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Predicting the unpredictable: NFL Playoff Projections

Eli ManningI fully believe that I would have a better shot of winning the lotto, reading a woman’s mind and fully comprehending what the Coen brothers were trying to convey in “No Country for Old Men” than predicting what will happen over the final three weeks of the 2008 NFL Season but I’m going to give it a shot anyway. (Seriously, that badass character in “No Country” just walks away at the end and we have no idea what happens to him?)

Here’s what we know: The Titans are the AFC South Champions, the Giants won the NFC East and the Cardinals have already claimed the NFC West.

Now grab your Advil because this is what we don’t know:

Three teams still have a shot to win the NFC South (Buccaneers, Panthers and Falcons), as well as the AFC East (Jets, Dolphins and Patriots). Barring a complete collapse, the Broncos will win the AFC West while Steelers have a slim one-game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North and the Vikings have a one-game lead over the Bears in the NFC North.

These teams are still alive for Wild Card berths in the AFC: Ravens (9-4); Colts (9-4); Jets (8-5); Dolphins (8-5), Patriots (8-5) and Chargers (5-8). (San Diego still has a shot because Denver hasn’t closed out the AFC West, but we can pretty much write the Chargers off at this point.)

These teams are still alive for Wild Card berths in the NFC: Buccaneers (9-3); Panthers (9-3); Falcons (8-5); Cowboys (8-5); Eagles (7-5-1); Bears (7-6); Saints (7-6); Redskins (7-6); Packers (5-8). (As of this writing, the Panthers and Buccaneers still have to play on Monday night, with the winner taking a one-game lead in the NFC South.)

Now that all of that has been sorted out, it’s time for the fun to begin. I will stick my neck out for all fans to chop it off and predict the rest of the NFL season – playoffs included. Get your pen and paper ready to jot down notes. The over/under of times someone calls me a moron in the comment section has officially been set at 47.

AFC Playoff Projection:

1. Titans
2. Steelers
3. Patriots
4. Broncos
5. Colts
6. Ravens

Chris Johnson- The Titans and Steelers have two of the nastiest defenses in the league and should each win two of their final three games, although the Ravens have a shot at leapfrogging Pittsburgh in AFC North with a win against the Men of Steel this Sunday. While it’s tempting to take the feel-good Ravens to beat the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s defense will give Joe Flacco trouble again, just as it did in the second half of their meeting (a 23-20 overtime win for the Steelers) in Week 4 earlier this year.

- The Jets are imploding after losing two straight and they’re going to lose one more game the rest of the way (at Seattle in Week 15). But they should beat Buffalo this Sunday to get to 9-5 and following my predicted loss to the Seahawks, beat Miami in the season final at the Meadowlands. But the Patriots are going to win out and claim the AFC East at 11-5. They’re at hapless Oakland on Sunday, will host an Arizona team that hasn’t won a meaningful game on the road all season, and finish up the year at Buffalo against a Bills team that has scored 6 points in two weeks. You can just read the headlines in Boston now: Brady Who?

- The Broncos just need one more win to wrap up the AFC West, which they’ll get at home against the Bills in Week 16, if not Week 15 in Carolina.

- The Colts will be the most dangerous team in the playoffs. Not only have they won six in a row, but they could win nine in a row before it’s all said and done because they host the Lions this Sunday, play Jacksonville on the road and host a Tennessee team at the end of the year that could be resting starters. There’s a chance Indy could claim a Wild Card spot at 12-4 or 11-5.

- The Ravens host the Steelers and are at Dallas before hosting the Jaguars to end the season. They might lose two of their final three games, but they’ll beat Jacksonville and make the postseason at 10-6.

NFC Playoff Projection:

1. Giants
2. Buccaneers
3. Cardinals
4. Bears
5. Panthers
6. Falcons

- The Giants’ loss Sunday against the Eagles was a setback, but a small setback. Their final three games aren’t gimmies though – at Dallas, vs. Carolina, at Minnesota. But they should win two of their final three games, which would give them home field advantage throughout the postseason. They’ve got two major question marks though: Will Plaxico Burress’s situation be a distraction and will Brandon Jacobs be 100%? (He suffered a knee injury in Sunday’s loss vs. Philly.)

Jeff Garcia- Tampa could very easily lose to the Panthers on Monday night and next week against the Falcons in Atlanta, but they’ll win against the Chargers and Raiders at the end of the year to get to 12-4 or 11-5 and steal the No. 2 seed away from Carolina. That said, the defense will continue to carry this team but the offense has to get drastically better in the red zone.

- The Cardinals are in and could easily take the No. 2 seed, but I see them losing to New England in Week 15 and even if they beat the Vikings this Sunday and the Seahawks Week 17, they would only be 10-6 and therefore a game or two behind Tampa or Carolina.

- Flip a coin between the Vikings and Bears because they both have similar odds of winning the division. But I’ll give the nod to Chicago because they could potentially win out as they host the Saints and Packers the next two weeks before playing the Texans on the road. Plus Minnesota faces a lot of uncertainty with the pending suspensions of Pat and Kevin Williams, and now Gus Frereotte has back issues. I don’t see Tarvaris Jackson winning two of the Vikings final three games (at Arizona, vs. Atlanta, vs. NY Giants) if he had to. But trust me, this isn’t resounding support for the Bears, because they could easily lose two of their final three games, which would give Minnesota the division. But I’m taking a shot on the kids from Chi-Town.

- The Panthers could beat the Bucs on Monday, but their final three games are tough – vs. Denver, at NY Giants, at New Orleans. And considering their defense isn’t playing particularly well right now, the Broncos and Saints could light up the scoreboard. Still, this is a playoff team and one that has made some noise in the postseason the past couple of years.

- The Falcons need to prove they’re a true playoff contender by beating Tampa next Sunday at home. Because after that, they face a possibly depleted Vikings team in Minnesota and then host the Rams to wrap up the year – two winnable games. If they win two of their final three, they should be in because Dallas’s remaining schedule is brutal, while the Eagles, Redskins and Saints are still a full game back. But make no mistake – Atlanta put itself in a rough position by losing to New Orleans on Sunday.

Wild Card Playoff Predictions:

Colts over Broncos
Patriots over Ravens

Cardinals over Falcons
Panthers over Bears

Divisional Predictions:

Colts over Titans
Steelers over Patriots
Giants over Panthers
Buccaneers over Cardinals

AFC Championship Game: Steelers over Colts
NFC Championship Game: Giants over Bucs

Mike TomlinSuper Bowl: Giants vs. Steelers

It’s a little boring to predict a No. 1 vs. a No. 2 seed to meet in the Super Bowl, but I’m going with the two best defenses in the league. The Steelers have some glaring issues, mainly on the offensive line and with Ben Roethlisberger’s penchant for hanging onto the ball too long in the pocket. But Pittsburgh and New York are nasty environments to play in come January and again, I’m taking defense to trump all.

All right, your turn. Ready…aim…fire with your comments.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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