Playoffs Picks, Links and Late Night Television

January 15, 2010

With just seven games left (not including the Pro Bowl) in the NFL season, we’re all starting to prepare for life without football for the foreseeable future.  Luckily this week had so much going on that America was saved from a 6 day news cycle about how Brett Favre is playing in what could be his final game.  McGinn and I covered everything from our playoff picks to the coaching swaps to the late night TV wars to Gilbert Arenas and ended up talking about Scottie Pippen getting blindsided by little people on this week’s podcast and you have to admit…that’s a hell of a slate!  Because it was so wide in scope I wanted to try something new this week and use the Friday blurb before the NFL Picks as footnotes to what we talked about.  So the following are links that I enjoyed over the last few days that touch upon something we mentioned in the podcast that may enhance your listening experience.  So kick back, put on the podcast and click away.

*Author’s Note: The links are all underlined*

Link one is an article that you’ll need ESPN Insider to check out but it helps put Kurt Warner’s playoff brilliance into perspective.  McGinn and I chat briefly about how he went from being the ultimate “maybe” hall of famer to a sure thing over the last calendar year.  Here Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders compares Warner’s playoff numbers to those of Tom Brady.  If you don’t read that article and think that Kurt will end up in Canton one day I don’t know what to tell you.

Two of NBC's biggest stars took the gloves off and threw some punches at each other this week

Our conversation eventually steered us to the late night shakeup over at NBC.  I think what Conan has been doing since he released his genius statement on Tuesday has just reinforced the love his most devoted followers have for him.  He has spent the first 10 minutes of every night just ripping NBC to shreds all with that same Conanlike self-deprication that gives all of us the appreciation we have for him.  He’s been a smart and hilarious risk taker that has turned his monologues into must see television and by doing so proves that NBC is making the wrong choice.  Jay Leno has tried to do the same but it comes off as stale and smug.   NBC is booting a comedian that resonates with people who are about to enter their nightly news/first 10 minutes of the “Tonight Show ”  viewing prime and replacing him with a guy who’s lost his fastball and his biggest Neilsen ratings will be drawn from a 50+ audience that will slowly dwindle over time.  When you take a step back and think about it, NBC couldn’t have possibly messed this up more.  They moved the #1 late night host to 10 PM and oversaturated their lineup so by the time Conan came on people were ready to change the channel or go to sleep.  Then they screw Conan and piss off  his entire 18-35 demographic that they are going to need for advertisers in favor of Leno, whose audience is done deciding what products they want to buy at this point.  The all around incompetence is astonishing and now it’s clear why this is a last place network.

My favorite monologe so far came from Conan the day he released his statement where he takes the gloves off and works NBC like a speedbag.  Here is a link to the full episode and his first 10 minutes are truly outstanding.  While Conan has been crushing it every night his competitors have joined in on the fun too: this past Tuesday Jimmy Kimmel came out dressed as the big chinned guy everyone’s been talking about recently.  Then just last night Leno put Kimmel on his 10 PM show (an added slap in the face to Conan by booking a competitor of his) and Kimmel just trashed him right to his face.  Finally David Letterman, the true King of Late Night, who was also once involved in an NBC screwjob, chimed in with some shots at Leno and NBC as he explained the situation.

We now shift gears back to the NBA and touch on Gilbert Arenas’ stupidity.  I enjoyed PTI Cohost Michael Wilbon’s take on it from the Washington Post this week.  Mr. Wilbon lives in DC so not only do we get the take from one of the best national NBA guys in the media, but we also get some of the local flavor as well.

To cap off the first podcast of the decade McGinn explains how there is an internet clip of Scottie Pippen getting beat up by little people.  He drops an f- bomb so be sure to keep the volumes down at work but really…one of the best 50 basketball players in history is blindsided and attacked by little people–don’t you just love the internet?

Just one more before we get to the picks; call it a bonus link, I present to you the top 100 fail clips from 2009.  It’s like watching a more violent and faster paced America’s Funniest Home Videos only Bob Saget isn’t involved.

Onto the picks, winners in bold.

