Handicapping the NFC Wild Card Race

Bears vs. Packers

If the play-offs started today we would see Da Bears and the Detroit Lions as the NFC’s wild card teams. The Lions have certainly been this year’s surprise team, and they’ve given us something good and wholesome and brisk (Eminem, I named dropped your endorsement) to cheer for this season.

What could be more fun then having reinvigorated Detroit fans yelling for their team in NFL post season play and filling a void that was usually occupied by Detroit fans yelling “DETROIT BASKETBALL” during this time of year?

Ah, gotta love the Motor City’s new found heroes. That is unless you’re not an Ndamukong Suh fan. Oh wait, sorry Roger Goodell’s calling. And yeah, this time they are talking about a game.  Not practice. Alright, enough poking fun—let’s get down to business and figure out which NFC teams are still in the wild card hunt. [Read more…]

NFC Playoff predictions

NFC North-thumb-600x533-25337

By Sunday Picks

To see the AFC Playoff Picture click here

The NFC will be much harder to predict than the AFC. The NFC-East is going to go down to the wire with the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants all battling to play in January. The Green Bay Packers are also battling with the NFC-East to make sure they get a wild card berths. All that said, the Saints, Vikings, and Cardinals are all locks to win their division. It comes down to the three in the East and the Packers from the North. Let’s take a look at where everyone to end up:

#1  – New Orleans Saints- The Saints are the clear favorite in the NFC. With the MVP-caliber season Drew Brees is having, the Saints should have home field advantage all the way to the NFC-Championship, and make history by going 19-0. Looking at their remaining schedule; the Saints face Atlanta, Dallas at home, Tampa Bay, and then at Carolina. I do not see the Saints resting their players once they secure home field advantage. Head Coach, Sean Payton is the type of guy that I think will want to make history. Drew Brees believes that this is the Saints’ destiny, that they will go 16-0. I believe him. I think the Saints run through Atlanta this week, win a close one against the Cowboys and Tony Romo who is notorious for losing in December, beat up on the Bucs, and then a tough matchup on paper against a Panthers team that has given the Saints so much trouble in the past. However, if they are 15-0 entering the Carolina game, I will bet the farm that they stay perfect.

The Saints have so many weapons on offense: Brees, Thomas, Bell, Bush, Colston, Shockey, Meachem, and Henderson. They have 19 players on their offensive roster that have scored touchdowns this season. That is unheard of. Defensively, the Saints have upgraded drastically since last season, and Darren Sharper has been fantastic in the secondary. This team is for real, and they are extremely tough to beat when they play at home.

#2 – Minnesota Vikings- Brett Farve played poorly last December with the Jets because he had an injured shoulder. This year is different. I like that the Vikings have a tough home matchup against Cincinnati this weekend. It’s a huge test for a team that hasn’t been in too many tough games this season (@Pittsburgh L, Baltimore W, @ Arizona L). The key for the Vikings during December is to ready their defense for the post season. The secondary must step their level of play and energy up. Jared Allen and the defensive line must get better pressure on the opposing quarterback. In the Arizona game, Kurt Warner had all day to pass on the Vikings.

Minnesota’s offense is explosive and they have one of the best running backs to close out a game in the fourth quarter. I like Brad Childress as a head coach, and I believe his preparation for games is tremendous, due in large part to his former teacher, Andy Reid. The Vikings have a tough end of the season facing Cincy, @ Carolina, @ Chicago, and closing out against the Giants where the Giants will most likely play their hearts out in order to make the playoffs. The Vikings will win at least two of their final four, I think they get three. They will rest their players against the Giants in Week 17, they cannot afford to lose Farve, Peterson, Harvin & Rice, or anyone on their defensive line. The Vikings will finish 13-3 and have home field during the divisional matchups.


#3 – Philadelphia Eagles- The Eagles love playing in December. McNabb plays better at the end of the season every year, Andy Reid is a tremendous coach and prepares his players very well for the games during the month of December. That being said, you have to love the Eagles remaining schedule where they travel to play the Giants this Sunday night, home the following two weeks against the 49ers and Broncos, and then travel to Dallas to close out the season. I like the Eagles to win their final four games, close out the season on a seven game I predict that the Eagles will end up playing the Giants in Philly for the wild card matchup, and then have to travel to Minnesota in the divisional round. The Eagles are a dangerous team to play once they reach the playoffs, so I am sure all the big dogs in the NFC will be routing against them the next four weeks. Eagles finish 12-4 and receive the #3 seed.


