November 14, 2013
We’ve past the halfway point of the NFL season and now have a pretty good idea of who is good and who isn’t. But the playoff race is still wide open. Unless you are the Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, St. Louis Rams or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For everyone else, their season could be defined by the outcome of one game. Here’s my take on the games that each team must win to secure its playoff destiny.
Baltimore Ravens - The defending Super Bowl champ Ravens are on the ropes. And when you are on the ropes, you cannot afford to lose to a team playing without its starting quarterback. Even if the game is in Chicago.
Cincinnati Bengals – Nobody wants to head into the bye with three straight losses. A loss to Cleveland would take the Bengals out of the hunt for a playoff bye and leave them in a dogfight to win the division that was theirs just a couple weeks ago.
Denver Broncos – They can take control of the AFC with a win over the undefeated Chiefs. A loss and the Broncos could be looking at the No. 5 seed in the AFC. There is a huge difference between No. 1 and No. 5.
Philadelphia Eagles – New coach Chip Kelly has his team tied for the lead in the NFC East despite starting the season with four straight losses at home. A win in Philly over the Redskins would put the Eagles in first place and eliminate a division rival from contention.
Washington Redskins – A win would really tighten up the NFC East race. A loss would put the Redskins at 3-7 and needing six straight wins plus help. Better win in Philly.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns have two games left against the Steelers. If the Browns don’t win this one, the week 17 rematch won’t have any playoff implications.
Green Bay Packers – The Packers need to pick up at least one more win before Aaron Rodgers returns for the final month. Playing at home against a bad Vikings team looks like the one they cannot afford to lose.
New England Patriots – The Patriots will be in the playoffs but if they are going to have a chance at home-field advantage, this is a must win game on Sunday night against the Broncos.
San Diego Chargers – The Chargers have two games coming up against the Chiefs and for the one in week 17 to matter, they need to win this one.
Chicago Bears – If Jay Cutler can’t stay on the field, the Bears are in trouble. Either way, they’ll need this game against the Vikings to improve their conference and division record because if they are going to get in the playoffs, I expect tiebreakers to be involved.
Detroit Lions – The Lions are in first place in the NFC North and have a sweep over the Bears. They could win the division and make a run at a first-round bye. But for that to happen, they’ll need to give their fans something to be thankful for with a win over Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day.
Kansas City Chiefs – Despite the 9-0 record, the Chiefs haven’t shown they belong with the big boys by beating any of the other top teams in the league. They’ll have to beat Denver at least once to win the AFC West and home-field advantage in the AFC and this will be their best shot.
Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks should have no trouble making the playoffs. But they could just about lockup home-field advantage in the NFC with a Monday night win over the Saints.
Indianapolis Colts – Nobody has better wins than the Colts. Another big one against the Bengals would give the Colts the edge for the No. 3 seed and keep them alive for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers shouldn’t have trouble picking up a few more wins to reach the playoffs. But if they are going to have a shot at winning the division or make a Super Bowl run, they’ve got to redeem themselves against Seattle after getting creamed earlier this season.
Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals will need at least nine wins to get a wild card spot. They could get number nine in Tennessee and with Seattle and San Fransisco coming up, it could be their last win as well.
Carolina Panthers – They have two games to play against the Saints. Losing both would really hurt and I like Carolina’s chances to win at home much better.
Dallas Cowboys – The NFC East looks like it will come down to the final game of the season as usual. Luckily for the Cowboys, they’ll be at home to face the Eagles.
New York Jets – The AFC wild card race looks like its headed for a wild finish with at least six teams still in play. A week 17 win is a must for the Jets to grab the final spot.
September 10, 2013
With just about 20 games left in the regular season, most of the MLB playoff races are essentially over. It’s pretty safe to say that we already know who four division winners will be and where two of the wild card teams are going to come from.
The Boston Red Sox have left the Yankees, Orioles and Rays in the dust and turned a 4-team race into a 7.5 game lead in the AL East. They have a shot at 100 wins and should be the top seed in the American League.
