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Sizing Up the Playoff Picture

The 2006 regular season is down to its final two weeks, which means that it's time to start making those predictions on who's in and who's out. With this being one of the closest playoff races ever, the countless number of possibilities are there as to who will be playing into January and who will have an early start to the offseason. In the AFC it is a battle for the wild card and in the NFC a late push for a couple of divisional title spots and also both wild cards.

When it comes down to it, the final layout of the playoffs will all depend on the outcome of the next two weeks of play. I went through the schedule and made my predictions for how things will turn out. In the end, here are my projected results for each division.

AFC East
Team W L T
New England 12 4 0
NY Jets 10 6 0
Buffalo 8 8 0
Miami 6 10 0
AFC North
Team W L T
Baltimore 12 4 0
Cincinnati 10 6 0
Pittsburgh 8 8 0
Cleveland 5 11 0
AFC South
Team W L T
Indianapolis 13 3 0
Jacksonville 9 7 0
Tennessee 7 9 0
Houston 5 11 0
AFC West
Team W L T
San Diego 14 2 0
Denver 9 7 0
Kansas City 8 8 0
Oakland 2 14 0

NFC East
Team W L T
Dallas 11 5 0
Philadelphia 9 7 0
NY Giants 8 8 0
Washington 6 10 0
NFC North
Team W L T
Chicago 14 2 0
Green Bay 7 9 0
Minnesota 6 10 0
Detroit 2 14 0
NFC South
Team W L T
New Orleans 11 5 0
Atlanta 8 8 0
Carolina 6 10 0
Tampa Bay 3 13 0
NFC West
Team W L T
Seattle 9 7 0
San Francisco 7 9 0
St. Louis 7 9 0
Arizona 4 12 0

As you can see, the AFC divisional winners are projected to finish with very strong records. On the opposite side of things, the NFC divisional winners other than Chicago aren't too impressive in comparision. Looking at my predicted scenario first for the AFC, I have San Diego and Indianapolis receiving the top two seeds, giving them the coveted first round byes. As for the two other divisional winners, the Patriots and Ravens both finish with a 12-4 record, putting them in a good position upon the beginning of the playoffs.

The most interesting part of all this is the wild card race. Although Jacksonville and Denver both finish with 9-7 records, which in the NFC would be good enough to clinch a playoff spot, being in a tougher conference leads them to missing out on the playoffs. Instead, the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets edge out the other teams to find their way into the postseason. From the looks of this, the AFC side of the playoffs should be filled with a ton of great games.

Moving on to the NFC, teams with worse records are alive in the playoff hunt. Even teams below .500 have a shot in the next two weeks, but when all is said and done, only one at the .500 mark gets in. First, the divisional races that are already clinched. The Chicago Bears take home the first seed with an impressive record of 14-2, and then the second seed that includes a bye goes to the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are projected to finish with the same record as Dallas, but due to beating them 42-17 on December 10th, end up winning the tie-breaker. With that being said, the Cowboys receive the third seed and then Seattle barely holds on to win the NFC West, giving them the fourth seed.

The wild card race in the NFC is even tighter than the AFC. With so many dismal records, the chance for teams that aren't necessarily that good to make the playoffs is there. However, one of the hotter teams in recent memory, the Philadelphia Eagles, make the playoffs if all goes according to my projections. Although I have them losing to Dallas on Christmas, meaning they can't win the NFC East, their 9-7 record is good enough for the first wild card spot.

That final void in the playoffs comes down to a tie-breaker between the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. Both teams are projected to have 8-8 records, meaning that the deciding factor is a head-to-head match up dating back to October 15th. On that day, the Giants were victorious by a final score of 27-14, which would clinch them a spot in the playoffs.

It'll be interesting to look back two weeks from now to see how correct my predictions were, but aside from that, the playoff race itself will be very entertaining. Good luck to the fans of all these teams as having something to cheer about come January is always a good thing. As a Lions fan, that experience hasn't been there in quite a while.