McGinn:

Arizona at New Orleans
Baltimore at Indianapolis
Dallas at Minnesota
New York Jets at San Diego

Last Week: 2-2
Playoffs: 2-2

Hugh:

Arizona at New Orleans
Baltimore at Indianapolis
Dallas at Minnesota
New York Jets at San Diego

Last Week: 2-2
Playoffs: 2-2

Hugh’s Pick vs the Spread: Cardinals (+7), Ravens (+7), Cowboys (+2.5), Chargers (-7)

Last Week: 2-2
Playoffs: 2-2

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NFL Playoff Preview

January 7, 2010

It’s a bittersweet time of year for avid football fans.  We have the most exciting eleven games of the season coming up in the next month but it also means that once a Champion is crowned in Miami on February 7 we will be without football for the foreseeable future.  Luckily we have things like the Cardinals signing Matt Holliday to an insane contract to talk about once the dust is settled in the NFL but that is a story for another day.  There are twelve teams fighting to win the Superbowl; all season we’ve followed, discussed, dissected, and disagreed over these final twelve.  Who is the favorite?  How did they get here?  Who can we write off?  How much does Rex Ryan weigh?  All help make up the burning questions going into this Saturday…let’s break these final twelve down, starting with the longshots and working towards the favorites.

Tier 5:We can build on this!”

12.  Bengals (10-6): Cincinnati was a big surprise to everyone by winning the AFC North this season but if you take a step back what exactly makes this team special?  Carson Palmer had an okay season, Ochocinco has been great, Cedric Benson can keep defenses honest and their defense is solid but there’s nothing that would make you say “Oh the Bengals are on, I gotta watch this!”  Here’s an interesting stat about the Bengals: Since beating the Steelers and Ravens, Cincinnati has gone 3-4 down the stretch.  Granted last week’s loss was more of a throwaway game but they beat the woeful Browns, Lions and Chiefs and lost to the Raiders, Vikings, Chargers and Jets.  3-1 vs teams with a top 10 draft pick and 0-3 against teams in the playoffs is not how you want to head into the postseason.  This whole year has been emotional for the Bengals, especially with their recent loss of teammate Chris Henry.  For the Bengals to move forward into January they are going to need to channel that emotion and find the spark this team has been lacking since mid-November.

The Jets will go as far as Jones and their running game will take them

11.  Jets (9-7): We have to put Herm’s former team with one of his most memorable phrases.  There are three things working for the Jets: They can run the ball as well as anyone, they have the#1 overall defense in the league and Darrell Revis can shut down any of their opponents best wide receivers.  On paper (or, I suppose, on computer screen) this looks like a recipe for a deep playoff run.  However, the Jets have one insurmountable obstacle weighing them down (no pun intended Rex).  Rookie Quarterback Mark Sanchez finished the season with 12 TDs and 20 Picks giving him an overall quarterback rating of 63.  How can you make an argument that this guy is going to win three straight road playoff games against Cincinnati, Indianapolis and (most likely) San Diego?  You can hide your quarterback with a great running game sometimes but what happens when the Jets need a TD in a two minute drill?  It’s not happening.  This will ultimately cost them but considering they were left in the lurch by Brett Favre, brought in a new Head Coach, and started a rookie quarterback all season the Jets will be a team to look out for moving into the early part of this decade.

Tier 4: A Bit Scary but Flawed

10.  Ravens (9-7): The seven losses can be deceiving with the Ravens; they lost to the Patriots, Bengals (twice), Vikings, Colts, Packers and Steelers.  Every one of their losses came against a team with a winning record and 5 of those games were on the road.  It’s not like they punched their ticket to the postseason like the Jets by having teams lay down in front of them on the way in.  The Ravens biggest strength is their running game–just last week in Oakland with Ray Rice taking it easy Willis McGahee stepped up and ran for over 150 yards.  They cannot throw the ball with any kind of consistency and their defense is nowhere near where it was at the height of its powers last decade.  So we’re looking at a one trick pony here and in a road playoff game in New England its going to take more than that to advance.  Flacco has been shaky down the stretch and this team is one of the most undisciplined in the league when it comes to penalties.  They can obviously play with anyone (Baltimore only lost by more than a touchdown twice in the aforementioned games), but unreliable receivers and a shaky quarterback on the road with flags flying everyone doesn’t bode well for the postseason, especially in a close game.

