At this point in the NFL season we have seen enough on teams to actually begin to gather firm opinions on each one. Fans, the media, and even front offices have started to realize what teams actually have a realistic shot at the playoffs and who’ll be playing for Andrew Luck. Being the best team in the NFL doesn’t matter until you’re at least the best team in your conference, so I’ve split the NFL Power Rankings into the AFC and the NFC. The records are what they are, but I’ve become more comfortable with the teams as a whole instead of a particular teams most recent win or loss and that factors heavily into where they are ranked. Hopefully your team makes the cut and is one of the six listed above the fold.
Projected Playoff Teams
1. Green Bay Packers (11-0) - What is there to say about this team that hasn’t been said over the last 12 weeks. The best team with the best quarterback. The intrigue lies in the development of Brandon Saine.
2. San Francisco 49ers (9-2) - This defense will keep them out of a lot of tough situations but I still firmly believe that Alex Smith will cost this team when you start talking big picture.
3. New Orleans Saints (8-3) – They put on a clinic on Monday night. This team can score on anyone but they are the complete opposite of the 49ers. They don’t stop decent offenses. It will be a coin flip if the 49ers matched up with the Saints in the playoffs.
4. Dallas Cowboys (7-4) – They have caught and passed the New York Giants. I don’t see this team looking back at all. This team finally changed for the better when they gave Demarco Murray a chance. They have a great balance on this team now and can cause some damage in the playoffs. But, they can’t let Dez Bryant return every punt. Only use him in must need situations.
5. Chicago Bears (7-4) – Chicago catches a break over the last 5 games. They have a real shot of winning four of those games and Caleb Hanie will be allowed to develop against lesser opponents. When the playoffs roll around, Hanie and the Bears will be in them and he will be better prepared.
6. Atlanta Falcons (7-4) – This team needs to get and stay healthy. The competition around them doesn’t allow for too much wiggle room. Atlanta catches a break with facing the Texans’ third string quarterback this week but they will be without Brent Grimes and Michael Turner and Julio Jones are nicked up.
Outside Looking In
7. Detroit Lions (7-4) – This team deserves the playoffs. I want to find a spot for them but I see them coming up just short, unless they get into a situation where all of the tie breakers go their way for the last wildcard spot. They need Kevin Smith to play and play well this week against the Saints. There couldn’t be a worse week for the Lions to have so many injuries in the secondary.
8. New York Giants (6-5) – We can’t say that this collapse caught us by surprise. The Giants started that horrific stretch of a schedule a few weeks ago and it’s going exactly as we thought but not the way the Giants were hoping. They will need a lot to go their way over the last five weeks if they want to visit the postseason.
9. Seattle Seahawks (5-7) – This defense is now quite San Francisco but they are only a player or two away. This could be a winning football team if they had a true starting quarterback. Any team that takes this team lightly could get an unpleasant surprise.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) - I don’t want to talk about the Bucs season. They have underachieved drastically. Now that Josh Freeman is injured, I’m just looking forward to hopefully seeing Josh Johnson starting in his place. If Freeman is hurt more than expected and he misses the next 5 games (which a doubt), I strongly believe Johnson could lead this team to a 3-2 or 4-1 record.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (4-8) – It’s not crazy to picture this team finishing 8-8 but what defines the Eagles season this year is that they could finish 4-12. You just don’t know. Every time they look like they are getting things figured out, they show up the next week as if they don’t have a clue. DeSean Jackson doesn’t want to get hit, the secondary doesn’t know where to be, and you can run all over them.
12. Washington Redskins (4-7) – It only took Mike Shanahan 2/3rds of the year before he finally realized what we knew the first time we saw Roy Helu in this offense…that Helu was his every down back. Shanny also cost the Redskins several games when he believed his own nonsense that John Beck was a quality starting quarterback. Now that he’s gotten out of his own way, teams have to worry about the Redskins, somewhat.
13. Carolina Panthers (3-8) – The Panthers have lost a ton of quality defensive players this year. They were never playing for this year though. They wanted to get Cam Newton use to the NFL speed and prepare him for the future. Mission accomplished. Carolina needs to concentrate on upgrading the defense in the draft and add another receiver to go with Steve Smith and the returning David Gettis. They will surprise in 2012.
14. Arizona Cardinals (4-7) – I just wish that Beanie Wells could stay healthy. At the beginning of the year, we mentioned that he finally looked and ran like an NFL back. I was excited for his season. When he has been healthy, he’s been one of the most amazing backs to watch. They obviously need to figure out the quarterback situation over the last 5 weeks and if they get that taken care of, he will have some help with Ryan Williams coming back to run with Beanie next year.
15. St. Louis Rams (2-9) – I missed on this team more than any other this year. I thought they could compete in the NFC West. They have looked awful in the first year of Josh McDaniels’ offense. Sam Bradford needs to get his confidence back and the Rams have something in Brandon Lloyd. We also have to remember that the Rams lost like 20 defensive backs to injured reserve this year. They will need to protect Bradford better as well.
16. Minnesota Vikings (2-9) – It’s a shame that the Vikings are wasting the prime years of Jared Allen’s career. Especially the season like the one he’s having. This team is a mess and they don’t have the head coach to get them out of it. This could be ugly for the next few years.