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MJD

The still somewhat premature playoff picture: Week 12

MJD
Shutdown Corner

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See the previous absurdly premature 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
Pittsburgh Steelers

NFC First-Round Byes:
New Orleans Saints
Minnesota Vikings

Other NFC Divisional Champions:
Dallas Cowboys
Arizona Cardinals

NFC Wild Cards:
Green Bay Packers
Atlanta Falcons

• The Bengals and Chargers are both 8-3, tied for the second-best record in the AFC, but it took about .4 seconds to decide to give the Bengals the nod for the second first-round bye spot. The Chargers, bless their hearts, feel a tad flimsy to me. The Bengals have a stronger ground game, and they're better at stopping the run. They're built on a sturdier foundation. Fortunately, if the issue is still between these two teams on Dec. 20, they'll get to decide things on the field.

• I gave New England a brief moment of consideration for the two-spot as well, since the Patriots are just one game out, and I can forgive a team for laying an egg in the Superdome. It happens, especially if you don't play there often. Teams get in there, and they play like they're high. I don't know why. What I'm saying here is that the Patriots aren't as bad as they looked on Monday night, and I still see them as a major factor in the AFC. That said, I didn't feel like the rest of their schedule was soft enough to give them the benefit of the doubt for the two-spot.

• Denver, on the hand, has a remaining schedule softer than Ben Roethlisberger(notes). (Sorry, Hines Ward(notes) wrote that last sentence.) It still has two against Kansas City and it gets Oakland at home, so the Broncos should be looking at 10 wins, regardless. The other two are against Indy and Philadelphia.

• And yes, I have Pittsburgh over Baltimore, despite the results of Sunday night's contest. They're both 6-5 right now, both have two gimmes left on the schedule (Baltimore with Detroit and Oakland, Pittsburgh with Oakland and Cleveland), and let's not kid ourselves about that rematch in Pittsburgh. You don't think home-field advantage and Ben Roethlisberger's presence tilt the rematch in favor of Pittsburgh? When the Steelers played into overtime without either of those advantages?

• I feel like I should mention Jacksonville because it's also 6-5, but the Jaguars' next four are a little rough: Houston and Miami are both tough opponents, and they're followed by Indianapolis and a game in New England.

• A handful of 5-6 teams are still alive in the AFC, but they'll probably have to run the table if they want in. If any team's going to do that, it almost has to be Tennessee, doesn't it?

• The only NFC division where the champion isn't clear-cut at this point is the East, and I'd say Dallas is on the brink of that. It felt like the Giants checked out on the season for good on Thursday night, and Philadelphia feels like the most beatable 7-4 team in NFL history. Not that things can't change, because the Cowboys' cupcake schedule is behind them and the rest of their schedule turns into a cupcake made by this thing. GIANT, CAKE-SIZED CUPCAKES.

• About Philadelphia, I think I might be overly angry with the Eagles because their narrow win over Washington was ... well, we'll just say it was better for my bookie than it was for me. But really, when's the last time the Eagles were impressive? It wasn't in wins against Washington or Chicago, and it wasn't in losses to Dallas or San Diego. That takes us back to Week 8.

• That brings us to Atlanta, which I also don't feel good about, but Chris Redman(notes) at least deserves a chance. If Matt Ryan(notes) is done for the year, obviously, Atlanta's chances take a nosedive. He's definitely out for this weekend, which is unfortunate, because Atlanta plays Philadelphia and there's an NFC wild-card spot ON THE LINE.

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