The Patriots chance at a deep run was carted off with Welker

9.  Patriots (10-6):  There’s no getting around the loss of Wes Welker: he was statistically the most productive wide receiver in the NFL and attributed for almost 33% of New England’s offense this year.  After thumping Jacksonville a “Look out for New England!” groundswell was brewing but then Welker’s knee blew out and the Pats were left with two great players on offense (Moss and Brady), while everyone else had to step up.  Working for them in this first round is the fact that they are at home where they haven’t lost all season and they drew the one of the best possible matchups they could with Baltimore.  New England’s run defense is in the top half of the league and Baltimore’s secondary is vulnerable.  Plus they have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady–a tandem that’s never lost a home playoff game, never lost a Wild Card playoff game and is an astonishing 14-3 in the playoffs together.  Look for the Patriots to take care of business at home this Sunday then get rolled in San Diego in another week.

Tier 3: Dangerous

8.  Cardinals (10-6): Every week last year we waited for the Cardinals to lose in the playoffs; this was a team that was 9-7 in a horrendous division.  We kept waiting…and waiting…and waiting…then they came just one amazing Steelers drive short of being World Champions.  Regardless of how shaky they looked at times this year the recipe is identical.  If Warner has time the Cardinals offense can keep pace with anyone in the NFL.  The potential loss of Anquan Boldin would be a big one but Beanie Wells seems to have established a bit of momentum (last week’s mail-it-in vs the Packers not withstanding) in hopes of keeping Arizona’s high-powered offense balanced.  We learned last year that these guys can get hot at any point and remember this is the same team that throttled the Vikings in early December.

7. Eagles (11-5): Live by the big play, die by the big play seems to be Philadelphia’s M.O. entering this postseason.  They were a win in Dallas short of a first round playoff bye; this team knew exactly what was at stake if they went in and won last weekend so I am not buying any “they were holding back a little” arguments I’ve been hearing over the last week.  Dallas’ defense is exactly how to beat the Eagles: limit their big plays in the passing game by making McNabb uncomfortable with a pass rush and not letting DeSean Jackson get behind the defense.  Conversely Dallas can wear down a stout Philly D with a great tandem of playoff running backs and Tony Romo playing the best football of his career.  If Philadelphia can get through Dallas they can beat Minnesota, New Orleans, Green Bay or Arizona.  I just don’t like the way they match up against Dallas, despite the fact that Wade Phillips will be predominately involved.

6.  Packers (11-5): Green Bay can beat you in a number of ways.  One thing I haven’t heard talked about much is how the losses of Al Harris and Aaron Kampman have actually improved the Packer defense.  Kampman seemed totally lost in Dom Caper’s 3-4 scheme and Al Harris has always had plenty of bravado but ultimately is more hype than anything else when going against premiere recievers (see Moss, Randy 2005 Playoffs otherwise known as: Joe Buck’s Conniption on Fox).  Harris and Kampman went down the same week against San Francisco in late November and Green Bay has only lost 1 game since on a miracle throw and catch by Big Ben in Pittsburgh.  Green Bay has the #2 ranked overall defense in the NFL and is #6 is total offense, the only other playoff team who have both in the top 6 is Minnesota.  This has long been the recipe for postseason success and nobody wants to see the Packers right now.

