November 18, 2009
See last week's absurdly premature playoff picture here.
• As promised, with its win over Pittsburgh, Cincinnati slides into the second first-round bye spot in the AFC. The Bengals thoroughly earned it. They should stay there for a while, too, as their next three games are against three teams that would be playing in the UFL next year if the NFL worked like English soccer: Oakland, Cleveland and Detroit.
• We also had a change in the divisional champion out west, with San Diego taking over for Denver. As always, this comes with the requisite warning that this could be a homer pick, and if you believe it is, well, fair enough. The good news? Any homerism gets rectified this weekend, as the Chargers and Broncos play for that spot. AFC West Divisional Champion spot ... ON THE LINE.
• I like San Diego in that game, though, which is why I've given the Chargers the nod today. They're a better team today than they were when they played Denver the first time, and I don't know if anyone can say conclusively that the Broncos aren't worse. Especially if Kyle Orton(notes) can't go.
• Over in the NFC, everything stays the same outside of the wild-card spots, which are a mess. There's a gaggle of teams at 5-4: Philadelphia, New York, Green Bay and Atlanta. We've also got a couple of 4-5 teams we can't completely discount yet: Chicago, Carolina and San Francisco. Of those, the 49ers have the most favorable schedule remaining, but their win over the Bears was not exactly the stuff of which legends are made.
• I ended up going with Philadelphia and Green Bay, simply because of the "When in doubt, go with the best quarterbacks" philosophy. Philadelphia put forth a game effort in San Diego; the Eagles shot their feet off in the red zone. If Brian Westbrook(notes) is out for a while (and I've got a hunch he will be), that'll hurt, but the Eagles deserve a chance to show they're prepared for his absence, which they absolutely should be.
• If that defensive performance Green Bay put forth against Dallas was real, I love Green Bay's chances to snag a wild-card spot. The Packers are still far from a perfect team, obviously, but they're the most explosive offense in wild-card contendership, and if the defense can start to match that at all, I like it.
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