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The 2014 Playoff Picture is Cloudy as Ever in the NFL

MARQUETTE, MI – 11/18/2014 – The 2014 NFL season has been one of the most ridiculous I have ever seen.  It really has.  Of course, we all live in the “now” moments, but I really can’t remember seeing a season with so much calamity.  Even fantasy football is causing people to pull their hair out.  LeSean McCoy & Colt McCoy have the exact same number of rushing touchdowns.  The Lions are literally pulling wins out of thin air in games they used to lose.  The Arizona Cardinals are 9-1 for the first time since 1948, despite having three quarterbacks playing throughout the year.  The Atlanta Falcons may host a playoff game with a (currently) 4-6 record, while the Packers (7-3) may have to go on the road should they make the playoffs.  We’re going to take a look at each team and their playoff hopes:

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have been rolling since losing to Detroit in week 3.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have been rolling since losing to Detroit in week 3.

NFC NORTH

  • Detroit Lions (7-3)
    • As I said above, they’re winning games they are notorious for losing in the past.  Even more perplexing, the defense with people they’ve signed off the street ranks #1 one in the league, while the offense featuring Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Reggie Bush ranks 21st in yardage and 26th in points in the league.  I like the Lions to make the playoffs as a wild-card team, or even the division winner should they end a 23-year losing streak in Green Bay in week 17.
  • Green Bay Packers (7-3)
    • They’re humming.  108 points in the last two games.  With six games left, four of which are against teams .500 of below, the Packers only competition to win the NFC North is Detroit.  The defense has improved from its 32nd ranked rush defense, and will need to keep improving it if they want to make a deep playoff run.  For myself, as a Packers fan, I need the Packers to beat (or at least be very competitive with) the Patriots in two weeks before I believe they are truly the favorite Las Vegas has them made out to be.
  • Chicago Bears (4-6)
    • I don’t get it.  I really don’t.  All the talent in the world offensively, but the results aren’t there.  They rank just 19th in points per game, and are 19th in the league defensively.  They’re just what their rankings say they are:  mediocre.  Middle of the pack.  They didn’t roll over and die though after their beat down in Green Bay.  They came out and beat a division rival and technically stayed in the playoff race.  We’ll see what they do down the stretch.
  • Minnesota Vikings (4-6)
    • Adrian Peterson is done for the season, Teddy Bridgewater is a very raw talent, and Cordarrelle Patterson just hasn’t materialized as the play-maker he was supposed to be.  Their defense is greatly improved, playing in the top half of the league, but their lack of offensive consistency makes them a team that you can’t count on week to week.

 

Will anybody be shocked if the Cowboys end the season 8-8?

Will anybody be shocked if the Cowboys end the season 8-8?

NFC EAST

  • Philadelphia Eagles (7-3)
    • Eagles fans have to be reeling a bit.  Mark Sanchez looked like he would be a good fill-in for Nick Foles, and maybe he will be, but after his disappointing performance against Green Bay, how can Eagles fans can’t be too confident.  Even when the Eagles were at full strength, they weren’t that impressive.  In games against playoff contenders, they now have a record of 1-3.  The ending of their season will prove what the Eagles really are.  Are they the team with a 7-3 record?  Or a team that feasts on weaker competition?  With a three-game stretch against Dallas twice and Seattle in between, you’ll know what the Eagles are after December 14th.
  • Dallas Cowboys (7-3)
    • A two game skid against the Redskins & Cardinals has brought them back down to earth a bit, but they just feel like a real team to me.  They’re succeeding the way that feels sustainable.  Great running game, a passing game that is more than serviceable, and a defense that isn’t atrocious.  A team that can control the clock and keep their defense fresh is always going to be competitive.  Although, I still wouldn’t be shocked if they finish the season 8-8.
  • New York Giants (3-7)
    • Dumpster fire.  Move along
  • Washington Redskins (3-7)
    • New York Giants, South.  Move along.

 

At 4-6, the Falcons lead the NFC South and could host a playoff game come January.

At 4-6, the Falcons lead the NFC South and could host a playoff game come January.

NFC SOUTH

  • Atlanta Falcons (4-6)
    • This whole division is nearing the dumpster fire territory.  They’re 4-6 and leading a division.  It’s divisions like this that make people question the playoff format.  Potentially, the Packers/Lions could win 11 games and have to travel to a 7-9 Atlanta team.  Matt Ryan is turning the corner from his early season struggles, but the defense is just rotten.  32nd in the NFL, it gives fantasy football guys a huge smile when they see one of their players is playing Atlanta.
  • New Orleans Saints (4-6)
    • Good at home, bad on the road.  Same old narrative for the Saints.  Unfortunately, they’ve lost two games in a row at home now, and are welcoming in the Baltimore Ravens who are a contender in the AFC.  My firm belief is that the off-season departure of RB Darren Sproles has really thrown off the Saints offense.  Now with the loss of rookie standout Brandin Cooks, I don’t see the Saints winning the division.
  • Carolina Panthers (3-7)
    • A team that hasn’t won a game since week 5 is just one game back of being a division leader.  It’s just sad in Carolina.  Cam Newton is an average (real life) quarterback at best, has no running game, limited weapons, and is playing behind one of the worst O-Lines in the NFL.  Their top-5 defense from 2013 is a shadow of itself since the loss of Greg Hardy.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8)
    • They’re 2-8 and still potentially could win their division.  The NFC South is frustrating.  Their quarterback Josh McCown has retaken the starting role and done okay.  The emergence of rookie receiver Mike Evans has sparked the offense, while veteran wide-out Vincent Jackson is a consistent option.  If they can get their running game going, the Buccaneers (believe it or not) could be a viable division winner in this division only.