In the AL Central, the Tigers maintain a 4.5 game lead over the pesky Indians. It’s not out of the question for Cleveland to make it a race…until you check the schedule. Not only do the Tigers not face Cleveland again, but all but three of their remaining games will be against the White Sox, Mariners, Twins and Marlins. That is as cake as it gets.
At least we have the AL West race. But maybe not for long. Oakland leads Texas by just two games right now and the teams meet for the final time in a three-game series beginning Friday. It’s a must-win series (at least two out of three) for the Rangers who still play Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay while Oakland doesn’t have any other playoff hopefuls left on its schedule.
And then there is the AL Wild Card. This one could truly be wild down to the final game. The Oakland/Texas runner up will have to deal with Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Baltimore, Kansas City and the Yankees for the two spots in the wild card one-game playoff.
In the NL East, the Braves have been on cruise control for about a month already and still lead by 12 games. The only question here is whether they can hold off the hard-charging Dodgers for the top seed in the NL.
Speaking of the Dodgers…they too hold a 12-game lead in their division and are now playing for home-field advantage in the NL.
The NL Central/Wild Card race is the one to watch in the NL. St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are all going to the playoffs. One will win the Central and the other two will get the wild card spots (Washington trails by seven games for the last wild card spot). The Cardinals have a one-game lead in the division and a schedule that makes it theirs to lose. They play Milwaukee, Seattle, Colorado, Washington and the Cubs who all are making plans for 2014. Meanwhile, the Pirates and Reds will play each other six more times. If one team can win four or five of those games, they may be able to give the Cardinals a run. Otherwise, they’ll be playing for the right to host the wild card game.
August 20, 2013
Last year, I correctly picked Green Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco to win their divisions but was off the mark in the NFC East and with both wild card teams. The NFC is much tougher to read than the AFC. The NFC has been the definition of parity. In the last nine seasons, the NFC Championship Game has been played in eight different cities (only Chicago hosted twice), won by eight different teams (only New York won twice), and 11 of the 16 teams have played for the right to go to the Super Bowl (Washington, Dallas, Detroit, Tampa Bay and St. Louis haven’t been there in a while).
Once again, it’s the Redskins that are the most talked about team in the offseason. But this time its injury related. When will RGIII be back? Will he be 100 percent? Will he be able to stay on the field when he does come back? The Redskins come in as the champs, but won’t end the year that way. It should be safe to say that a team that finished 4-12 and has a rookie head coach won’t win either. So it comes down to the Cowboys and Giants and it won’t be decided until the final game of the season when Washington at New York gets moved to Sunday night.
Division winner: Dallas
Three teams won 10 games last season and two went to the playoffs. The Packers will be very good again and it seems that we never know what to expect from the Vikings, Bears and Lions. The Lions will be better and the Vikings will be worse. So assuming that Jay Cutler can stay healthy this year, the Bears will be the team to challenge Green Bay. They play in Chicago in week 17 and the division title could be on the line…but it won’t. The Bears will be playing for a wild card spot and Green Bay will be looking to send their rivals home.
Division winner: Green Bay
Atlanta won the South by six games and should have gone to the Super Bowl last season. Now that Sean Payton and Drew Brees are back together, it may have been the Falcons best shot. Tampa Bay and Carolina should both be better as well. But not everyone can be over .500. Either the Bucs or Panthers will fall out of the race before Thanksgiving but the other three will all be in the playoff chase until the bitter end.
Division winner: Atlanta
This one is a two team race. The 49ers and Seahawks are clearly better than the Rams and Cardinals. If the 49ers and Seahawks were scheduled to play in week 17, I’d say the division title and probably a bye would be at stake. Both teams should be headed to the playoffs in January so the real question is which one gets the break that allows them to win West and host at least one playoff game.
Division winner: Seattle
Wild Card winners: San Francisco, Chicago
NFC champion: Atlanta
(To read our AFC Preview, click here.)
