November 11, 2009
See last week's absurdly premature playoff picture here.
• We'll get to the brand-new, first-round bye team in a second, but I want to start with Indy. Obviously, with a two-game lead over everyone else in the conference and a three-game lead in their division, the Colts' chances for a first-round bye are strong to quite strong. Keep this in mind, though: They have massive injuries on defense, and four of their next five games are against the Patriots, Ravens, Texans and Broncos, all games that will be difficult. The Colts are about to be tested severely. Keep an eye on it.
• Welcome back, Pittsburgh, to the first-round bye slot. You were last there in Week 4, and I feel like it's an understatement to say that the Week 9 Steelers are scarier than the Week 4 Steelers. If Rashard Mendenhall's(notes) going to be running like that, I'm not sure there's much that can be done to stop this offense.
• There's not a wide distance between Pittsburgh and the next team in line, though. The Bengals have been pretty damn impressive on their own, and guess what? They happen to play the Steelers this weekend. Regular-season games don't get much bigger than that, and this one involves some personal dislike. AFC first-round bye spot ... ON THE LINE.
• And, as mentioned previously, the Colts have the Patriots this week, and while I'm going to stop short of putting a first-round bye spot on the line there, the Patriots are pretty close to the front of the line. This is going to feel like divisional playoff weekend in the AFC.
• On the wild-card side of things, I'm still riding with the Texans, even though I feel like they let me down against the Colts this weekend. The Jets are still right there, the Ravens are still right there, and the Chargers are coming hard. That's a team that's been improving recently, but the real test comes over the next two weeks, with Philadelphia and Denver.
• For the last wild-card spot in the NFC ... hey, flip a coin. Atlanta gets it on the strength of a win over Washington, which should tell you something about the rest of the contenders. All other things being equal, I like to go with the best quarterback, which would be Aaron Rodgers(notes), but he just lost to the Bucs, and a great deal of it was his fault. The Bears were just throttled by the Cardinals, it feels like the Giants haven't won a game since 2007 and any other "contender" is two games under .500. It's Atlanta by default.
• The Cardinals may have finally found a rushing game, piling up 182 yards on the ground this weekend against Chicago. That is not coincidental to Kurt Warner(notes) having his best game of the season. Arizona's been over 100 rushing yards only one other time this season, and that was back in Week 2. If Beanie Wells(notes) can consistently give the running game some pop, that's going to make a world of difference for the rest of the offense, and that would be bad news for the 49ers.
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