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Forecasting the football future

With nine weeks behind us, the NFL regular season is more or less half finished. Other than the Texans and the Giants, who have yet to have their bye weeks, each team has eight games played and eight games yet to play.

It's a bit too early to start talking about the various scenarios detailing which teams make the playoffs, depending on the outcomes of certain games. After all, even the 1-7 Buccaneers can still theoretically win their division instead of the 8-0 New Orleans Saints. I still want to speculate, though, about what the league will look like come February.

AFC West

The easy pick is Denver. Right away, we can assume that Kansas City and Oakland are going to make an exciting fight out of third place in the division, but neither has any realistic playoff aspirations. The Chargers (5-3) will likely be the only competition for the 6-2 Broncos. Based on the two teams' remaining schedules, however, even the best case scenario I can see for San Diego is that the Broncos go only 4-4 while the Chargers go 6-2. This highly unlikely hypothetical would also hinge on a matchup between the two teams in Week 11 that the Chargers would have to win. More than likely, I think the Broncos pull this one out.

AFC South

Peyton Manning.

AFC North

This is probably the most interesting division with three very good teams - Cincy, Pittsburgh and Baltimore (sorry Cleveland). The Ravens, who started out the season strong, have dropped off of late just as the Steelers have picked up their game. At 4-4, Baltimore would have to make up two games on either team. For the remainder of the season, the Bengals and the Steelers will do absolutely no worse than 4-4 and will probably fare better, making it difficult for the Ravens to make up those two games. Although Cincinnati will lose its next game against Pittsburgh, the Bengals will still edge out the Steelers for the division. Pittsburgh will make it into the playoffs courtesy of one of the two AFC wild card spots.

AFC East

At the beginning of the season, New England was picked No. 1 in the power rankings, no doubt thanks to the return of the league's golden boy. Six wins, two losses and a few roughing-the-passer calls later, the Patriots are still among the top-five in the power rankings and sit atop their division. The Pats have a very challenging eight games remaining, especially the front half. The Jets, meanwhile, have it pretty easy at first. Expect it to look like a dogfight for the next couple of weeks, but New England will pull away at the close of the season and secure the division.

But it won't be the Jets getting the wild card. The Dolphins will. This seems a little absurd, until you realize Miami might be the best 3-5 team in the history of the NFL. The five teams the Dolphins have lost to have a combined record of 32-8, including two undefeated teams. They have managed to overcome the lauded Jets' defense twice. Miami also has done more with a quarterback named Chad than any team in recent memory. Of course, I won't be able to say this anymore when they start letting Ochocinco take snaps in Cincy. The Dolphins have an easier second half of the season and should make up ground on the rest of the conference to get the other wild card spot.

NFC West

Arizona has this division on lockdown by default. The Cards really only have three questionable games left, and there isn't anyone else in their division capable of making it interesting.

NFC South

Obviously the Saints are my pick to win the division, but the question is whether the Falcons secure one of the wild cards. Atlanta has a very challenging schedule upcoming. Unless it makes several key upsets, I think the squad will miss the playoffs this year.

NFC North

Minnesota has had a lot of close wins, so it is definitely within striking distance. Because the Vikings' schedule is pretty soft, though, I think they will be able to hold on to their three-game lead against Green Bay and Chicago. My upset pick is for Da' Bears to take the wild card by taking advantage of their manageable schedule to edge out the Packers and close out on the Falcons and the Giants, who each have a tough road ahead.

NFC East

Cowboys and Eagles take 1-2 here, and so both make the playoffs. The Giants have started slipping already, and they have the toughest part of their season still ahead. I feel like the Eagles are a better team but I think the Cowboys will edge them out for the division. After all, they still get to play Washington twice! As a Redskins fan, I just have to take solace in the fact that Wade Phillips and Tony Romo will yet again fail to win a playoff game in 2010.

But while I sit here talking about who will make the playoffs, teams like the Rams, the Buccaneers and the Lions will continue to battle it out. That's the great thing about the NFL. Even the losing teams have something to play for. What is it, you ask? The draft. Contrary to popular belief, they don't want to sandbag to get the first pick. In reality, they'll be looking to win as many games as possible, so they don't (again) get stuck paying a 22-year-old first-rounder who hasn't played a single snap in the NFL.


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