Wade Phillips is a beard and satchel short of becoming Alan

5. Dallas (11-5): The only thing that prevents me from bumping them higher is that every time there is a cutaway to Wade Phillips I cannot picture him hoisting any kind of trophy.  He just looks like he has no idea what’s going on when he releases that “Aww shucks! Dang!” kind of tirades caught on camera.  He reminds me a bit of Alan from The Hangover (Zach Galifianakis’ character) when he is emulating Phil after the Doug retrieval goes bad (kicking the dirt helplessly not knowing what he’s doing).  It’s safe to say that when an NFL Head Coach reminds me of the dimwitted soon to be brother in law from The Hangover it doesn’t bode well.  But Dallas is really good.  Marion Barber and Felix Jones provide enough balance to keep the defenses honest and let Tony Romo pick them apart when he’s in a groove.  Miles Austin is a coach’s dream: tough, catches everything, will absorb enormous hits and make a big play.  Call him the anti-Roy Williams.  Jason Witten is one of the best tight ends in football.  Their pass rush is tremendous and their secondary and linebackers are also above average.  Do they have enough to win in spite of the Michelin Man (my Dad’s name for good ole Wade)?  I think so, but I can’t think of a more terrifying proposition for Cowboy fans then being down in a close game with the clock winding and seeing a Wade Phillips deer-in-the-headlights cutaway knowing he’s the guy you need to help bring you to the promise land.

Tier 2:  Question Marks

4.  Minnesota (12-4): Does Brett Favre have enough left for three more wins?  Can he reign it in?  Will he implode like he has in recent playoffs?  Where’s Adrian Peterson?  Has Jared Allen fallen off a bit?  How shaky is their secondary?  How much control does Brad Childress have? These are just a few of the questions surrounding the Vikings and their potential playoff run.  The Vikings finished 2-3 down the stretch after starting off the season 10-2.  They got blown out in Arizona, embarrassed in Carolina, somehow lost to the Bears but managed to soundly beat the Bengals and Giants (one of the all time “we don’t want to be here” games I can remember).  There has been controversy off the field after a spat between Favre and Childress.  I don’t think the Vikings can right the ship in time to beat teams as good as Dallas, Philly, Arizona or even Green Bay.  While Dallas and Green Bay have surged into the playoffs the Vikings backed in and almost lost a bye week if it wasn’t for the Eagles getting blown out in Jerryworld last Sunday.  It’s hard to get behind a team with no clear leader or identity anymore on either side of the ball.

3.  New Orleans (13-3): Is it a good idea to lose all momentum going into the playoffs?  Did this team peak on Monday Night against New England?  How banged up is their already suspect defense?  New Olreans looks like they’ve lost their mojo since losing at home to Dallas three weeks ago.  Truly great teams would take out their agression the next week on the lowly Buccanneers but somehow, inexplicably Tampa Bay went into New Orleans and beat them.  That’s two straight home losses; one to a team looking for its first significant December win in years and the other looking for its third win of the season.  Sean Payton then called off the dogs in Carolina last week and now New Orleans appears dormant heading into January.  They hold the most significant homefield advantage of any team in the playoffs and will be there throughout their playoff run.  We’ve already seen them lose to Dallas in the Superdome and Green Bay has the defense to keep the Saints in check plus enough firepower to torch the Saints porous secondary; the same goes for Arizona and Philly.  However the first round shakes down the Saints will have to find their swagger or it’s one and done on the Bayou after a brilliant start.

2.  Indianapolis (14-2): Should they have rested their starters?  That’s the only real question that matters with them right now.  If they lose the answer is no; if they win it all the answer is…maybe.  Indianapolis Star writer Bob Kravitz outlined what the Colts threw away 2 weeks ago.  Here’s my biggest issue that has emerged: so we have Bill Polian, one of the greatest personnel men of all time in the NFL, whose philosophy, by all accounts, is rest over risk.  So in the Jets game, at home, with thousands of paying customers hoping to see their team go 15-0, the Colts shut it down to avoid any season altering risks.  But the next week Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and the rest of the Indianapolis offense take the field in a Buffalo blizzard! It seems that if the Colts can acheive personal records (Manning’s start streak, catches  for Wayne and Clark, etc) it’s worth rolling out the starters in the worst weather possible, but when the entire team has a chance at football immortality it’s not worth going for it.  That is a complete contradiction and it’s shameful to leave perfection on the table while continuing to rack up individual achievements.  I was ready to crown Peyton as the best ever with a 19-0 season.  Now I don’t even think they’ll get to Miami.

