Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NFC playoff chase

The division leaders now seem locked in. Giants have clinched the NFCE; Cardinals own the NFCW; Vikings are ahead in the NFCN; in the NFCS Panthers have a leg up with their MNF win over the Bucs, but the Bucs have a game lead over the rest of the field for the first wildcard slot.

It's possible that the Bears will overtake the Vikings for the NFCN lead, but no teams from the North or West are going to get into the playoffs as a wildcard. The two wildcards will come from the South and the East. Bucs have a 9-4 record and lead three teams with 5 losses: Cowboys (8-5), Falcons (8-5) and Eagles (7-5-1). It seems like the Bucs are a lock to make the first wildcard, because they have a one game lead and two games that they should win: hosting the Chargers and Raiders in last two weeks of the season. Even if they lose this week at Atlanta, 11 wins will lock up a wildcard.

That leaves the last wildcard up for grabs among Cowboys, Falcons and Eagles. Examining their remaining opponents, Cowboys clearly have the hardest schedule. They get the Giants and Ravens at home followed by a week 17 game in Philadelphia, which I think will decide the final playoff spot. The Falcons have one easy game, facing the Rams in week 17 and two challenging, but winnable games coming up. The Falcons get the Buccaneers at home this week and are at Minnesota next week. If the Falcons split those two games and end up winning 2 out of the 3 remaining games, they will have a 10-6 record and will have 6 conference losses.. If the Cowboys also win 2 of their last 3 and end up tied with the Falcons at 10-6, the most number of conferences losses they can have is 5 and they will beat out the Falcons for that wildcard on the basis of better conference record.

But the unknown dark horse in this is the Philadelphia Eagles. They are 7-5-1 and look like they have the easiest schedule of all the 3 wildcard contenders. Eagles get the Browns this week at home, which is a sure win. They get the Redskins next week in Washington and the Redskins offense and team has completely fallen apart. In addition to not being able to score any points their all pro OT Samuels is out for the season. Redskins should be easy pickings for the Eagles. Then it comes down to the last week of the season against the Cowboys. No matter what the Cowboys do in the weeks before that, if the Eagles win their last 3, they will end with a 10-5-1
record. Since their last opponent is the Cowboys, if the Eagles beat them, Cowboys can be no better than 10-6 and Eagles will make the playoffs. As good as the Eagles looked against the Giants, I think they will run the table and make the playoffs as the last wildcard.

It's really funny how things turn around in the NFL. Three weeks ago, the Eagles looked done. They lost at home to the Giants; they tied the Bengals and they got absolutely pasted by the Ravens benching their all-world qb in the process. Since then they beat two division winners in the Cardinals and the Giants; because of their easy remaining schedule they have an inside track to make the playoffs.

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