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MJD

The appropriately-timed playoff picture: Week 13

MJD
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See the previous week's playoff picture here.

AFC First-Round Byes:
Indianapolis Colts
Cincinnati Bengals

Other AFC Divisional Champions:
San Diego Chargers
New England Patriots

AFC Wild Cards:
Denver Broncos
Jacksonville Jaguars

NFC First-Round Byes:
New Orleans Saints
Minnesota Vikings

Other NFC Divisional Champions:
Arizona Cardinals
Dallas Cowboys

NFC Wild Cards:
Green Bay Packers
Philadelphia Eagles

• It's not a two-man race for the AFC's second first-round bye between the Bengals and the Chargers. You've got to throw Denver in there, too. The Broncos are a game back, yes, but they're coming off two blowout wins and they've got two gimmes left on the schedule: the Raiders at home, and the Chiefs at home. Cincinnati's got one gimme with Kansas City, and the Chargers have no gimmes, ever since the Redskins turned into a scrappy little bunch.

• I feel like a pansy for having my playoff picture look almost identical to what the playoff picture would look like if the season ended today, but would it help if you knew that I have the Jaguars getting in only via tiebreaker? I don't like it, because I don't think they're a very good team, but the Baltimore Ravens can still mount a strong challenge. With four games left, three of them are against 1-AA opponents: Detroit, Chicago, and @Oakland. And the other one, @Pittsburgh, isn't as fearsome as it once looked.

• It once looked like a certainty that you'd need 10 wins to get a wild card on the AFC side, but 9-7 looks more likely now. Denver's got eight wins and will probably get to 10, but the Jags, at 7-5, are no lock to hit double digits, as they've still got games ahead against the Colts and the Patriots. So there is hope for the quagmire of teams at 6-6.

• I'll take Dallas in the NFC East because ... well, because the Cowboys are still on top right now, I don't know what to make of any of those other teams, and that's the easiest way out. The Eagles looked pretty damn convincing on Sunday, but I still can't trust them. They've been too up-and-down, and that win came against Chris Redman(notes), who no one will be confusing with Joe Montana anytime soon. The Giants are also completely untrustworthy, so I guess I'll take the team that usually nosedives in September. Awesome.

• Of all the wild-card contenders in the league, I'm most confident in the Packers. Mathematically, they look good, and on the field, they look good. They've been doing a better job of protecting Aaron Rodgers(notes), and the defense has improved a ton. You'll be hearing the phrase "peaking at the right time" about 283 million times over the next few weeks, and I think it applies pretty well right now to the Pack.

• San Francisco had big plans heading into last week. The Niners were going to beat the Seahawks, and the Vikings were going to beat the Cardinals, and then they'd be playing for the division lead this week ... but then things took a turn. Now they're three games back with four to play, and that sort of miracle just isn't going to happen.

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