 

After a slow start, Patrick Peterson has become a main reason for Arizona's success.

After a slow start, Patrick Peterson has become a main reason for Arizona’s success.

NFC WEST

  • Arizona Cardinals (9-1)
    • The best record in the NFL.  They haven’t had (and won’t have) starting quarterback Carson Palmer for four games this season and are still finding ways to win.  Their defense ranks just 13th in yardage, but they’re a very impressive +11 in turnovers this season.  A dangerous team that, even if they go 3-3 in their last six games, could have a first round bye in the playoffs.
  • San Fransisco 49ers (6-4)
    • Another head-scratcher.  They’re able to beat the Cowboys and Saints on the road, but have lost to the Bears and Rams at home.  The defense has lost all-pro linebacker Patrick Willis for the rest of the season, but did just get all-pro pass rusher Aldon Smith back.  They’re another team that can make some noise should they make the playoffs with their current game plan.  They run the ball well (7th in the league), and are still a very imposing team defensively (4th).  As a Packers fan, I fear them still above all other teams.
  • Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
    • After absolutely destroying the Packers in week one, the Seahawks were getting ready to go 16-0 and cruise to the Super Bowl.  They followed up week one with a week two loss to the Chargers.  They then went 2-2 over the next four games, including a rare home loss to the Cowboys.  Their narrative is similar to New Orleans’ in the fact that they’re 2-3 on the road and 4-1 at home.  If they can sneak into the playoffs with a home game, they’ll be a team that nobody wants to play.
  • St. Louis Rams (4-6)
    • They’ve had maybe the hardest schedule in the NFL.  They’ve played a legitimate playoff team in each of their last eight games, and will play their ninth this week.  They’ve managed to hole their own though, as they’ve knocked off Seattle, San Fransisco, and Denver at home.  They still have to go to Seattle and host the Cardinals, but they are actually capable of finishing the year 9-7 or 8-8.  If they could get a starting quarterback, the Rams could be the team of the future out west.

 

Every team is above .500 in the AFC North, including the Browns who went from first to last during the past week.

Every team is above .500 in the AFC North, including the Browns who went from first to last during the past week.

AFC NORTH

  • Cincinnati Bengals (6-3-1)
    • Leading the division due to percentage points, the Bengals have either been really good or really poor.  They’ve been really good at home for the most part, but poor on the road.  They started off the year 3-0, had their bye week, then went 0-2-1 over the next three weeks.  Since then they’ve gone 3-1, but in that one loss they had 165 total yards and just 79 yards of passing.  They followed that embarrassing performance up with a great win in New Orleans.  They have the tie breaker with one team already in their division, but still have to play the Steelers twice and the Browns once.  The division record should decide their 2014 fate.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4)
    • More wins than the division leader, but unfortunately more losses as well.  A team that absolutely destroyed Houston, Indianapolis, and Baltimore, but has managed to lose to Tampa Bay and the New York Jets, while struggling to beat the Tennessee Titans.  They’re an enigma.  They have a decent enough schedule left, facing a team below .500 in three of their last five games, with a bye week to prepare.
  • Baltimore Ravens (6-4)
    • They feast on bad teams and lose to good ones.  They’ve been swept by the Bengals, split with the Steelers, and lost to the Colts.  They’ve managed to beat the likes of Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Tennessee which is what good teams do.  You’re supposed to beat the bad teams, but a true contender needs to do well against other good teams.  We’ll see what they are down the stretch as they’ll face five teams who can make the playoffs down the stretch
  • Cleveland Browns (6-4)
    • They went from first place to last place in the division in one week.  They’ve been a pretty decent offense throughout the season, and are getting Josh Gordon back from a 10-game suspension.  Their schedule isn’t too favorable in their last six games.  They, like the Ravens, play five teams contending the for the playoffs in their last six games.

 

The Patriots have been on fire since their week 4 loss at Kansas City.

The Patriots have been on fire since their week 4 loss at Kansas City.

