The absurdly premature 2012 playoff picture: Week 3

Shutdown Corner

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.

Top AFC seeds: Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens
Other AFC division champs: Denver Broncos, New England Patriots
AFC wild cards: Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers

Top NFC seeds: Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers
Other NFC division champs: Green Bay, New York Giants
NFC wild cards: Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles

Last week, I gave a wild-card spot to the Eagles ahead of the Cardinals. I may have been a bit off there. My bad, everybody.

• As for this week, you might ask how I have the Cardinals first in the power rankings but clinging only to a wild-card spot here, and by way of explanation, I offer you Kevin Kolb. I'm not buying Kevin Kolb. If that means I'm disrespecting the Cardinals, then I guess I'm disrespecting the Cardinals. They've earned their 3-0 mark and they've got a collection of wins superior to that of anyone else. Does that mean I trust Kevin Kolb? Does that mean the wheels will not come off at some point over a 16-game season? No. No, it does not.

• Not too much else changes in the NFC. I thought about moving the Giants ahead of the 49ers for a first-round bye, but I'm giving the Niners a one-week pass. They've earned that. Through the course of a season, teams will have a handful of games that are out of character for them. I believe the 49ers just had one.

• Atlanta does take over the top spot, though, on the back of its 27-3 de-pantsing of the Chargers. It wasn't just Matt Ryan and his armory full of weapons this week, either. The Falcons' defense held the Chargers to 280 total yards and made Philip Rivers look like a chump. As the Falcons swaggered out of Qualcomm Stadium, there was a little bit of an "I'm afraid the Death Star is fully operational" feel.

• The Green Bay Packers keep their spot atop the NFC North because they won Monday night. Oddly, every newspaper and website in the country erroneously has the Packers listed as 1-2, not 2-1. Weird. I trust they'll get that figured out at some point this week.

• As for that last wild-card spot, go ahead and let me have it, Cowboys, Bears, and especially Seahawks fans (and fine, I'll even humor Vikings fans: you guys, too). You can all make a case. I have no tremendous explanation for why I'm giving the spot to the Eagles, aside from my belief that their turnover problems can't continue at this pace, and when they do stop, there's a pretty good team behind them.

• Over in the AFC, the picture is even more static. The only thing that changes is that Baltimore takes over a first-round bye, while the Steelers are relegated to wild-card status. That's what happens when one team beats the Patriots in a thriller and the other gags away a win to the Raiders. Also, if there were pottymouth power rankings, John Harbaugh would be shooting up the boards this week.

• Unlike the 49ers, the Steelers get no pass. I think that loss exposed some real flaws. They seem vulnerable against a two-minute-type passing attack, as Peyton Manning beat them with it in Week 1, and Carson Palmer did it in Week 3. They avoided the problem all together in Week 2 by playing a Jets team that doesn't use a quarterback. That, as well as the Steelers' inability to run the ball and salt away a lead, are concerns.

• Denver's a game back in the AFC West, but I still feel better about the Broncos than I do the Chargers. They haven't had a truly bad result yet. They beat the Steelers while handling them pretty thoroughly in the second half, and then they've got respectable losses to very good teams in Atlanta and Houston. San Diego's loss to Atlanta? Not so respectable (more on that in a second). The other thing about Denver is that there's still upside there. It stands to reason that as Peyton Manning continues to get more comfortable, and John Fox gets more comfortable letting him wing the ball around, that the Broncos will get better.

• Back to San Diego, the defeat at the hands of the Falcons was so thorough that I considered dropping the Chargers all together. Buffalo and Cincinnati could both make a case, as the Chargers were but traffic cones in the face of the Atlanta offense. It makes me wonder if the stellar defense of Weeks 1 and 2 was a mirage. And if Ryan Mathews is going to keep fumbling, then the Chargers would be better off having someone re-break his clavicle in his sleep.

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