Tier 1: The Favorite

San Diego looks ready for Miami lead by the arm of Phil Rivers

1.  San Diego (13-3):  Winners of eleven straight including wins over three playoff teams (Philly, Dallas and Cincinnati).  Phil Rivers and his receivers are the toughest matchup for any secondary in football.  The Pats’ young and tiny secondary doesn’t stand a chance and the Colts D can’t hang with them either.  Rivers has been an MVP level of brilliant this season and there is not a hotter team in football than the Chargers.  They remind me of the 2003 Patriots, who started 2-2 and didn’t lose another game all season straight through the Superbowl.  There was nothing flashy about those Patriots the won big, the won in the final 2 minutes, they held leads and moved the chains when needed.  San Diego seems to have the same set of tools.  The Chargers are good enough on defense to stay in games and they have an offense that can milk a lead or comeback if needed.  Much like Wade Phillips is an obstacle in Dallas, Norv Turner’s track record doesn’t hold up that well either.  However, this team played in the AFC Championship two years ago and lost to the eventual Champions (Pittsburgh) in the divisional round last year.  They have also beaten the Colts each of the last two seasons when it mattered the most.  On the road, at home, in Miami; it doesn’t matter, the Chargers are ready to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

Playoff Predictions:

Wild Card Round

New York Jets over Cincinnati
Dallas over Philadelphia
New England over Baltimore
Green Bay over Arizona

Divisional Round

San Diego over New England
Dallas over Minnesota
Indianapolis over New York Jets
New Orleans over Green Bay

Championship Round

San Diego over Indianapolis
Dallas over New Orleans

Superbowl XLIV

San Diego over Dallas
(America over Armageddon when Wade Phillips and Norv Turner face off in Miami)


Sorting Out the AFC Playoff Picture

December 29, 2009

Before we get to sorting out the AFC playoff picture, I have an announcement:  I am resigning from this blog.  Actually its more like a leave of absence…on second thought I’m just going to keep going with it as scheduled.  Glad we got that out of the way.

Also, just one quick thought on the biggest news story of the weekend: so this guy Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who allegedly tried to blow up a plane supposedly was on some kind of “watch list” but deemed “not dangerous enough to be on a no-fly list.” Can we all agree that if you’re on a watch list it’s a good idea to just go ahead and bump them to the no-fly list?  I mean, he had to be doing something to get on the watch list so let’s just not take chances in this type of situation in the future.  How does that sound to everybody?

Onto the hazy AFC Playoff picture.  After a crazy Week 16 in which we saw a team concede perfection (Colts), a team who is so undisciplined they let their bitter division rivals keep breathing (Ravens), a team fight all the way back on the road only to lose control of its own destiny in the final 2 minutes (Broncos) and an emerging juggernaut (Chargers) blow out one of the hottest teams in football on the road, I think it’s a good time to sort out this mess as we head into the final weekend.  We know four AFC teams are locked into the playoffs: Colts (1), Chargers (2), Patriots (3), and Bengals (4).  The only shifting that can happen to these four teams this weekend would be if New England loses and Cincinnati wins; Cincinnati takes the 3 spot heading into the playoffs.  The 5 and 6 seeds remain up for grabs, so let’s run down the teams in contention going ranging from win and in scenarios all the way through teams needs all kinds of help.  Seven teams make the list: The Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Dolphins, Texans, Jaguars and Broncos.

*Note: if there is a tie in any of the below even more hell will break loose and also lead to some confusion from Donovan McNabb*

In Control of their own Destiny:

Baltimore Ravens (8-7): Despite being the team that has perpetually underachieved and committed idiotic penalties in key moments all season, if the Ravens win in Oakland on Sunday they will be in the Playoffs.  At first glance one would think that this is an easy W for Baltimore but 4 of Oakland’s wins came against Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Denver.  For whatever reason Oakland shows up against contenders but if Baltimore can beat the Raiders,  the Ravens are in.