#4 – Arizona Cardinals- The Cardinals have their division locked up. The 49ers will make a valiant effort, especially with a possible upset against Arizona this week, but the Cardinals have too much offense to lose to the Rams or the Lions. I think the Cardinals will rest their main players in Week 17 against Green Bay, which will clearly help the Packers assure themselves a spot in the post season. The Cardinals are a hot team right now, and beating the Vikings with ease last week opened up the eyes of the NFL nation and allowed everyone to see that the Cardinals are back and are ready to get back to the Super Bowl. Kurt Warner is having a fabulous season, falling in the top ten in almost every offensive category (QB rating, completion percentage, total passing yards, passing yard per game, and touchdowns). How Warner goes is how this team will go. They must utilize Tim Hightower and Chris Wells in the ground attack in order to keep away from being one-dimensional with the pass. The Cardinals won the NFC last season and almost won the Super Bowl, let’s not forget that ladies and gentlemen. This team is for real and they will be a tough matchup for the Saints if they are able to win their wild card matchup against Green Bay.

#5 – Green Bay Packers- The Packers are on fire right now. They are peaking at the right point of the season, Aaron Rodgers has played superb behind center in all but one game this season (@ Tampa Bay) and the offensive line is staying healthy and developing a good bit of chemistry. The Packers have a challenging remaining schedule as they have to travel to face Chicago this week, take on the desperate Steelers, the Seahawks in Week 16, and then they finish the season against the Cardinals (a game that I believe we’ll see Matt Leinart and not much Warner). The Packers have the makings of a very good football team. Their defense allows the fewest total yards per game in the NFL, they are 4th against the run, 3rd against the pass, and they lead the NFL in turnover margin (+26). Clearly the defense is extremely formidable in Green Bay. What do they have to do to make a run in the playoffs? They have to protect the football and limit the turnovers. If they can win the turnover battle in the playoffs like they have been in the regular season, they will give themselves the best opportunity to win a ball game. I really like Aaron Rodgers, to me he is a very good Jay Cutler. I think Arizona vs. Green Bay in the wild card round would be an absolute shootout that would come down to whoever has the ball last. Packers finish 11-5 and receive the #5 Seed.

#6 – New York Giants- The Giants have been up and down this season. They won five straight games against opponents that are currently a combined 19-40. Then they lost four straight games against teams that are currently a combined 37-11. After a bye week, they are currently 2-3 against teams that are a combined 22-14. So, if you get the idea here, the Giants beat the bad teams and struggle against the good ones. With that, looking at their upcoming schedule; the Giants face the Eagles (8-4), the Redskins (3-9), the Panthers (5-7), and the Vikings (10-2). So you should anticipate the Giants going 2-4 in December, but I think they will get a third win against Minnesota as the Vikings should be resting their stars for at least half of that game. I think the Giants “A” team should be able to beat the Viking “B” team with Tarvaris Jackson behind center. The Giants have to get back to being the bruiser, not the one getting bruised. It all starts with Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs must play physical, hard-nosed football and run right up the gut getting big chunks of yards. Eli Manning plays 1,000 times better when the Giants are winning the battle up front and are running the ball effectively. I think the Giants get it done the last three weeks of the season, and they sneak into the playoffs thanks to another Cowboys December fallout.

-NFC TEAMS THAT HAVE A CHANCE, BUT I THINK WILL FALL SHORT:

-Dallas Cowboys- It is well documented how much the Cowboys and Tony Romo struggle in December. In his career, Tony Romo has a September QB rating of 100.3, an October QB rating of 93, a November rating of 111, and then a December rating of 76. That is a huge drop in a QB rating, and whether it is nerves or just bad luck, Romo struggles significantly during the final month of the NFL season. Looking at who he has to play against this December to try and defy the odds; the Cowboys face the Chargers (9-3) this week, the Saints (12-0) in New Orleans, the Redskins (3-8) in Washington (where he is 1-2 in his career with a 70.2 QB rating), and then against the Eagles (8-4) to finish the regular season. Last year the Cowboys went to Philly in Week 17 in a must win game to make the playoffs and they got trounced on 44-6 with Romo having 3 turnovers. This year it will be the same situation except the game will be in Dallas. Dallas has to win two out of their next three in order to have hope in that game against the Eagles. I don’t believe they will beat either San Diego or New Orleans, I think the Cowboys finish 9-7, at best, and miss the playoffs once again. Wade Phillips gets the axe the following week and look for either Jason Garrett, Mike Shanahan, or possibly Bill Cowher to get the nod. Cowboys come up short again and miss the playoffs.

-No one else in the NFC comes into the playoff picture in my opinion. The Falcons will be out after this week, the Panther/Seahawks/49ers won’t have enough either.

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Despite play equivalent of pulling teeth, the Packers should get to the playoffs

Packers Wondrous Woodson Football

By Jake McCormick

There is a guaranteed difference in competition levels between the Pro and All-Pro difficulty levels in Madden. Anyone who has ever binged on that game (as I currently am) could tell you blowouts are much more common against a terribly average computer. Thankfully, the real life Green Bay Packers have hit a stretch of games against Pro-level teams that has allowed them to return from the deathly hallows of underachievement.

With that said, it’s hard to believe that the Green Bay Packers have already eclipsed their 2008 win total and occupy a Wild Card spot that is theirs to lose. A couple weeks ago I was about ready to write off their season, and now I’d argue that they are favorites for a playoff spot.

