With 1 more win necessary to cement themselves in the playoffs, I think it's alright for us to begin to talk playoffs. Having utilized a couple of tools at ESPN (get it?) and the Wall Street Journal (seriously), I've come up with what I consider to be the most likely course for the NFL and the Lions for the 2011-2012 season.
We'll briefly go week-by-week over the last two weeks of the season, highlighting games with playoff implications, and I'll give you my picks for the playoffs.
some most will probably disagree/hate on my choices, I think there's one thing that we can all agree on:
It's time for the rest of the NFL to take notice. These are not the "same old Lions".
SD @ DET: Detroit, playing at home with the playoffs on the line, puts the dagger in San Diego's playoff hopes (and Norv Turner's tenure there).
CHI @ GB: Aaron Rodgers won't drop two in a row to another completely miserable team.
NYG @ NYJ: Late season slumpfest in the New Meadowlands with the #8 Giant offense squaring off against the #7 Jet defense. I take the Jets (ugh), as defense usually pulls out, along with the Jets' stellar 6-1 home record (versus the Giants 3-4).
ATL @ NO: If there's anyone who doesn't take their foot off the gas, it's the ridiculously professional Drew Brees and Sean Payton. Brees is going for Marino's record in this game, and he'll destroy it.
SEA @ SF: Marshawn Lynch has really carried this team lately, and the Seattle defense has stepped up, but San Fran has a pretty good D too, and a first round bye to contend for. They'll end the Seahawks bid here and now.
STL @ PIT: I don't really think I need to explain much here.
ARI @ CIN: Give this one to Cincy, as they are a far more complete team. Arizona is playing for the playoffs, but that doesn't mean much when you don't know who's throwing the ball to your one offensive playmaker.
CLE @ BAL: Another blowout, to be sure.
MIA @ NE: Miami usually plays New England harder than most teams, especially given their dismal status the last decade or so, but the Patriot offense is just too much for the Dolphins.
TB @ ATL: Atlanta wins an easy one in Tampa, securing the 5th seed in the playoffs with a Detroit loss.
DET @ GB: Regardless of whether Aaron Rodgers sits or starts, both of these teams are going to the playoffs. Each will be playing safe to protect their players, and home field advantage will reign, yet again.
WAS @ PHI: With their playoff hopes still alive, the Eagles will take advantage of the hapless Redskins and cross their fingers that New York can spoil Dallas and give them one of the most improbable storylines this year.
DAL @ NYG: This game could be a doozy. The Giants are praying for a Philly loss, and the Cowboys are playing for the season. Regardless of the outcome of the other NFCE game, the Giants will be playing at home, motivated to kill off a division rival's playoff hopes. I just don't have faith in the Cowboys, and Romo is not the quarterback Eli Manning has become.
CAR @ NO: New Orleans secures its first round bye with another easy win over a divisional opponent, in turn keeping San Francisco in the first round of the playoffs.
Ultimately, you end up with this playoff scenario. All that, just to see one team change? That's the way of the NFL.
As far as the playoffs are concerned, I speculate as follows. Let me know what you guys think.
DET @ SF: Payback. Detroit wins a tough one, and Schwartz gives Harbaugh a nice hard handshake with a big smile. (WSJ 70%-30% in favor of SF)
ATL @ PHI: Michael Vick gets to play at home with his new team against his old one. A dome team won't fare well in the harsh climes of the Linc. (WSJ 61.4%-38.6% in favor of PHI)
BAL @ DEN: TEBOW TIME! This should be Tebow's coming out party, a game that depends on nothing but being in the clutch. However, his incomplete skillset gets the best of him, and Baltimore stifles the strong Denver run game. (WSJ 55.7%-44.3% in favor of BAL)
NYJ @ HOU: The poor Texans. They finally take advantage of Indy's weakness, and lose BOTH their quarterbacks in the process. New York gets lucky and skates to an easy early round victory. (WSJ 51%- 49% in favor of NYJ)
DET @ GB: Unfortunately, this is where the buck stops, as we all probably predict. A rematch at Lambeau does not bode well for us, and Aaron Rodgers is determined to repeat. A valiant season men. (WSJ 73.6%-26.4% in favor of GB)
PHI @ NO: This will be a scorefest, but that's precisely the kind of game you don't want to play with Drew Brees. The guy is a champion, and the Eagles will have to go home, happy they got this far. (WSJ 57.9%-42.1% in favor of NO)
BAL @ NE: The mantra of every defensive minded team is 'defense wins championships'. That's usually true, unless you're Tom Brady. He'll find a way to win. If only Baltimore had a championship-caliber QB. (WSJ 56.7%-46.3% in favor of NE)
NYJ @ PIT: Pittsburgh gets the lucky draw again, dodging the bullet of having to play Baltimore. They'll handle the flagging Jets, heading for the AFC Championship game yet again. (WSJ 50.2%-49.8% in favor of PIT)
NO @ GB: Clash of the Titans. The only thing I can say here is Lambeau is a cold place for a dome team in the south in January. I give the edge to Green Bay. (WSJ 57.3%-42.7% in favor of GB)
NE @ PIT: Another fantastic cold weather game with perennial contenders. Brady is on a mission to get that championship without an asterisk, and he'll step back to the greatest stage yet again. (WSJ 51%-49% in favor of PIT)
The Super Bowl: GB v. NE
Boy, would the NFL ever love to see this game. I don't even want to speculate on the outcome of the two best QBs in the game squaring off, but you gotta give the tip of the hat to the (slightly) better defense. Will Rodgers and the Pack repeat, or will Brady show the NFL who's been the king for the last 10 years?