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NFL Playoff Picture and Week 13 Picks

The calendar has turned to December, which is another way of saying the NFL playoff picture is coming into focus. Right now, it looks like the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the pursuit of the second bye in the AFC are going to be hotly contested, whereas the wild card and division races are likely to be less dramatic. Let’s get right to it.

The Saints dispelled any skepticism about their elite status by blowing away the Patriots on Monday night, and in doing so officially opened the discussion on the possibility and likelihood of a 16-0 season. Of course, there’s a team in the AFC that’s also 11-0, but the major caveat is the Colts will have wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by Week 15 (16 at the latest). Which would indicate the Jets and Bills will be seeing their fair share of Jim Sorgi in Weeks 16 and 17.

New Orleans, on the other hand, very well may need to register a perfect season to ensure the NFC playoffs go through the Superdome. That’s because the Vikings, currently 10-1, fell to an out-of-conference opponent in the Steelers and therefore will hold the vital conference-record tiebreaker if the two teams finish with identical records (the Saints have completed the AFC portion of their schedule).

There are a few possible bumps in the road down the stretch for Minnesota, beginning this Sunday night in Arizona. That’s followed by a home game vs. Cincinnati (who already downed Green Bay at Lambeau Field earlier this year), road contests in Carolina and Chicago before the season finale at home against the Giants. Looking at that schedule, 14-2 seems likely for the Vikings. That means the Saints should be able to drop one of their final five (at WAS, at ATL, DAL, TB, at CAR) and still retain home field.

The No. 2 seed in the AFC — crucial because it gives a team a week off and a home game in the divisional round — is probably not going to the Patriots, although it’s still possible if they run the table. The more probable scenario has the second bye going to the winner of the Bengals-Chargers game in San Diego on Dec. 20. Both teams are 8-3 and both have manageable December schedules. Plus if they each finish 12-4, the winner of the head-to-head matchup will obviously hold the tiebreaker for postseason seeding. Huge game.

As for the wild-card races, we’ll know for sure after this weekend if there are going to be any in the NFC. Right now, the Eagles and Packers occupy the two slots with 7-4 marks. Still very much in contention are the Falcons and Giants, who are each 6-5. The Giants host Dallas (8-3) on Sunday, a game that will either thrust the G-Men into the thick of both the wild-card and NFC East races, or put a premature end to their season. The Falcons welcome Philadelphia in a must-win game that quarterback Matt Ryan has already been ruled out of. A loss to the Eagles finishes Atlanta. Green Bay can take a big step toward January by beating the Ravens on Monday night.

In the AFC, 10 wins looks to be the magic number for a wild-card spot, and the Broncos (7-4) should reach that with winnable games vs. Kansas City (twice) and Oakland at home. There’s little room for error, though, as Denver will have to travel to Indianapolis and Philadelphia in Weeks 14 and 16. If the Broncos take care of business against the teams they should beat, they’ll end a three-year playoff drought.

As for the other AFC wild-card berth, the Steelers, Ravens and Jaguars all sit at 6-5, but the sixth and final spot is Pittsburgh’s to lose. The defending champs finish with one of the league’s easier final slates (OAK, at CLE, GB, BAL, at MIA).

Recent history says the second Steelers-Ravens game will decide who’s taking to the gridiron and who’s watching from the couch come January. Given the way the Steelers played in defeat Sunday night (losing 20-17 in overtime) with a guy, Dennis Dixon, who had thrown a total of one NFL pass before Sunday, it’s tough to imagine the Ravens coming into Heinz Field and sweeping the Steelers, particularly if both Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu are back as scheduled.

Then there are the Titans. The dark horse. The squad everyone in the AFC is mindful of and — whether they’ll admit it or not — wants nothing to do with. Since getting blanked 59-love by the Patriots, Tennessee has blasted through five consecutive opponents, becoming the first team to lose its first six and win its next five. It’s no coincidence Vince Young has quarterbacked each of those victories, the latest punctuated by an awe-inspiring 17-play, 99-yard winning drive vs. the Cardinals, in which Young converted three fourth downs (including fourth-and-goal from the 10 with no time left). If you saw it live, you became a believer in VY and the Titans, plain and simple.

Which makes this weekend’s game between the Titans and Colts in Indianapolis absolutely humongous. Chris Johnson (he who is literally making a run at the all-time single-season rushing record) proclaimed on “Inside the NFL” two weeks ago that Tennessee was going to win out, finish 10-6 and become the first team ever to make the playoffs after such a putrid start. If the Titans can find a way to hand Indy its first loss of the year … let’s just say you’ll start seeing replays of that Johnson clip everywhere.

For now, here are the latest playoff projections.

AFC

1. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)
2. San Diego Chargers (12-4)
3. New England Patriots (12-4)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
6. Denver Broncos (10-6)

NFC

1. New Orleans Saints (15-1)
2. Minnesota Vikings (14-2)
3. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
4. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
6. Green Bay Packers (9-7)

Week 13 Picks (home teams in CAPS)

BUFFALO over NY Jets
Philadelphia over ATLANTA
CHICAGO over St. Louis
CINCINNATI over Detroit
INDIANAPOLIS over Tennessee
Denver over KANSAS CITY
New England over MIAMI
PITTSBURGH over Oakland
New Orleans over WASHINGTON
CAROLINA over Tampa Bay
Houston over JACKSONVILLE
San Diego over CLEVELAND
NY GIANTS over Dallas
San Francisco over SEATTLE
Minnesota over ARIZONA
GREEN BAY over Baltimore

Last Week: 10-6
Overall: 116-60

One Comment Post a comment
  1. BG #

    Week 13 Good Action

    Tennessee +6.5
    Since 2006, Titans/Colts games been decided by 3, 1, 2, 6, 10, 23, 22
    Colts/Titans split season series each of last three years; 4 of last 7 games been decided by 6 points or less; Indy’s margin of victory over last 5 games is 3.6 points

    Philadelphia -5.5
    Atlanta has no Matt Ryan, and LIKELY? no Michael Turner and Michael Jenkins; Chris Redmond will struggle against a tough Philly secondary, particularly with Asante Samuel blanketing Roddy White

    New England -4.5
    Just because.

    San Diego -13.5
    Chargers 17.5 point average margin of victory and 31.3 ppg during 6-game winning streak; Browns scored 7 points or fewer in 5 of last 7 games

    Houston/Jax over 46.5
    In 5 games since 2007, Jags/Texans have averaged 56.6 ppg with low of 47 and high of 70

    Pit/Oak under 37
    Oakland averaging 7 ppg in last 7 losses, giving up avg of 20.25 ppg over last 4 games; Roethlisberger back for Pittsburgh so likely to play traditional grind-it-out Steeler football game to protect Ben.

    December 6, 2009

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