NFL Playoff Picture

The last few weeks of the NFL season are different from the other weeks. True, they count for the same amount in the standings, but they are just different. The weather is colder (better if you ask me), the teams seem to play with more passion, and there is just a different dynamic to the games. By this point there are at least 14 or so teams that are realistically out of the playoff picture, but would like nothing better than to ruin someone else’s chances, so they are more dangerous that ever. This adds to the usually parity-filled NFL intrigue, but with parity lacking this year, it will bring it back to levels we used to know. Games like Dallas at Washington are now not matchups of champ and chump, but “Team that is bad in December” vs. “Team on the rise that would LOVE to ruin the Cowboys year”. Since it has been a while since we took a swing around the league (due to finals), I figured there was no better time than the present to run through it all. Remember, I am not going to mention the teams that have no shot, but that does not mean they will not factor into the playoff picture by beating a contender and sending them into a potential tailspin. Like Jay-Z, let’s start “From the bottom the bottom, to the top of the pots” (Dirt Off Your Shoulder in case you were wondering).

The Wild-Card

The AFC holds a lot of good news and bad news for fans. The good news is that unless you are the Bills, Browns, Raiders or Chiefs then your team is probably 7-7 and has a shot at the playoffs. Unfortunately, of these 8 teams at 7-7 or 8-6, only 2 can make the playoffs.The Broncos and Ravens control their own destiny, so let’s look at them first. The Ravens have the Steelers and Raiders left. I could definitely see a loss in there, but if they beat the Steelers, they are in with all due respect to the Raiders. That said, they should make the playoffs because I believe they have the tiebreaker over the Broncos and a few other teams. The Broncos still have the Eagles and Cheifs left. I see a loss for them in Philly as well so they should finish 9-7 with the Ravens. This brings us to the 7-7 teams. It is a question of who can win out because a loss essentially eliminates them. Lets list:

Steelers- Ravens & Dolphins

Dolphins- Texans & Steelers

Jaguars- Patriots & Browns

Titans- Chargers & Seahawks

Jets- Colts & Bengals

Texans- Dolphins & Patriots

Amazing how so many of them play each other isn’t it? Remember that a loss essentially eliminates the 7-7 teams from contention so I cannot see the Jets, Jaguars, Texans, or Titans beating both of their opponents so we can somewhat safely cut it down to the Dolphins and Steelers, whom conveniently play in the final week in a potential wild-card pre-playoff game. Assuming the Steelers beat the Ravens is not at all a safe assumption, and get some help from the enigmatic Broncos, they hav e a shot at it but I would not bet on it. But really, who knows anything about this? The NFL brings something new to the table every week, so if you are a fan of one of the teams I just counted out do not give up hope yet. I expect to see the broncos and Ravens come playoff time.

The NFC picture is mercifully clearer. The Packers, Cowboys and Giants are going to fight to the death for the final 2 playoff spots. The Cowboys looked dead in the water earlier, but after an upset win in N’awlins the Boys are looking golden. The Packers play the Seahawks and an Arizona team that will probably be resting a lot of its star players. The Pack are in, rejoice Green Bay, all is not lost after Favre. This leaves us with only the Cowboys and Giants, the bitter rivals, fighting for the last spot. Obviously, if the Giants lose to the Redskins on Monday Night, it is good night doctor, but if they win then the Giants have a surging Carolina team and a Vikings team that will either be resting its starters or going for the #1 spot. Regardless, they need to win out to make it, but I am not sure they can. A 5-0 start gone to waste. On the other hand the Cowboys went from a soft coddled December-ophobic team to all of a sudden looking pretty good and playing some of their best ball all year. However, they have the upset-minded Redskins who have been playing well lately and the Eagles, who are playing some of the best football anywhere. The roads are not easy for either team, but the advantage is to the Cowboys. I would not be overly shocked to even see both teams lose out or win out, it is just that kind of year. Expect the Pack and Boys to make it, and for both to be dangerous in the playoffs. I know the cowboys have not won a playoff game in a decade or so, but if they can run the ball like they did in New Orleans they have a shot.

Obviously, the Colts, Chargers, Bengals, Patriots, Saints, Vikings, Cardinals and Eagles will make it. The Eagles could technically lose out and miss the playoffs, but it would be a shock if they did that. Dallas could still win the division, but the Eagles are essentially in. We will come back to them i a few weeks, but for now we will leave them alone.

Let’s talk awards again. We touched on it at midseason, but as the season draws to a close let’s get a better look at the big awards.

He should be holding up 4 fingers for his total MVPs

MVP

  1. Peyton Manning
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Chris Johnson
  4. Philip Rivers
  5. Ben Reothlisberger

I’m biased. Sue me. Go Colts, but how do you not give the MVP to the best quarterback ever to play and has yet to lose (knocking on wood as writing that)? I wouldn’t be surprised to see a co-MVP here, but I would be surprised if Peyton Manning did not win his 4th MVP award. I will repeat my sentiments on the Offensive Player of the Year. It is a consolation prize so expect Brees or Johnson to win it.

