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 absurdly premature 2011 playoff picture: Week 4

• Welcome, Buffalo! I'm thrilled to have you here. I hope you're happy to be here, too, but I've got a hunch that many of you are thinking, "Hey, we just beat New England. Shouldn't we be ranked ahead of New England?" No. You should not. I don't blame you for asking, but no. You play them again in Week 17, when you won't have that same incredible home atmosphere, and I don't think Tom Brady's(notes) going to throw four interceptions again. Sorry. I know I'm raining on your parade. There's this, too: After this week against Cincinnati, the schedule gets much, much tougher. But you're here now, and that's all that matters, so let's hold hands and celebrate. Hooray for Buffalo!

• Welcome, Oakland, too. I do not embrace your inclusion as I do Buffalo's, because I hate you. But if the first three weeks of this season have taught me anything, it's that San Diego's not going to change. They're still very skilled, they're still capable of beating anyone, and they're still going to turn the ball over, make silly mistakes, play down to the level of their competition. I expect that some time before the bye week, they will all agree to stab themselves in the liver with a pair of salad tongs before a game, just to see what happens.

• This year's beneficiary of San Diego's refusal to be good is Oakland. I don't know if it's quite yet the bully that Hue Jackson wants to build, but it can run the ball. It gets more confident and more cohesive with every win. The Raiders are a quality football team. That will probably be enough in this division.

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• Baltimore is back atop of the AFC North, and I suddenly regret having ever moved them from that spot to begin with. I'm still not going to count Pittsburgh totally out, because their schedule is so soft, but what about them on Sunday night looked playoff-caliber?

• The Texans remain as the No. 2 seed, even after losing to New Orleans. Why penalize a team for a tight road loss against an excellent team in one of the league's most challenging venues? Hell, I was even impressed. They held New Orleans to 17 points through three quarters. The fourth didn't go so well, but Drew Brees(notes) and Jimmy Graham(notes) are going to do that from time to time.

• The Giants take back over in the NFC East, because who else was I going to put there? What's to like about that division right now? The Eagles are 1-2 with some major problems, and the Cowboys just beat the Redskins despite Tony Romo(notes) having to explain to 10 guys what "touchdown" meant before every single play. I felt like the Giants were underrated in the preseason. Maybe for them, it's just a matter of waiting it out, finding the best way to deal with their injuries, and letting everyone else implode.

• The last spot in the NFC came down to Chicago, Atlanta or Tampa. Long-term, and maybe this is just stubbornness on my part, but I still believe Atlanta's the best and most skilled team there. But the Bucs are very good, too, and just beat Atlanta, as I'm sure Bucs fans would point out to me. Right now, they've got a game on Atlanta, and their next two are against Indy and San Francisco. That's a significant advantage.

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