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.
• The four best teams in the AFC have identical records -- the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans are all 8-3. None of them are question-mark free, either, so what's a fellow to do when trying to decide on a one-seed? I'll let the schedule be my guide.
• None of those four teams will be running a gauntlet of terror, but the Pats have the most smoothly paved road. They have Indy, at Washington, at Denver, Miami and Buffalo. Denver and Miami aren't strolls through a daisy field, but the Patriots will be favored comfortably in every game. It's just a slightly easier schedule than that of the Ravens, who finish the season at Cincinnati, which might be desperate itself.
• I don't know what to do with the Houston Texans. I still think, with their running game and defense, they're better than most teams out there. But they just signed Jake Delhomme, and how am I supposed to take seriously any team that just signed Jake Delhomme? He's not a quarterback anymore, he's a cry for help.
• I can't give the spot to the Tennessee Titans, though. The Texans still have a two-game division lead, and would have the tiebreaker advantage over the Titans, making it essentially a three-game lead, so they'd have to go 1-4 down the stretch while the Titans go 4-1. Neither of those things are happening.
• At the lower end of the AFC, it's basically four teams vying for the last wild-card spot. Assuming Pittsburgh (or Baltimore) gets the first one, the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos all want the last one, with the Bengals holding a one-game lead over everyone else. Essentially, I see no reason to believe that any of those other teams are good enough to overcome that deficit, so it's the Bengals for now.
• I absolutely cannot believe that I have to consider the Denver Broncos being a part of this. They're one game back of the last wild card, and they're one game back of Oakland (with a ½-game lead on division record, a full-game lead in conference record, and a split of their two matchups) in the West. There's a really decent chance that they make the playoffs, in which case -- I can't even think about it. We could be looking at a month of playoff and Super Bowl analysis in which the supernatural has to be considered.
• The NFC is a little shorter on drama. You can go ahead and pencil in the top two seeds, leaving only two divisional battles left to be decided. As far as the other two divisional winners go, well, that New Orleans Saints vs. New York Giants game on Monday night was pretty convincing -- it's hard to picture the Saints losing their division or the Giants winning theirs.
• This weekend, the Giants have the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys have the Cardinals. Hello, two-game lead. I still hate to put any amount of faith in the Cowboys, but if they've got a two-game lead with four to play, what, I'm supposed to think the Giants have the heart to hold firm and erase that deficit? Right. And Tom Coughlin is getting me a Jane Seymour open-heart pendant for Christmas.
• The NFC North is the other interesting division because of the two and three spots. The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions are among four teams competing for two wild-card spots, along with the Atlanta Falcons and aforementioned Giants.
[Related: Lions' Ndamukong Suh suspended for two games]
• It seems simple -- drop the Giants because they're a game back and because they suck, and drop the Bears because they're rolling with Caleb Hanie. I'm not sure I want to do that, though. Even with Hanie, they were very close to knocking off the Raiders in Oakland. They're very similar to the Texans, in a sense. Yeah, their quarterback went down, but it was defense and a running game carrying them to begin with. Why can't they still carry them?
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