The appropriately timed 2011 playoff picture: Week 14

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.

• This week's top story: the Denver Broncos. They're tied with the Oakland Raiders atop the AFC West, are better set up with tiebreakers and have an easier schedule (the Raiders' next two games are against the Packers and Lions). Oh, and Denver also has all the universe's forces of good on its side. That should help the Broncos.

• The other new face in the AFC? The New York Jets. It's almost a toss-up between them, the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals. The Raiders, too, I suppose, but they seem to have picked December as the time to start playing their worst football. Oh, how I hate to say that a Mark Sanchez-led team has the best shot at making the playoffs, no matter their competition.

• It could still go any one of four ways for the top spot in the AFC. The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't in great shape, since they have the most difficult game left on any of those four schedules (at San Francisco, next week) and their tiebreaker situation isn't great. The Houston Texans are also in a tough spot, starting T.J. Yates and all. So the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens go one-two.

• There's not as much change in the NFC -- only the Detroit Lions are new, leaving the Chicago Bears on the outside looking in. Sorry, Bears. It's injury-related. I think you're fine handing the ball off to Marion Barber, but I just can't get behind Caleb Hanie. It's too much to ask of me.

• The Dallas Cowboys, coming off a four-game winning streak, and with a chance to give themselves a two-game division lead with four weeks left, lost to the dreadful Arizona Cardinals. This actually sounds just about right. So it's a one-game lead for the Cowboys, and they play the New York Giants twice between now and the end of the season. I don't know if we can call it great football, but it should be fun to watch.

• The New Orleans Saints did get some consideration for the two-seed, and they might actually be the second-best team in the conference at the moment. The San Francisco 49ers just aren't going to be caught, though. They'll be heavy favorites in three of their last four games, and will have the tiebreaker over the Saints, should it come down to that.

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