Posted 12/21/2010 at 03:26 PM
If a team seems to be valued too highly, getting all the media attention and being proclaimed the top team in the league, be careful as things can turn quickly. It has happened to the Jets and the Steelers this season perched on top of the AFC and while the Patriots still won last week they looked far from the Super Bowl favorites as Matt Flynn nearly bested Tom Brady if not for a few big plays on defense and special teams. The Patriots are putting up huge numbers on offense but they have actually been out-gained in more games than they have out-gained their opposition this season. While the defense has come up with a lot of big plays the Patriots are certainly vulnerable in the games where the offense is not clicking on all cylinders. New England may still be the team to beat but in a loaded AFC there are several teams capable of beating the Patriots.
The Saints lost last week and will face two tough games down the stretch to possibly limp into the playoffs. Don’t count this team out however; recall that last season the situation was similar as New Orleans seemed to give minimal effort in the final weeks with a few sloppy losses before getting on a great run in the playoffs. The Saints are likely to be the top wild card in the NFC which will mean playing a very weak NFC West champion in the first round. Don’t rule out the last team to make the playoffs in the NFC winning in the wild card round as well so having to face the Falcons in the second game is not a given. The Packers or Giants would be a dangerous playoff draw for any team should the winner of this week’s huge game find a way in the playoffs. The Falcons look like a dangerous team if they can wrap up the top seed and stay at home but the #2 team in the NFC, likely the Bears or the Eagles will certainly be a vulnerable squad against one of those wild cards squads. Also don’t rule out another Eagles/Giants game as painful as it may be to think about at the moment for New York fans as if the Bears can finish strong they would win the tiebreak with the Eagles for the better seed. That might mean an opening playoff match-up between the NFC East rivals in the 3-6 match-up.
Oakland is a team surprisingly holding some cards in the AFC. The Raiders would need the Chiefs to lose this week and the Chargers to be upset in one of the final games but if a tiebreaker can be forced, the Raiders are 5-0 in AFC West games. Oakland plays the Chiefs in week 17 which is likely to be a do-or-die game for the Chiefs assuming San Diego wins. Oakland is also in a spoiler role this week facing the Colts, who currently hold the tiebreaker edge over Jacksonville in the AFC South. Jacksonville is going to lose all tiebreaker scenarios with the Colts so the Jaguars are going to need some help. The AFC has the potential to be quite the gauntlet as the Chargers and Colts will be feared teams if they sneak in as division winners and the Ravens and Jets will certainly be threats to make wild card runs, especially if matched up against a team like Kansas City or Jacksonville in the opening games. On to this week’s slate…