Last week, we zeroed in on the AFC along with my predictions for division winners and wild card winners. This week we finish up the half-way point predictions, and open it up for your input and comments.
Contenders: New York Giants
Pretenders: Dallas, Philadelphia
What a difference a week makes.
If I would be writing this article last week, I would have Philadelphia up there with the Giants as contenders. But their loss on Monday night to the Chicago Bears pretty much sealed their fate for the 2011 season. The Eagles (3-5) will now have to win eight straight, or at worst 7 out of 8 to have any chance at the playoffs. The Giants (6-2) have a three-game lead on the Eagles and a two-game lead over the Cowboys (4-4), though they have a rough road ahead with huge games against the 49ers, Eagles, Saints, Packers, Cowboys (twice) and Jets. The Redskins game should be a win for them, but the rest of them could go either way.
If the Giants get a losing streak going, that could open the door for the Cowboys and/or the Eagles. But I think the Giants' offense and defense are in good enough shape to pull enough of these games out and take the NFC East crown.
Predicted Division Winner: New York Giants
Contenders: Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago
What a division the NFC North is shaping up to be. The Packers (8-0) are going to run away with this division when it's all said and done, but we could see both wild card teams coming out of here as well. If you remember, the Packers were a wild card team last season and won the whole thing. They are hitting on all cylinders and should have no problem reaching the NFC Championship game, and are the undisputed favorites to come away with yet another Lombardi trophy.
The real race is going to be between the Detroit Lions (6-2) and Chicago Bears (5-3). Looking at their remaining opponents, I see the Lions finishing 10-6 with wins against the Panthers, Vikings, Raiders, and Chargers. The Bears have a much easier road, with projected wins in seven out of their last eight games. Those wins should come against the Lions, Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, Seahawks, and Vikings. If that is the case, the Bears could finish 12-4 and, shockingly, only qualify for the 5th seed as a wild card.
The game this weekend between the Bears and Lions will be huge; make sure you don't miss this one.
Predicted Division Winner: Green Bay
Contenders: New Orleans, Atlanta
Pretenders: Tampa Bay
The NFC South is a two-team race between the Saints (6-3) and the Falcons (5-3). The Buccaneers (4-4) once showed promise after finishing 10-6 last season, but they have fallen flat this season and could play the spoiler role for the two teams ahead of them. Carolina (2-6) is a young and exciting team led by quarterback and rookie sensation Cam Newton. They are a few years away, but could also play a spoiler role as well as they can compete with most teams.
The good thing about the Saints and Falcons is that they have yet to play each other. That will all change this weekend as they do battle for the first time in Atlanta. They play again in Week 16 on Monday Night Football in New Orleans, which could be a showdown for the division. Looking at the remainder of games, I have the Saints winning at least three (Titans, Vikings, and Panthers) while I have the Falcons winning at least five (Titans, Vikings, Panthers, Jaguars, and Buccaneers). If that were the case, the records could be even or a one-game difference between the two, which means the head-to-head matchups coming up will be pivotal.
In the end, I think the Saints have too much talent and should take the division by one game with an 11-5 record, leaving the Falcons with a 10-6 record and possibility of a wild card.
Predicted Division Winner: New Orleans
Contenders: San Francisco
Out: Seattle, Arizona, St. Louis
Wow, wouldn't you like your favorite team to be in a division like this? Pathetic.
The 49ers (7-1) are going to run away with this division and represent the NFC West in the playoffs, which will be their first postseason appearance since 2002. New head coach Jim Harbaugh should run away with Coach of the Year Award as well, and deservingly so. He has done a masterful job with QB Alex Smith, who was almost run out of town numerous times since being taken #1 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft.
The rest of the division, quite frankly, is a waste of time for both you and I to even discuss. The Seahawks, Cardinals, and even the Rams are a disgrace to the NFL season. You may think I am being a bit harsh, but their combined record 5-19 says otherwise.
Predicted Division Winner: San Francisco
So, that leaves us with the Giants, Packers, Saints, and 49ers as your division winners in the NFC. But who are the wild card teams?
One wild card team prediction is simple; the Chicago Bears. As I mentioned earlier, I could see the Bears finishing 12-4 and still only making the wild card because they are in the same division as the Packers. The Falcons and Lions could both finish 10-6, so it will come down to tie-breakers. Instead of trying to dissect all of those right now when we are only halfway through the season is silly, I will just give you my gut feeling on who takes the 6th seed. That team will be the Detroit Lions.
The Lions haven't made the playoffs since the 1999 season, which is why I am going with them. The Bills are the only team that also haven't made the playoffs since the '99 season, and I chose them as taking a wild card spot in the AFC, so I will now pick the Lions.
Predicted Wild Card Teams: Chicago and Detroit
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