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The absurdly premature 2011 playoff picture: Week 9

• Remember the last two weeks when I've had the Cowboys winning the NFC East? Please kindly forget that. Thank you.

• In a week where the Giants squeak past the Dolphins by three at home, they somehow emerge as solid favorites in the division. The Eagles looked really good at home against Dallas, but do you trust the Eagles yet? Making up a two-game deficit in the division is going to take at least a modicum of consistency, and I don't know if I'm ready for that yet. As for Dallas, I don't even know what to say. It seems like we could save everyone a lot of time and just flip coins to determine who wins its games. I've stopped hoping that it'll ever do the same thing twice in a row.

• The Saints, Bucs and Falcons are pretty much indistinguishable at the moment, and you can add Chicago to that group if you want to expand it to the last wild-card spot. Maybe even Philadelphia, depending on how much you're buying its Sunday night show. Fortunately, there are some tests on the Week 9 schedule that should help sort some things out: New Orleans is at Tampa Bay, and Chicago plays Philly.

• The Falcons, meanwhile, get to cruise against the Colts. To tell the truth, I feel like the Falcons have the most upside of any of those teams, but there was no reason to upgrade them to a playoff spot after they and Tampa Bay both sat on a bye.

• San Francisco's lead in the NFC West is a scant four games. It may hold on to that.

• In the AFC, we welcome the Steelers to the top spot, but the bigger question was about the Patriots in the number two spot. Their problems on defense have been well-documented over the past week, but it's Tom Brady(notes) and the offense that's gotten progressively worse and worse. You know what it's time for? A handy graph.

The absurdly premature 2011 playoff picture: Week 9

In the scientific community, that's what we call "spiraling into the crapper." It was cute early in the season, but now there's some tape of it, and the Patriots are going to have to reinvent themselves again.

[Video: Teams figuring out Tom Brady, Patriots]

• Anyhoo, we're not far from the Patriots losing a first-round bye all together. There's no terribly compelling argument for them ahead of Buffalo or Houston.

• Baltimore clings to life, too, despite its recent downward trend. It was tough to leave Cincinnati out last week -- it was even harder to do it this week. In the end, I've got to stick with the purple because of the strength of its wins, but that's not going to last much longer. It has looked very, very shaky.

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