Playoff Outlook: Very Good

Rex's Jets may waddle into the playoffs depsite a shaky second half

New York Jets (8-7): Simple equation for the Jets: beat Cincinnati at home on Sunday Night Football and they are in the playoffs and will head to New England for the Wild Card Round.  Cincinnati is in a position with little to gain, so much like their fraudulent win in Indianapolis on Sunday the Jets will benefit from playing second string players.  If the Bengals beat the Jets there is no scenario in which they can get into the playoffs.  The Jets have the same fate as Baltimore: Win and in, lose and the Jets’ season is over.

Playoff Outlook: Good

Teams that need a win and some help:

Denver Broncos (8-7): The Broncos were close to going all the way back in Philadelphia, and being in control of their own destiny as they prepare to host the horrendous Kansas City Chiefs at home to close out the season.  The reality is that we are probably looking at one of the few teams ever to go 6-0 and the miss the playoffs.  They are the only team that could potentially get in with a loss as well but if they lose at home to the Chiefs they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.  To get in the Broncos need:

  • A Win and a Jets and Ravens loss
  • A Win and Jets and Steelers loss
  • A win, a Texans win (vs New England) and a Jets loss
  • A win and a Steelers and Ravens loss
  • A win and a Texans win and Ravens loss

They can also get in if they lose and…

  • The Steelers, Ravens, Texans and Jaguars all lose
  • The Steelers, Ravens, Texans, and Jets all lose
  • The Steelers, Ravens, Jaguars and Jets all lose
  • The Steelers, Texans, Jaguars and Jets all lose
  • The Dolphins, Ravens, Jaguars, Texans and Jets all lose

Playoff Outlook: They will be big Bengals fans on Sunday and given the Jets history of ripping their fans hearts out and stomping them into the ground there is a chance Denver avoids a complete collapse–not a good chance, but consider the Broncos’ Lloyd Christmas after a chat with Mary Swanson (“So you’re telling me there’s a chance!!!”)

Looks like it will be another dissapointing title defense for Big Ben and the Steelers

Looks like it will be another disappointing title defense for Big Ben and the Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers: The defending champions need to win in Miami on Sunday to have a chance which is no easy task.  On top of that they also need Houston to lose to New England (The Pats will be resting their starters) and a Jets loss vs Cincinnati (not likely but possible).

OR

  • Win at Miami, Houston loss to New England and Baltimore loss at Oakland (again not likely but possible)
  • Win at Miami, Jets loss, Ravens loss, and Broncos Loss in Denver to Kansas City (more likely then a Ravens loss but not something to be counted on)

Playoff Outlook: Unlikely

Houston Texans (8-7): Let me be the first to offer the Texans a congratulations on another year that will have people thinking “Hey this team isn’t that far off, they finished strong down the stretch last year!!” late next summer.  Houston needs to win at home over New England; the Patriots will treat this game like a preseason game, a series or two for Brady and the starters then the Brian Hoyer show will take over from there.  Given that at full strength the Patriots secondary has been picked apart by elite offenses this year I would expect Andre Johnson to have a monster day vs the New England backups.  On top of a win the Texans need a Jets and Ravens loss.

OR

  • A win, Jets loss and Broncos loss
  • A Win, Ravens loss and Broncos loss

Playoff outlook: Not likely but not inconceivable (scenario 2 being the most likely way in)

Teams that need a ton of help:

Miami Dolphins (7-8): A valiant season put in by Miami this year that will ultimately leave them on the outside looking in.  There is only one scenario that gets Miami in: a win over Pittsburgh and  the Jets, Ravens, Texans and Jaguars to all lose (Jacksonville is at Cleveland, which is no gimmie: cold weather, improving team, Jags coming off an embarrassing loss in New England).  Even if the Browns pulled an upset the likelihood of the Jets, Ravens and Texans all losing plus the need to beat Pittsburgh gives Miami as good of chance of getting in as Tiger had of not getting caught.

