Sunday, December 11, 2005

NFL Home stretch

Time for the home stretch in the NFL. Let’s start out by reviewing my predictions from a month ago:

AFC picks:
North winner: Steelers
South winner: Colts
East winner: Patriots
West winner: Broncos
Wild card: Bengals
Wild card: Chargers

NFC picks:
North winner: Bears
South winner: Panthers
East winner: Giants
West winner: Seahawks
Wild card: Falcons
Wild card: Redskins

I have bolded the picks that haven’t worked out so well. Let’s examine why.

I made these picks after watching Pittsburgh smack down Cincy with rushing and defense. A month later, Pittsburgh’s D and rushing are not the same anymore. Injuries have decimated the offensive line, which has slowed the running game and forced Ben Roethlisberger to throw under increasing pressure. The results were obvious in last week’s game against Cincy, as Big Ben threw 3 picks, which essentially cost them the game. Pittsburgh is on the outside looking in, and with 3 teams ahead of them in the wild card race, it’s pretty much over for them.

Cincinnati has continued to win using explosive offense and takeaways on defense. They’re running away with the division, and based on their easy remaining schedule, will likely get a bye and a home game in the playoffs. Given that they only lost by 8 to the Colts, it isn’t too hard to imagine them in the Super Bowl if a few of those takeaways go their way again in the AFC championship game.

Jacksonville plays their biggest game in years tomorrow, as they host the Colts. Even if Jax wins they will still likely finish behind Indy in the division, but they would go a long way toward wrapping up a wild card berth with a win. With Byron Leftwich out, however, it appears to be an uphill battle.

San Diego and Kansas City are the other teams in contention, and the edge between them goes to San Diego, if only because of schedules. Kansas City’s remaining opponents are 32-16. If they can beat San Diego at Arrowhead in two weeks, however, that could take care of business. I’ll go down now saying the winner of that game will make the playoffs while the loser will stay home.

Over in the NFC, the division races are going as I predicted, but the wild card is a mess. Tampa sits in one slot at 8-4, while Dallas, Atlanta, and the S.S. Minnesota are at 7-5. This race will probably come down to the last day of the season. Tampa gets to host New Orleans, while Atlanta hosts Carolina, Minnesota hosts Chicago, and Dallas is at home to St. Louis. Based on those final day matchups, I’m giving the nod to Tampa and Dallas.

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