore, New England, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh are in the playoff spots with only Cincinnati left to challenge the six. 7-5 Pittsburgh is ahead of Cincinnati based on head-to-head tiebreak and their Week 16 clash could very well decide who gets the final Wild Card berth.
But in the mean time, both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have to focus on winning right now. The Steelers have an easier road than the Bengals, but they are still without a healthy Ben Roethlisberger for the foreseeable future. Big games all around for the NFC North today.
Now let’s pick. Last week I went 10-6, bringing my season record to 122-70. Really tough picks this week, so there’s no telling how it will go.
Denver over Oakland
Thursday night games were a tough out for the league’s best early in the season, but this one was a virtual certainty. Two teams trending in different directions, and one of them has Peyton Manning.
Atlanta over Carolina
The Panthers finished the season strong last season, but last week’s loss to a Chiefs team (inspired or not) doesn’t give me much faith in them. The Falcons are well on their way to clinching home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Buffalo over St. Louis
Neither team is sniffing the playoffs, but this is still a tough one to call. I don’t like picking either team, but I see the Bills riding the wave of their run game to squeak out a victory.
Dallas over Cincinnati
Most will agree that Cincinnati is the better team on both sides of the ball. So why am I picking Dallas? Not sure, really. They’re 3-3 at home and on the road, but they have a knack for staying alive until the end.
Cleveland over Kansas City
The Chiefs came up with an emotional win last week, a day after the tragic events surrounding Jovan Belcher. Brady Quinn had the game of his life and was a very instrumental voice for the team post-game. The momentum could very well carry over into today, since the Browns offense isn’t of the same caliber as Carolina’s, but I’m betting on them reverting back to their old ways.
Indianapolis over Tennessee
Here’s my weekly rant about how much Andrew Luck has accomplished with a less-than stellar supporting cast: Just like Marvin Harrison helped usher in Reggie Wayne’s all-pro career, Wayne is helping new receivers T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery do the same. Giving the MVP award to any of the rookies is still a hilarious notion, but this year’s crop has jumped out of the gate faster than any that we’ve ever seen.
Chicago over Minnesota
The Bears are coming off a disappointing loss at home to Chicago, but aside from Adrian Peterson, Minnesota isn’t offering much in the way of offense. They’ll need Adrian Peterson to have another massive day (which likely won’t be a problem), but Christian Ponder has to make plays. I feel like I say this every week, too.
Pittsburgh over San Diego
Ben Roethlisberger returns to the starting role today, but what version we’ll see is up for debate. If he’s even slightly capable, it will be an upgrade over Batch or Leftwich and that may be all that the Steelers need. My confidence between Philip Rivers and the Chargers have plummeted.
Tampa Bay over Philadelphia
Another case of two teams trending on opposite sides of the spectrum. The Bucs are still in the midst of a playoff chase, while Philadelphia is figuring out which players and coaches will make it to next season. Developing Nick Foles and Bryce Brown will be priority number one for the remainder of the season and Philly defense isn’t getting any better.
Baltimore over Washington
This game will come down to who’s the better quarterback. Robert Griffin III is the popular choice with the rookie season that he’s having, but if I had to choose one of them to win a game for me, I’d choose Flacco. Especially with the weapons he has on offense and the secondary that he and the Ravens are up against today. Baltimore in a close one.
New York Jets over Jacksonville
Oh, wow. Do I have to pick this one? Sanchez will get another chance to keep his starting job against one of the league’s worst teams. But if he struggles, will we be bombarded with the non-riveting quarterback situation on a non-playoff team?
San Francisco over Miami
Kaepernick is coming off of his first loss as a starter, but he continued his mistake-free football. If he can do the same today, the Niners should cruise to their ninth win of the season. Even if he doesn’t, it’s unlikely that we’ll see Alex Smith next week (or for the rest of the season).
New York Giants over New Orleans
They won’t be reaching the postseason, but the Saints have been a tough opponent all season. Today will be no different against a Giants team fresh off of a Monday night loss Washington. I’m banking on Eli and company to play with a sense of urgency and pull out a win.
Seattle over Arizona
The Cardinals defense has done all that it can to make up for the team’s stagnant offense. Arizona QB Ryan Lindley is coming off of a terrible performance against the Jets and likely won’t perform any better today. Their options under center outside of the rookie are also subpar and they’re facing a Seahawks team that’s undefeated at home. So I probably should’ve focused more on the winning team in this paragraph.
Green Bay over Detroit
The Lions have enough talent to stay in games, but they haven’t been able to seal the deal this season. Green Bay has won six of their last seven and is looking to hang on to their slim division lead. It’s tough to go against them at home. If nothing else, watch this one for Calvin Johnson as he is within range of Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yards.
New England over Houston
Houston is the better overall team, in my opinion, but the rule of late has been simple: if you can muster any offensive firepower, you can torch Houston’s secondary and score points. The end result may be close, but I’d say that Tom Brady has the ability to beat Houston through the air, if necessary.
Record (Week): 10-6
Record (Season): 132-76