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Shutdown Corner Playoff Projection – Predicting a new champion for the NFC North

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Every week, we try to project what the playoff bracket will look like in January. To sift through who is for real and will make a postseason push, and who will fade out of the playoff picture down the stretch. It's important to note this is our ever-changing prediction of how we think things will play out and not necessarily a current plugging-in of teams with the corresponding records.

Think of it as "bracketology" for the pigskin set.

Still New Orleans to win the South? So you think they win at Carolina on Sunday?
Yes, but for full disclosure, I picked New Orleans to win the Super Bowl prior to this season, so pride is definitely kicking in. Carolina’s rise from the ashes has been incredible, but this is similar to a playoff game for the Panthers. This team has not been forced to win meaningful games late in the season since 2009. Carolina’s last playoff appearance occurred during the 2008 season. I am sticking with the Saints – for now.

In the AFC, who has the most to lose in the Patriots at Ravens game this weekend?
Baltimore has the most to lose. Even if New England is defeated, the Patriots’ final game this season is against Buffalo. Unless EJ Manuel or Thad Lewis can somehow turn into Jim Kelly, New England should win that game. Baltimore’s final two games are against New England and Cincinnati, which makes the Ravens’ task very tough. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker was a stud against the Detroit Lions on Monday, but quarterback Joe Flacco must lead his team to touchdowns, not field goals, against New England.

Any way the Broncos lose either of their last two, or is the No. 1 seed locked up at this point?
Only if Broncos coach John Fox wants to rest Peyton Manning in Week 17. Giving Manning’s ankle two weeks of rest might help him succeed during the playoffs. Denver needs Kansas City to lose on Sunday to clinch the AFC West title. If the Broncos win, the Chiefs lose and the Patriots lose or tie in Week 16, Denver clinches the No. 1 seed. And if the Broncos haven't clinched everything by the regular-season finale, they'll take care of business against Oakland.

How do you see the Bears winning the NFC North, by winning out, or the Lions and Packers losing down the stretch?
Chicago can win the NFC North this week with a win against Dallas and losses by Detroit and Green Bay, which is feasible. My conspiracy theory is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is not healthy enough to play again this season, and everyone within the organization knows it. However, instead of shutting him down, they're allowing opposing teams to believe he might play to alter their preparation. I have no proof, just a hunch. Detroit will likely lose against New York or Minnesota (cannot trust the Lions). And I will take Bears quarterback Jay Cutler over Matt Flynn.

Who can clinch a playoff spot or a division title this week?
Click here to read Yahoo’s breakdown of every playoff scenario.

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Anwar S Richardson is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at NFLAnwar@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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