AFC Wild Card
posted at 12/18/2009 12:56 AM EST
It's a crazy race that could come down to the last week of the season. A look at the contenders:
CHI, @PIT, @OAK
Chicago can't stop the run without Urlacher and Pinoisamoa while the Ravens have Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. The game against Pittsburgh looms large for both teams. Oakland is very winnable, which is a polite way for me to say that the Raiders s*ck.
@TEN, HOU, PIT
I'm not convinced any of these three games are guaranteed wins for the Dolphins like their fans seem to think because all three opponents are also wild card contenders. Tennessee is underrated and still alive if they beat Miami head-to-head, Houston isn't quite dead despite four divisional losses, and Pittsburgh controls its own destiny and could be very alive and kicking come week 17.
New York (7-6)
ATL, @IND, CIN
I think Atlanta is very winnable for the Jets because they can't defend the run and Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are both hurt, while the Falcons are a dome team heading north to the Meadowlands in December. I don't know if the Colts will play their starters, but I can't see the Colts losing to the Jets... I also think the Bengals will beat the Jets, if for any reason the emotional buzz saw that is the Chris Henry tragedy.
A warm-weather team going to Foxborough in December with temperatures now in the 20's-30's might not work out too well, but Garrard can break the few tackles that the anemic Patriots pass rush will try to make on him and he's an underrated passer with decent receivers and Maurice Jones-Drew to keep teams honest. I think Cleveland is extremely winnable for them, though (not because the weather is any better than Foxborough, but because the Browns s*ck)
MIA, SD, @SEA
The Titans have a tough home stretch if they want to make the playoffs. They can help their case by beating Miami head-to-head, but then face a Chargers team that has historically done well in December and who will have plenty of motivation to win for playoff seeding. Seattle is nothing special, but the trip to Seattle is taxing. Here's to hoping the Titans beat the Chargers and help the Pats with the #2 seed.
GB, BAL, @MIA
Green Bay has stayed under the radar so far because of that QB who used to play for them, but they should be able to test a Polamalu-less pass defense that's vulnerable if they can block the Steelers' pass rush for long enough for Rodgers to throw/not-die. Baltimore should be total war, like every Baltimore-Pittsburgh game this decade (If not for the lopsidedness, this might be the best rivalry in the NFL right now). They finish the season in Miami. No team has more direct control over its own playoff destiny than the Steelers, who play two fellow wild card contenders head-to-head. I'd LOVE to see them sneak in as the #6 seed, get Polamalu back, and go to Indianapolis to beat the Colts. Don't tell me that the two teams of the decade wouldn't be as much of a draw for the AFC Championship Game as Patriots-Colts (although beating both en route to a Super Bowl win would only further the Colts' case for team of the decade)
@STL, @MIA, NE
They should beat St. Louis (right?). Miami could be tough, but their passing game could give New England problems if it comes to it (even if passing game = Andre Johnson and nobody else, which is what it is now that tight end Owen Daniels is on injured reserve). While they get to play Miami head-to-head, they're handcuffed by their poor divisional record (2-4) and would need enough help to get almost every other contender down to 8-8 AND win out. Methinks both of these things happening is unlikely
NE, @ATL, IND
CBS claims they're not mathematically eliminated at 5-8, but I don't see how enough of the teams above end at 8-8 or 7-9 so the Bills could get in... Weather works in their favor with Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson along with a mobile QB to run the ball, but I can't see the Bills beating Indianapolis' backups, let alone if the Colts are aiming for 16-0. Let's just call them eliminated and move on...
New England (8-5)
@BUF, JAX, @HOU
They lead the division, but a loss to Buffalo would mean a worse divisional record than the Dolphins and a loss to Houston could mean they lose the common opponents tiebreaker to Miami if the 'phins beat the Texans. Andre Johnson and no other receiver on their roster presents problems for the Pats' secondary. Win and they're in. Lose, and things get complicated. Fortunately they hold the divisional record tiebreaker over the Jets and the Dolphins face a tough schedule, but they need wins and momentum.
(KNOCK ON WOOD - I completely forgot to add them to my poll and you can't edit polls... it reeks of jinxing them)
MIA @ TEN, this weekend
BAL @ PIT, next weekend
PIT @ MIA, last week of the season