Playoff Outlook: Almost impossible

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8): The Jags travels to Cleveland in hopes of stopping a 3 game losing streak; meanwhile the Browns are on a 3 game winning streak and are looking to finish the season strong after playing flat out abysmal football for the first 13 weeks of the season.  Any playoff scenario for the Jaguars starts with a win.  If they do avoid an upset the Jags need the Steelers, Ravens, Texans and Broncos to all lose.

OR

  • A win and a Steelers, Ravens, Broncos and Jets Loss
  • A win and a Steelers, Ravens, Texans and Jets Loss
  • A win and a Steelers, Texans, Broncos and Jets Loss
  • A Win and a Ravens, Texans, Broncos and Jets Loss

Playoff Outlook: Enjoy the offseason

I would say the most likely scenario is that the Jets and Ravens are in and will promptly lose to the Patriots and Bengals in Round 1.  All season long I’ve read articles about how the parity era is ending with these decade-long dominating teams but given that we have no idea what is going to happen heading into Week 17 I think somewhere Pete Rozelle is smiling.  Onto the top 12 as we sit on the doorstep of the playoffs:

1. Colts (14-1): They win that game if Jim Caldwell doesn’t rest his starters–a philosophy I disagree with as I wrote about a few weeks ago.  He did put a stamp on his season though, so if the Colts lose in the playoffs the biggest piece of the blame cake is going to the rookie head coach.

2. Chargers (12-3): Now in possession of the league’s longest current winning streak at 10 games, the Chargers look like a juggernaut after dismantling the Titans on Christmas night.  Interesting debate for you to have: if you’re a GM with the #1 pick in the 2004 draft who do you take?  It’s between Rivers and Big Ben and it is very close.

3.  Eagles (11-4): The return of Brian Westbrook is a welcome one and their offense looks as good as it has all decade.  One concern would be the Eagles propensity to allow teams to hang around in the second half which could come back to bite them in the playoffs.

4. Saints (14-2): Its not just the two straight losses that should have New Orleans fans concerned; since crushing the Patriots on Monday Night the Saints barely beat Washington (Abysmal), Atlanta (without Matt Ryan) then lost to Dallas and Tampa Bay in the Superdome.  That’s 4 straight below average performances for a team that may have already peaked.

5. Vikings (11-4): You can’t blame last night’s loss on Favre’s wheels falling off in December but for the third time in 4 games the Vikings secondary was shredded.  Once in Arizona, once in Carolina and now in Chicago by a quarterback who may throw the most interceptions in a season for this decade by the end of next week.  (First on the list: Brett Favre!)

6. Patriots (10-5): Outside of their one blowout loss in New Orleans the Patriots’ other 4 losses are by a combined 12 points. (7 at the Jets, 3 at Denver, 1 at Indianapolis, 1 at Miami).  The Patriots are flawed but will be a tough out for any AFC team. (Thank you to my buddy James for that stat as he was trying to talk me into a Patriots’ playoff run when I was back home this weekend)

7.  Packers (10-5): If not for a loss with no time on the clock in Pittsburgh a week ago, Green Bay would currently be riding a 7 game win streak.  They still have issues on the offensive line but with Ryan Grant keeping defenses honest Aaron Rodgers continues to shine in his second full season as a starter.

8.  Cardinals (10-5): They know how to win on the road in the playoffs as we learned last year and the equation remains the same: keep Warner protected and the Cardinals can beat anyone.

9.  Cowboys (10-5): The Cowboys have won 2 meaningful games in December for the first time in the Tony Romo era but they need to win a playoff game for me to buy into any kind of “Look out for Dallas” talk.  A playoff warm up in Jerryworld this weekend against the Eagles could end up being the spark to get the Cowboys rolling.

10.  Bengals (10-5): Consider these guys a mega sleeper–nothing about them stands out but they will be able to keep high powered offenses such as San Diego or Indianapolis off the field with their stout running attack.  It doesn’t appear that they have enough fire power to pull a monster upset this season though.

11. Ravens (8-7): Underachieving whiners for the majority of the season it will be interesting to see who they blame for their first round playoff exit.

12. Jets/Broncos/Steelers (8-7): Take your pick, whoever ends up in this spot will have a razor thin chance to win a road playoff game in New England.