December 22, 2011
Only two weeks left means the playoff picture is becoming clearer. The fringe teams like the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs appear on their way out, although not mathematically eliminated. Meanwhile, perennial studs like New England and Pittsburgh have nearly solidified top seeds. But there’s still spots up for grabs and a few areas to be sorted out. I’ll point out the most interesting stories.
Tebow Brings the Broncos Back to the Playoffs
Despite that predictable hiccup against the Patriots Sunday – where Tom Brady put a muzzle on the Tebow fan club for a few days – the Broncos appear poised to take the division. Their final games are at a struggling Buffalo Bills team, who could not keep early momentum and have fallen to last place in their division, and the Kansas City Chiefs, who again are not technically out, but have a steep hill to climb. The biggest threat here is the Oakland Raiders – but Carson Palmer has played terribly for them, and unless Darren McFadden comes back strong, they’re likely to split their last two games.
San Diego is also looming. The team that tends to have a strong December may be too late, though, as the usually weak division has made forward strides this season.
NFC East Battle
At times considered one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, it appears, at least for this season, to be because no team can rise up and take control. The Cowboys had a string of strong wins and were seemingly ready to take the reigns as a solid playoff possibility. Yet, after a heart-breaking loss against the Giants in Week 14, Eli Manning and his squad kept them in the hunt. The Giants had a seemingly easy game against the Redskins in Week 15, but that proved not the case, and knocked them back down a peg.
Now the Giants face their city rivals this week, followed by a potentially division-deciding match up against the ‘Boys. The insanity doesn’t stop there, though. If events happen right (or wrong depending on some viewpoints), the Eagles could sneak into the playoffs.
Will Three AFC North Teams Make the Playoffs?
The division is dominated by the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers year in and year out, with this year being no different. Despite the lackluster performances this weekend, they’re both tied for the division lead at 10-4. But the new horse in the race is the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals have gone from bottom dweller – widely perceived as one of the worst teams going into the season – to a team that has found a spark behind a strong defense, easy schedule, and rookies AJ Green and Andy Dalton. They don’t face weak teams by any means – the Ravens and the Cardinals, who have showed flashes as of late – but have a strong opportunity to overtake the Jets as the sixth seed. As a Browns fan, if all three make it, I’ll have an excuse to think they were better than they performed this year. It’s the little things.