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.

The not-at-all premature 2011 playoff picture: Week 15

• In the AFC, the only change is that the Houston Texans move into the two-seed ahead of the Baltimore Ravens. That's right. I believe in T.J. Yates that much. You might even say that I have a Yates infection.

• Here's the deal: The Texans, Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have identical records at 10-3 (the New England Patriots, too, but they're staying put as the one-seed). The Texans currently have the best conference record, although Baltimore could catch them -- but with road games in San Diego and Cincinnati, I don't think the Ravens are winning out. And if the Yates-infected Texans can beat Atlanta and Cincinnati, what reason is there to believe they can't win out against Carolina, Indy and Tennessee?

• As for AFC wild cards, the Steelers or Ravens will have one, and the Jets would have the other if the season ended today. The Jets are up a game, but don't count out the Tennessee Titans or Cincinnati Bengals. Tennessee's next two are against Indy and Jacksonville, and Cincy's next two are against St. Louis and Arizona. The Jets have the Eagles and Giants. Advantage, Cincy and Tennessee.

• What I really wanted to do with the last "Division Champ" space in the NFC was to exclude both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, and instead fill that spot with a great big "Who gives a (expletive)?" My choices are the Giants, who have lost four of their last five, or the Cowboys, whose last three losses were to the Eagles, Cardinals and Giants, whom the Cowboys were leading by 12 points with 5:41 left to play. Seriously. Who gives a (expletive)?

• Forcing myself to put the Giants in represents the only change in the NFC. There was some consideration given to moving the New Orleans Saints up to the two-seed, giving them the first-round bye ahead of the San Francisco 49ers. If I did that, though, I'd be doing it based on schedule, as the 49ers have the toughest game left on either schedule: this week's Monday nighter against Pittsburgh. But there's no reason to believe they can't win that game, and with identical 10-3 records and a tiebreaker very likely going to San Fran, I'm sticking with them.

• As far as wild cards go, the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons enjoy a one-game lead over the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys. The Bears, I hate to leave out, because they've fought so hard without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, and they are a good football team, but there's just too much to overcome, including Green Bay on the schedule in Week 16.

• The Cowboys still have a very decent shot at either a wild card or a division championship, unfortunately. Their next two games are against train wrecks in Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, and in Week 17, a rematch with the Giants that, if they won, would probably give them the tiebreaker (division edge) over the Giants. And the Giants have to play a desperate Jets team in Week 16, too.

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