The absurdly premature playoff picture presents one man's projection for the NFL playoffs, at each given week in the season -- even if that week is unreasonably early.
Top AFC seeds: Houston Texans, New England Patriots
Other AFC division champs: Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos
AFC Wild Cards: Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins
Top NFC seeds: Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears
Other NFC division champs: New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers
NFC Wild Cards: Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks
• Week 7 brings our biggest shakeup of the season thus far. We've got new first-round-bye teams in both conferences. It's real. Close your mouth and stop blinking at your computer screen, waiting for it to change. This is what happens here at the Absurdly Premature Playoff Picture. Minds get blown.
• As far as the Bears go, I hope I'm not falling into the trap of over-valuing a team's performance because it happened to be seen by a national audience in prime time. I see the Giants and 49ers as the other two teams that can stake a claim to that spot, but the Bears have the lightest remaining schedule of the three. That's the biggest factor.
• I know I took my sweet time in getting around to taking the Bears seriously, but I think it's time to admit my folly. I can't deny them anymore. My reasoning for holding back on the Bears was Jay Cutler, and no, I haven't come around on Cutler, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the Bears don't need Jay's A game to succeed. I still consider him a good candidate to blow a playoff game, but as far as the regular season goes, Jay can relax, light one up, and let the defense do the heavy lifting.
• At the other end of the NFC, it's Seattle's grand debut. Right now, the choice is between the 'Hawks and the Vikings, unless you're inclined to take a flyer on a team like the Eagles, Cowboys, or Saints making up a two-game deficit. And there's plenty of time for that, but which of those three teams inspires a ton of confidence right now? Both Seattle and Minnesota feel more solid.
• And since Week 7 is already showing love for the Bears' vice-grip defense, we'll make it a defensively themed week and include Seattle, too. They'll also have their offensive struggles, especially against the better defenses, but like Chicago, their defense is strong enough to give their offense a piggyback ride. It's a thin margin over the Vikings, if that makes you feel any better, Vikings fans. It just seems like Seattle's defense has that little extra bit of ferocity.
• In the AFC, it's the Patriots shoving the Ravens out of the way to claim a first-round bye. It might seem an odd promotion for a team who just squeaked by the Jets, but consider the alternative. A week from now, the Ravens will still be pulling little bits of Wade Phillips boot out of their nether regions. I think the Ravens are going to be OK (their bye week comes at a really convenient time), but I don't know it. The Patriots, meanwhile, are about to happen upon a four-game win streak with their next three being against the Rams, Bills and Colts.
• As for the Wild Cards in the AFC, they remain the same as they were last week, but not without much consideration. Pittsburgh was again underwhelming in a win against Cincinnati, but I'm sticking with them. It's probably based more on reputation and preseason expectations as much as anything else, but I still feel like Pittsburgh is dangerous. Deeply flawed, but dangerous. Their defensive numbers are weird. They're 12th in the league in points against per game, despite being second in the league in yards allowed per game, and ranking in the top 10 against both the run and pass. If you've got an explanation for that, I'm all ears.
• Then there's my trusty old maxim "When in doubt, go with the better quarterback," which, unquestionably, Ben Roethlisberger wins going away. Looking at the other Wild Card contenders, there's Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill, and Mark Sanchez, as well as Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton and Matt Hasselbeck/Jake Locker if you're in a generous mood. Sadly, as much as he's played recently like a reckless Michael Vick minus the athleticism, Rivers is still the best option there.
• As I noted last week, though, I need to see the Chargers stabilize before I can consider them again. The Jets, despite having lost three of four, have actually been impressive for three straight weeks. They gave the Texans all they could handle, clobbered the Colts, and then took the Patriots to the wire this week. Two of those are losses, but in the rickety AFC, we're pawing for scraps.
• Ultimately, I'm going to let Miami hold on to the spot, as they've actually won two in a row. But worry not, Jets fans ‒ you get to play for it this week.
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