This holiday season, I’m thankful for the late-season playoff sprint, especially in the AFC. The Wild Card race currently consists of 9-2 Kansas City and six 5-6 teams fighting for the sixth playoff spot: Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego, New York Jets, and Miami.
Now before the season began, I picked Pittsburgh to win the NFC North; and after dropping their first four contests, I immediately regretted that choice. But thanks to their current three-game win streak and the rest of the AFC pack stumbling as of late, I’m hopping back on the bandwagon with five weeks to go in the season. I fully believe that the Steelers will finish ahead of the other 5-6 AFC teams and secure the final playoff spot.
But I’ll take it a step further — not only do I believe in them making the postseason, they are also still in the hunt for the NFC North. Just two games behind the 6-4 Bengals, it’s tough to argue against when looking at their remaining schedules. First Cincinnati’s, then Pittsburgh’s:
The Bengals get no favors the next two weeks. On Sunday, they travel to face a Chargers team that just put up 38 points on one of the league’s best defenses. They’re at home Week 14, but won’t get an easy game with Indianapolis coming to town. Pittsburgh’s is a little more manageable with a road game against Baltimore today and a ten-day rest before facing Miami. The Steelers could easily be a game behind Cincinnati — at the very least — heading into their pivotal Week 15 matchup.
With the AFC’s logjam around .500, we can’t expect too much from their doubleheaders. At 1pm, we get New England-Houston which is terrible. But a battle between 5-6 teams — Miami and the Jets — isn’t exactly Game of the Week. They couldn’t go wrong with the late game. San Diego-Cincinnati would have been a fun matchup too, but Denver-Kansas City ultimately won out.
Luckily, we get the most logical game over on Fox: 6-5 Philadelphia vs. 7-4 Arizona.
Now let’s pick. After a terrible start to the early games, I ended up finishing 9-5. My record for the year is 117-60.
Detroit over Green Bay
Dallas over Oakland
Will the Raiders have the offensive firepower to expose Dallas? With Terrelle Pryor on the bench, it’s unlikely.
Pittsburgh over Baltimore
One of the NFL’s best rivalries has meaning again with both teams now in the AFC playoff hunt.
Carolina over Tampa Bay
Mike Glennon has brought stability to the Bucs on offense, but Carolina’s playing lights out right now. They should claim an eighth straight.
Cleveland over Jacksonville
The Jags won their second game last week, but against a bad Texans squad. The Browns aren’t exactly playing lights out, but Josh Gordon‘s chances to destroy the secondary of Jacksonville.
Indianapolis over Tennessee
How to pick this one? Indianapolis has been blown out in two of their last three games, while Tennessee’s offense simply doesn’t impress me. I want to pick the Titans based on their defense alone, but I’ll take the Colts at home.
Chicago over Minnesota
Josh McCown remains the starter as Jay Cutler heals, but he’ll need to go vertical this week. With targets like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, there’s no excuse for a bad performance against this Vikings secondary.
Miami over New York Jets
The “take care of the ball and play good defense” formula works best when both are being executed simultaneously. The reason for Geno Smith‘s struggles is up for debate (though his blockers aren’t doing any favors), but his turnovers are crippling New York’s postseason hopes.
Arizona over Philadelphia
Talk about an underrated game. There’s finally something to like about the Eagles again, with Nick Foles really coming into his own since their bye week. Meanwhile, Carson Palmer seems to be settling in and spreading the ball around for Arizona and their defense is still formidable. The latter will likely put them the edge this week.
New England over Houston
The only reason to watch the Texans for the remainder of the year is to see if dominant defensive performances can earn you Defensive Player of the Year on an abysmal squad. J.J. Watt‘s certainly making the case.
Buffalo over Atlanta
Not paying attention to Buffalo? That’s ok, there isn’t much reason to. But their defense is one of the most underrated in the league and Atlanta’s in a tailspin right now.
San Francisco over St. Louis
St. Louis has had a great past two games, but San Francisco’s getting healthy at just the right time. With Michael Crabtree back this week, Colin Kaepernick‘s game should steadily improve as they approach the postseason.
Denver over Kansas City
Justin Houston will likely miss a few weeks after suffering an injury last week. Tamba Hali will be back out there, but I think they’ll certainly miss Houston’s presence. Last week was a good game for Denver’s rushing game, which got a big boost from Knowshon Moreno. If the can couple performances like that with Peyton Manning being Peyton Manning, watch out.
San Diego over Cincinnati
Winning a shootout in Kansas City will do wonders for your confidence (as well as mine). While their secondary is terrible and will likely get burned by A.J. Green and company at least once, I still like San Diego surprises us again this week.
New York Giants over Washington
Another Washington primetime game? What did we do to deserve this punishment? Eli Manning should have little trouble exposing the Washington defense and coming out on top.
Seattle over New Orleans
Seattle and New Orleans not only have the best records in the NFC, but also the strongest home-field advantages in the NFL. And with Seattle hosting this matchup, I can’t bet against them.
Record (Week): 10-6
Record (Season): 127-66