NFC Playoff Picture

November 21, 2008

As Week 12 approaches, reality is starting to set in as to which teams realistically can make the playoffs in the NFC. Arguably, the four best teams in the conference can be found in the competitive NFC East, the NFL’s premiere division since the merger. At most, only three teams from the East can qualify for the postseason. Most likely, the East and South will each get in two squads. Here are some early predictions and projections:

NFC West

Only one team is getting in and that is long-time former NFC East doormat, the Arizona Cardinals. The rest of the division – Seattle, St. Louis, and San Francisco – are horrific.

The Cardinals will be able to feast on their division foes, and could secure home field for their opening game. Kurt Warner is having an excellent year, and wideouts Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are game changers with big-play ability. Still, Arizona wins one postseason game at best.

NFC North

The North is another weak division which will produce only one playoff team. Its a tossup between Green Bay, Minnesota, and Chicago as to which team will win out, as all presently stand at 5-5. Most likely Green Bay gets the nod due to Aaron Rodgers and his continued growth at quarterback. However, in a one-game playoff scenario, the Vikes and breakaway threat Adrian Peterson are the one team nobody wants to face.

Still, this division is truly weak. The winner will likely be at or near .500 despite having the opportunity to stockpile two wins against Detroit. Whoever takes this division will be one and done in the postseason.

NFC South

Carolina should take this division. Although QB Jake Delhomme has struggled recently, the running game is solid. The remaining teams are capable of snagging one or both wild card spots. Why so much success for the South? One reason is that division gets to play the pathetic AFC West this year. That alone provides 3-4 wins guaranteed.

Between Atlanta, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay, one should advance to the playoffs, but which one? Atlanta has a pair of rising stars in back Michael Turner and quarterback Matt Ryan, but who knows how much longer their dream season can last. Drew Brees has been outstanding for the Saints, but the team has been inconsistent all year. The Bucs have overachieved so far, but their failure to beat a Brad Johnson-led Dallas squad indicated their true lack of talent. Bottom line, no team from this division reaches the Super Bowl.

NFC East

At this point, the Giants probably will not be caught. They are in the driver’s seat for securing home field throughout the postseason. Meanwhile, Philly has a playoff-caliber team, but should be squeezed out because of a numbers game. As for Dallas and Washington, only one team will likely get in, and if last week’s game is any indication, that team will be Dallas.

The return of Tony Romo has redefined the division’s landscape. Against Dallas, Washington was forced to play honest on defense, with more cover two to protect from the deep-ball threat. That allowed Marion Barber to find holes without facing so many in the box. After a couple of early interceptions, the Dallas offense clicked, and the team played with a sense of urgency. The only bad news coming from Irving lately has been the loss of rookie phenom Felix Jones for the entire year.

Overlooked in last week’s game was the return of Terrence Newman, a true top-10 cover corner. He had a key pick and a clutch tipped pass that helped preserve the Cowboys victory. Having Newman and Pacman Jones healthy and starting at the corners will vastly improve a defense that had been relying heavily on rooks Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick.

Washington still can make some noise. The one advantage they have over the Cowboys is an easier schedule down the stretch, with three “should-win” games in the last six weeks against the Bengals, Seahawks, and 49ers. In contrast, the Cowboys close with the Steelers (road), Giants, Ravens, and Eagles (road).

The two best teams in this division are also the two best teams in the NFC -- the Giants and Cowboys. Ultimately, the Giants and Cowboys will face each other, and the winner will advance to the Super Bowl and win the Lombardi trophy.

Final Predictions
Division Winners: Carolina, NY, Arizona, Green Bay.

Wild Cards: Dallas and Tampa Bay.

Super Bowl Representative and Champion: Dallas Cowboys.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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