With an offensive line problem that was more rampant than pork barrel spending in Washington, a defense that bought into the 3-4 about as fast as newspapers bought into online news, and a couple of bad losses to Brett Favre, it looked like Skip Bayless, Bill Simmons, and every other bandwagon follower of Saint Vincent were already drowning with the ship.

But each successive week since the loss to Tampa Bay, the Packers have improved their pass protection and tweeked the playbook to account for the holes in the line, have refocused their defense on winning their side of the battle without worrying about personal statistics, and rattled three wins in 12 days.

I would even say that Green Bay got lucky with the timing of the Aaron Kampman and Al Harris injuries because their opponent the following week, the Detroit Lions, allowed the backups to get used to their elevated roles. Now they are in the top Wild Card spot as of today and most of their competition is dealing with even bigger injury and chemistry concerns.

The Atlanta Falcons are hitting a tough ending to their schedule, potentially without quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner. Eli Manning could be out for the rest of the season with a foot injury and the Giants’ defense just plain sucks, especially without Antonio Pierce. The 49ers must play perfect football to even be considered for a playoff spot. Did I mention that the Eagles play all three of the Wild Card outsiders and the NFC East becomes much more incestually competitive over the next few weeks?

Because of the mediocre parity around the NFC, the Packers could very conceivably lose two or three games out of their last five and still make the playoffs. And yes, the losses of Al Harris and Aaron Kampman and the sickeningly bad offensive line have been taken into consideration.

Here are the current NFC standings:

NorthMinnesota Vikings (10-1)
South New Orleans Saints (11-0)
East Dallas Cowboys (8-3)
WestArizona Cardinals (7-4)

Packers Lions FootballWild CardGreen Bay Packers (7-4)

Remaining games: Baltimore, @ Chicago, @ Pittsburgh, Seattle, @ Arizona

Green Bay should beat Chicago and Seattle, and although their schedule looks daunting on paper, Arizona could easily be resting starters the last week of the season and Baltimore and Pittsburgh are good, but dealing with many big issues of their own (Ravens’ pass defense, Steelers’ concussion problems and potentially divided locker room).

Biggest problems: A Swiss cheese-sized hole in the secondary with Al Harris’ season ending knee injury, and replacing OLB Aaron Kampman. This game against the Ravens will be a burden of proof for Tramon Williams, the linebacking corps, and the offensive line.

Prediction down the stretch: 3-2

Wild CardPhiladelphia Eagles (7-4)

Remaining games: @ Atlanta, @ NY Giants, San Francisco, Denver, @ Dallas

Andy Reid owns the Cowboys at the end of regular seasons, San Francisco is 1-4 on the road, and both Atlanta and New York are fading fast. We could be on hand for a couple of very hot Wild Card teams, ladies and gentlemen. However, the Eagles have been less than consistent over the past few weeks.

Biggest problems: Brian Westbrook is pretty much out for the year, but LeSean McCoy has played very well as his replacement. The biggest problem lies in the unknown length of DeSean Jackson’s concussion, but he will be out against the Falcons this weekend.

Prediction down the stretch: 4-1

Still in the hunt:
MattRyanAtlanta Falcons (6-5)

Remaining games: Philadelphia, New Orleans, @ NY Jets, Buffalo, @ Tampa Bay

Biggest problems: Injuries to Matt Ryan and Michael Turner would be like taking Eli Manning out for the Giants and replacing him with David Carr…oh wait. Both players are the motor engine and oil for a working offense in Atlanta, which is not a good situation when the Falcons face the Eagles and Saints back to back.

Prediction down the stretch: 3-2

New York Giants (6-5)

Remaining games: Dallas, Philadelphia, @ Washington, Carolina, @ Minnesota

The Giants are 1-5 in their last six games, and needed overtime to beat Atlanta. The defense’s best performance in that time was surrendering of 21 points in a loss to the Chargers. Their schedule hasn’t been easy, but the Giants have the toughest road to the Wild Card out of any remaining team.

Biggest problems: Eli Manning’s foot injury and the defense is terrible against anything football related. Trust me, I have them in fantasy, and the Bills are scoring higher each week.

Prediction down the stretch: 2-3

San Francisco 49ers (5-6)

Remaining games: @ Seattle, Arizona, @ Philadelphia, Detroit, @ St. Louis

I’m only including the 49ers because this is the NFL; anything can happen. But in all likelihood, their season is done because the Packers hold a tiebreaker and San Francisco won’t win at Philadelphia. They’ll probably win three games, but 8-8 isn’t enough this year.

Biggest problems: A blind monkey in an orange field has a better chance of finding a banana than the Niners do of making the playoffs.

Prediction down the stretch: 3-2

Final Wild Card standings:

x-Eagles 11-5
x-Packers 10-6
Falcons 9-7
Giants 8-8
49ers 8-8

The Packers’ schedule may not look the best on paper, but in reality they have positioned themselves in a place where the control their own destiny and look like they are playing like the team we expected would go to the playoffs.