Absurdly premature 2012 playoff picture: Week 4

Shutdown Corner

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: Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers
NFC wild cards: Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants

• This week's absurdly premature playoff picture will be a great treat for those of you who fear change. There are no newcomers, and no one drops out. In the NFC, only the seeding changes. In the AFC, not even that changes.

• The Eagles take over the driver's seat in the NFC East, but it's not a kneejerk reaction to their win over the Giants on Sunday night ‒ well, OK, maybe it is, but it's not just a kneejerk reaction to their win over the Giants on Sunday night. I see the Eagles as legit contenders, mostly on the strength of their defense. Are they better than the Giants? Through four games, their defense certainly has been.

• I will consider moving the Cardinals ahead of the 49ers in the NFC West, but I won't do so before Week 8. I'm sorry, but I've been burned on these early season wonders before. If they're still ahead in the division after Week 8, I will revisit the issue. Aside from that, it would take some kind of major 49ers disaster for them to lose their spot as division champs.

• While we're on the subject of the Cardinals, they might not even be totally secure in their Wild Card spot, because the Minnesota Vikings have been pounding people with their pure, purple passion. They're running the ball well, they're stopping the run, Adrian Peterson should be getting healthier, the return of Jerome Simpson helps … there's a lot to like there. I'm not quite ready to hand them a spot yet, but they're on the radar.

• Over in the AFC, despite a 17-point win in Kansas City, I remain convinced that San Diego is not the team to beat in the AFC West. Kansas City turned the ball over on Sunday like it was a couch cushion that someone had peed on, and the Chargers could just never put them away. The Broncos, meanwhile, put away the Raiders with ease, and didn't need a parade of turnovers to do it. Denver travels to San Diego for a Monday night game in two weeks.

• Let's dedicate a bullet point to the Cincinnati Bengals, who would have every right to throw a head of cabbage at me for excluding them in favor of the Steelers. The Bengals are 3-1 while the Steelers are 1-2, and I'm finding it harder and harder to poke holes in the Bengals as legit playoff contenders. They're putting up points, they've got a balanced and effective offense, and on defense, they've been hell on opposing quarterbacks recently. I'm very curious to see what they look like against a higher class of opponent.

What to Read Next