Defensive Player of the Year

  1. Darren Sharper
  2. Darrelle Revis
  3. Jared Allen

I am sticking with Sharper even though he hasn’t had any picks lately. He just played out of his mind this year and no picks lately does not mean no impact lately, so it still goes to him. Revis has quietly become the premier corner in the league with all due respect to Champ Bailey and Nnamdi Asomugha. I am hesitant to accept Rex Ryan’s theory that he means more than Ray Lewis or Ed Reed meant to the Ravens, but he is damn good. Allen has been outstanding as well, but just as not been quite on their level.

ROY

Offensive

  1. Percy Harvin
  2. Beanie Wells
  3. Mike Wallace
  4. Mark Sanchez

Harvin should be the run-away winner, but Beanie has showed well lately and has been huge for the Cardinals lately giving them a physical runner they have lacked in the past. Wallace has been sneaky good too and Sanchez gets plenty of publicity but barring something unthinkable, Percy Harvin will win it.

Defensive

  1. Brian Cushing
  2. Louis Delmas
  3. Jacob Lacey/Jerraud Powers
  4. Aaron Curry

This is a close one and someone not even on the list could make it, but Cushing probably has the best numbers. I want to talk about Lacey and Powers though because they are a huge part of the reason the Colts remain undefeated (knocking on wood again). A pair of rookie cornerbacks to go with a secondary missing Bob Sanders? Disaster waiting to happen right? Not in the least, they have really stepped up and deserve some talk for defensive ROY even if they are not going to win it.

Comeback Player of the Year

  1. Cedric Benson

Moving on.

Fantasy Studs and Duds

Studs (apart from the obvious)

  1. Ray Rice
  2. Aaron Rodgers
  3. Matt Schaub
  4. Ricky Williams
  5. Miles Austin
  6. Ben Roethlisberger
  7. Vernon Davis
  8. Jason Campbell
  9. Sidney Rice
  10. Steve Smith (Giants)

This list has it all. High draft picks (Roethlisberger,Rodgers, Davis), relative sleepers (Austin, Ray Rice,  S. Rice, Smith), guys who we all thought would get hurt who have quietly put together great seasons (Schaub) and Marijuana using former superstars who retired, came back and now is playing very well (Williams). You will not get these guys so cheap next year, but all have quietly overachieved at incredible levels. Davis has really taken off since Alex Smith took back over at QB, and Jason Campbell has been a late charger too. Rodgers is having one of the best seasons I have seen out of someone not named Brady or Manning in a long time and is doing it behind a shaky-at-best offensive line. Look at your league and you will find most of these guys on the teams who are still playing meaningful games. Joe Flacco for honorable mention.

Duds (non-injury related)

It would be cute, but to Chicagoans, it just reminds them that neither Cutler nor Forte has woken up for the season yet.

  1. Matt Forte
  2. Jay Cutler
  3. LaDanian Tomlinson
  4. Brandon Jacobs
  5. Braylon Edwards
  6. Steve Slaton (pre-injury)
  7. Calvin Johnson (I will explain)
  8. Matt Ryan
  9. Steve Smith (Panthers)
  10. Roy Williams

The Bears head this list and rightfully so. I laughed when SI picked the Bears to make the Super Bowl, but Chicago bought in and have been nothing but disappointed. The offensive line is to blame, but as far as fantasy is concerned, owners of Forte and Cutler could care less. Forte, I would argue, has been the biggest disappointment for a few reasons. You would think that a team with a bad line would have to check down to the RB, but Cutler keeps forcing the ball down the field, simultaneously killing both of their value. LT and Jacobs are just having bad years without a ton of interesting things to say about them. Everyone was picking the Texans pre-season, and they were picking Slaton to be a big part of the effort. Instead Slaton had a hard time getting in a groove and had big time fumble problems. Even before he went on IR, he was a disappointment. Ok, Calvin Johnson time. I realize he had injury problems and that his numbers in healthy games were affected by an injury problem at QB, but he had a chance to have a serious break out year this year. A new big-armed QB, a team that would in a game, and an athletic TE to draw some attention away from him in Brandon Pettigrew all pointed to improvement. However, Johnson just had a decent year without doing anything too special. I still like him in the long run, but his development will not necessarily be as rocket-propelled as we thought. Ryan has had interception problems, Steve Smith (Panthers) has been supplanted by Steve Smith (Giants) as the King Steve Smith and Roy Williams has just sucked to be frank.

Stay tuned for my sleepers coming up next week. Happy Holidays.

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