August 14, 2013
Last year I nailed five of the six playoff teams in the AFC and went 4-4 on division winners with New England, Baltimore, Houston and Denver. So if you need to know what’s going down in the AFC in 2013, look no further and keep reading. Of course if you are more concerned with what will happen in the playoffs……it’s probably a safe bet to go with the opposite of my picks.
It is the same old story here. There is New England and there is a team that made a bunch of moves in the offseason and has certainly improved, but will it be enough to take down Brady and Belichek? Two years ago the team was the Jets. Last year it was the Bills. This year it is the Dolphins. But the answer remains the same. New England will continue its dominance of the division despite all the off the field issues that have happened with Tom Brady’s targets.
Division winner: New England
This may be the most interesting division race in the AFC. The Ravens come in as the defending Super Bowl champs but have lost enough key players that they could miss the playoffs altogether. Cincinnati is a young up-and-coming team that reached the playoffs last year and will be looking to take the next step. Cleveland should be better that last year’s 5-11 record and of course the Steelers never seem to miss the playoffs two years in a row. Until now. Baltimore is Joe Flacco’s team now and will get a chance to defend it’s title once we get to January, but the Bengals will be better after the playoff experience in 2011 and 2012 and do more than just tie for the best record in the division.
Division winner: Cincinnati
Peyton Manning owned this division until he left. It’s belonged to Houston ever since. Now the Colts are trying to take it back. But unfortunately, they should take a step back from their over-achieving 2012 season. The South is Houston’s to lose and that isn’t going to happen (barring some devastating injuries). Tennessee and Jacksonville still have a long way to go to get in the mix for a division title.
Division winner: Houston
Last season the Broncos won 13 games while the Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs combined for 13 wins. Peyton Manning looks like he’s fully healthy and the Broncos face the easiest schedule in the NFL (statistically speaking). Kansas City may have the best chance to steal the division from Denver after bringing in Andy Reid and Alex Smith at head coach and quarterback to compliment a roster that already has several great players but somehow finished 2-14. In Oakland and San Diego the talk has been more about possibly moving to Los Angeles and less about winning championships. That’s a bad sign.
Division winner: Denver
Wild Card winners: Baltimore, Miami
AFC champion: Denver
July 16, 2013
Now that the MLB season has reached the All-Star break, business is about to pick up. It’s time to find out which teams are going all in and which ones have set their sights on 2014. There are several interesting storylines playing out, setting 2013 up for an unpredictable finish. But I’ll give it a shot anyway.
Matt Garza has been in trade rumors all season long…he will finish the season playing in the American League, but he won’t be the biggest name that gets moved before the trade deadline. Look for a team like the Phillies or Angels to move a big name player.
The New York Yankees will get Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson back…and it won’t matter. The AL East will turn into a three-team race with the Baltimore/Boston series on the final weekend determining the winner.
Speaking of Baltimore…Chris Davis will continue to smash home runs and make me look stupid for trading him in my fantasy league and he will be the only thing that stands between Miguel Cabrera and back-to-back triple crowns. Davis will make a run at 60 but finish with 57 long balls.
Yu Darvish will be just the fifth guy in the last 25 years to record at least 300 strikeouts and make me look stupid for trading him in my fantasy league. (I don’t like where this pattern is heading).
Atlanta will cruise to the NL East title.
One team will fall out of the three-team race in the NL Central. It won’t be Pittsburgh.
After being left for dead, the Dodgers will rally to win the NL West title. And after all the controversy surrounding Yasiel Puig and the All-Star game goes away…it’ll start up again when he leads the Dodgers to the playoffs and joins the MVP race.
The NL Wild Card race will be nonexistent. The two teams that don’t win the Central will snag both spots.
Alex Rodriguez will be in the headlines at least two more times…and not in a good way. He will be one of several players disciplined for their involvement in the Biogenesis case.
The Atlanta Braves will return to the World Series, but fall short again as the Texas Rangers win the series in six games.