AFC EAST

  • New England Patriots (8-2)
    • Remember when they were dead after week 4?  I agree, they looked horrendous, but they’re the Patriots.  They have Tom Brady.  That’s all you need to know.  Since that 41-14 beat down in Kansas City, they’ve reeled off six straight wins, including knocking off the Bengals, Broncos, and Colts handily.  Vegas has them as the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year, and I’d have to agree.  Their next three games are pretty tough, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they won all three.  They host the Lions, then travel to Green Bay and San Diego afterwards.  They’ll then end the year by facing three straight division opponents, who they’ve owned for nearly two decades.  The Patriots are going to finish in that 12-4 to 14-2 range once again.
  • Miami Dolphins (6-4)
    • Their offense has turned it around, and they’re two come-from-behind victories away from being 8-2.  Both the Packers and Lions needed miracle comebacks to knock them off.  They’ve already beaten the Patriots once this year and also destroyed the Chargers at home 37-0 in week 9 .  I don’t think they’re a Super Bowl contender, but they could make the playoffs.  They have three difficult games, and three relatively easy games down the stretch.  They’ll travel to Denver & New England while hosting Baltimore, and then play the Jets twice and host the Vikings once.  The Dolphins are a team that could go 10-6 and miss the playoffs the way the AFC is shaping up.
  • Buffalo Bills (5-5)
    • They needed to beat the Dolphins last week to stay relevant in the AFC playoff picture.  They’re struggling mightily offensively lately.  They’ve scored a combined 22 points int heir last two losses, and really only have one quality win this year (week 5 @ Detroit).  Kyle Orton isn’t great, but he isn’t the problem.  He has no running game since CJ Spiller & Fred Jackson went down five minutes apart, and an offensive line that has allowed the 8th most sacks in the NFL this season.  They’re still a year or two away.
  • New York Jets (2-8)
    • See:  New York Giants

 

J.J. Watt is simply not human.

J.J. Watt is simply not human.

AFC SOUTH

  • Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
    • They’re only a game up and it’s assumed they’ll win the division.  A lot of analysts put them right up there with Denver & New England in terms of Super Bowl contenders in the conference.  Yet, despite Andrew Luck playing very well, they’re 1-4 against teams that are currently in the playoffs.  I just don’t buy the Colts as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.  At least until Tom Brady and Peyton Manning aren’t in the picture.
  • Houston Texans (5-5)
    • Despite very sub-par quarterback play (28th in passing in the NFL), they’re only down by one game in the division.  They have Arian Foster and Alfred Blue leading the 3rd ranked rushing attack and J.J. Watt is simply not human.  Despite the defense ranking 30th in the league, they are +8 in turnovers.  They’re a team that could sneak in, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
  • Tennessee Titans (2-8)
    • They may have their quarterback of the future in Zack Mettenberger, but they have so many more issues to worry about.  Top-5 pick in the draft this year.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
    • At least they’re not the worst team in the league right?  Blake Bortles looks like he could be something if he ever gets a team around him.  Move to L.A already.  Go Denard Robinson!

 

Will this be what we see come January 18th, 2015 in the AFC Title game?

Will this be what we see come January 18th, 2015 in the AFC Title game?

AFC WEST

  • Denver Broncos (7-3)
    • The preseason odds on favorite to win the AFC has looked very shaky lately.  Losing at Seattle in overtime is forgivable.  I’m not saying they should have beaten the Patriots, but to lose by 22 against your biggest c0mpetition in the conference?  Muy mal.  Then last week.  I know the injury bug hit you, but putting up seven points in St. Louis?  C’mon man.  They’ll probably win out, but I think they’re in trouble if they have to go to New England in January.
  • Kansas City Chiefs (7-3)
    • After starting the season off 0-2, the Chiefs have gone 7-1 over their last eight games.  That stretch includes victories over Miami, New England, San Diego, and Seattle.  The Chiefs are a good.  It’s the same formula that Alex Smith had in San Fransisco.  Run the ball well, pass when you have to, don’t turn the ball over and have a good defense (#1 pass defense in the NFL).  They have two games against Denver & Arizona coming up, but it’s sandwiched between two games against the lowly Raiders.  They’ll then close out the year going to Pittsburgh and hosting San Diego.  Like a lot of other teams, they’ll have to prove who they are down the stretch.
  • San Diego Chargers (6-4)
    • After starting out hot (5-1), they’ve drastically cooled off.  In the last two weeks they’ve only scored 13 points and struggled with the Raiders last week.  They looked primed to make the leap into the upper echelon of AFC competition, but after the past four weeks, I don’t think they have what it takes.  They end the year with the most brutal schedule in the NFL:  vs St. Louis, @ Baltimore, vs. New England, vs. Denver, @ San Fransisco, and @ Kansas City.  If they make the playoffs, I’ll be shocked.
  • Oakland Raiders (0-10)
    • See:  2008 Lions, but worse.

 

Carl’s Predicted Playoffs

NFC

  1. Arizona Cardinals (12-4)
  2. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (11-6
  4. New Orleans Saints (7-9)
  5. San Fransisco 49ers (11-5)
  6. Detroit Lions (10-6)

AFC

  1. New England Patriots (13-3)
  2. Denver Broncos (11-5)
  3. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
  5. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1)
  6. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

 

Agree or Disagree?  E-mail me:  carl@sunny.fm

 

-Carl Leander Johnson

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