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Shutdown Corner

The absurdly premature 2012 playoff picture: Week 2

MJD
Shutdown Corner

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• It's not difficult to land on the Houston Texans as the muscle in the AFC right now, but they've got a little something I call the Northwestern Wyoming A&T problem — they haven't played anybody. They're like a big-time college program in that they've had two daisies on the schedule early, so sure, they look great, but I'm curious to see what happens when they have to shut down someone not named Gabbert or Tannehill.

• The decision for the second spot was between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos, and the Broncos beat the Steelers, so the Broncos should get it, right? Not that simple. For one thing, I'm the kind of maverick that doesn't play by the rules. Second, I loved Pittsburgh's effort against the New York Jets on Sunday. On offense, they were efficient and smothering, holding the Jets defense down with a pillow over their face. Defensively, they stonewalled Shonn Greene and squeezed the life out of Mark Sanchez (fine, so those aren't great examples of offensive thoroughbreds), and they did this without Troy Polamalu and James Harrison.

As a side note, just something to keep in the back of your mind: When the Steelers prove that they can thrive without a star player, that star player usually doesn't get to stay for much longer.

• I'll still take Denver ahead of the San Diego Chargers for the AFC West champ right now, despite the Chargers being 2-0 and the Broncos being 1-1. Yes, the Broncos went down on Monday night to the Atlanta Falcons, but if you're a Broncos fan, can't you find a lot to like there? Your guys turned it over four times in the first quarter, and Atlanta turned that into a 13-0 lead. After that, call me crazy, but didn't the Broncos sort of outplay the Falcons? I know that can't be judged in a vacuum, but the Broncs were on the road, Atlanta's an excellent team, and they spotted them 13 points. Wouldn't an average-to-below average team have lost that game by about four touchdowns?

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• As for the AFC East, I suppose someone has to get that spot. It could be the team starting a rookie quarterback, the team that gave up 48 points to the Jets, the team that was just bulldozed by the Steelers, or the team that just lost at home to the Cardinals. I'm gonna go with the New England Patriots, just because that sounds the least ridiculous thing to say.

• I may not be sold on the San Diego Chargers as an AFC contender yet, but I will take them as a Wild Card. They're 2-0, but like the Texans, it's come against a couple of Northwestern Wyoming A&Ts. John Pagano's new defense has showed some teeth, and someone magically replaced Quentin Jammer with Quentin Jammer from eight years ago. But their running game is sad and sloppy, just as I'd imagine the passenger's seat in Norv Turner's car, which I imagine to be a 1987 Buick Skylark. The Chargers have put up some points, but I feel like they're leaving a lot of points out there, too.

• The Baltimore Ravens claim this last spot sort of by default. I just don't see a lot of other viable options. The Week 1 pummeling of the Bengals was nice, but I don't like that they couldn't get a win against an Eagles team that was pretty much begging to be beaten. They're still the Ravens, though, and no one else is close here — the Jets, maybe? The 1-1 Colts? I'd consider the Bills, but it'll take me another couple of weeks before I'm ready to be on that bandwagon. I'm still hurt from their collapse last season.

• Anyone feel like arguing against the San Francisco 49ers atop the NFC? They're the one team in the league right now with no holes to be poked at. They're 2-0, with wins against the Detroit Lions and against the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau. I can't find much to complain about there. Frank Gore looks great, Vernon Davis looks great, Alex Smith looks great … the Niners have started in midseason form.

• I wouldn't say that the same is true of the Falcons, but I can picture their midseason form, and it's a little bit frightening. If they can get Michael Turner feeling good and loose (perhaps not that loose), or get a spark from Jacquizz Rodgers, the amount of weapons on that team constitute an unfair advantage. They've got an interesting opponent on the schedule next week when they travel to San Diego. They both look good, but they've also both still got a couple of things to prove.

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• I shouldn't, but I'm going to admit this: After Week 1, I entertained the notion that the Chicago Bears could actually dethrone the Packers in the NFC North. The events of Thursday night made me feel pretty dumb. My question about the Green Bay Packers is this: Was that their real defense? Can they really shut down a good quarterback and a good wide receiver? Or are they still a point-hemorrhaging sieve? Do they need Jay Cutler to taunt them beforehand, and then follow it up with a horrific performance, or can they do it against other teams, too?

• The Philadelphia Eagles are 2-0 and the Giants are 1-1, but it still feels like an easy call to go with the Giants as NFC East champs. Big Blue's Week 1 loss to the Cowboys, I'll chalk up to the Cowboys being capable of fooling everyone with good games, and then revealing their true circus clown character, as they did in Seattle on Sunday. That leaves us with the 41-34 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, which I'm considering a quality win over a good team. More on this momentarily, but I like the Bucs. The Giants made their mistakes early, but rebounded to bushwhack the Bucs in the fourth quarter. Also, given the way the Giants tend to close out seasons, they're going to have to go about 1-7 before I consider leaving them out of the Absurdly Premature Playoff Picture.

• The least impressive 2-0 record in the league belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles. In fact, I'm not sure how they're doing this. Michael Vick has thrown six interceptions in two games, and LeSean McCoy is trying desperately to keep up with Vick's breakneck turnover pace. The Eagles are actually riding their defense to victories. If Vick can stabilize and the offense starts holding on to the ball, the Eagles could be a legit NFC contender. Also, this is probably going to hurt a lot of Eagles fans deeply and emotionally, but sooner or later, someone's going to have to say something nice about Juan Castillo.

• I believe the Bucs have played two good teams — the Panthers, who they beat, and the Giants, to whom they gave fits. Josh Freeman has been solid, and he's made good use of Vincent Jackson. They've been fantastic defending the run. Any indication you wanted for a Bucs bounce back season has been there. Granted, no one wants to give up 510 passing yards, but sometimes Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are going to do what they do. Cam Newton got them for 300 yards the week before. If Tony Romo does it this week, I'll start getting concerned.

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