Shutdown Corner - NFL

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. Which, of course, it no longer is.

The completely non-premature 2012 playoff picture: Week 17

• The biggest, most obvious and media-friendly playoff spot left resides, of course, in the NFC East, where the playoffs for the Cowboys and Giants start this week. The situation is "win and you're in," which isn't convenient for either team, since their recent pattern has been "win and then play so poorly next week that you bring shame upon your entire families." I'm going with Dallas because the Giants played well against the Jets, and thus, are due to trip over their own shoelaces this week. The Cowboys were mauled last week, and thus, will probably look like worldbeaters this week. It's just science, really.

• That's pretty much it for NFC changes. New Orleans could also still grab the two-seed, but that would involve the San Francisco 49ers losing to the Rams, and again, I don't see it. You never know, though. It seems like we always get one entirely goofy result from a long-ago-eliminated-team in week 17.

• In the AFC, pretty much everything hinges on the Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals tilt. That one's the lynchpin here. I like Cincinnati. The Ravens have been brutal on the road, losing to Seattle and Jacksonville and getting mauled by the Titans and Chargers. Seeds two, five and six all hinge on this matchup.

• Say Baltimore does lose and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Browns (as they should, since they're the Steelers and they're playing the Browns): Now we could be looking at Ravens vs. Tebows, in Denver, on opening weekend. The Ravens would be the better team in that game, but Tebow would get to play at home and against a team that's been poor on the road. I think we'd be adding another layer to the legend.

• Speaking of the Denver Broncos, they're in with either a win over Kansas City or a Raiders loss (which is probably coming, since they play the Chargers and the Chargers specialize in games that don't matter). To me, that's the most likely thing. There are a handful of other scenarios out there that could get the Jets, Titans or Raiders in the playoffs. Cincinnati losing would be crucial to all of them.

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