Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Battle for NFL Playoffs

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-Digger's Daily-

2011 NFL enters the final two weeks of regular season action. Plenty of great stories. Green Bay's run at perfection ended last weekend. Drew Brees on pace to shatter Dan Marino's single season passing record. Tim Tebow in Denver. Coach of the Year candidate Jim Harbaugh returned San Francisco 49er football to winning ways (and a division title). Houston Texans surviving multiple injuries to post their franchise 2nd winning season and first division title. MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards still up for grabs. Also up for grabs, coveted final playoff slots. Who's going to win and get in?

New England's superior offense camouflages their porous defense. Patriots defense is tough to handicap since opponents play catch-up football - usually large deficits. Tom Brady is masterfully putting together a MVP-type season. No NFL coach is better at game planning and execution than Bill Belichick.

Baltimore Ravens are a Super Bowl caliber team. They're a bit banged up on defense but this team has it all when in synch. Defense is their best offense. Translation - superior defense gives Baltimore offense great field position for short drives.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger's gimpy ankle needs to heal - quickly. Pittsburgh's playoff survival weakens considerably without a healthy and roaming Big Ben. Defense pounds but susceptible to big plays. Clock management has been surprisingly abysmal most of the year. Never count these guys out.

It's been the much publicized Tebow leading Denver. Defense and late game heroics have become the norm as Tebow's antics place him squarely in bulls-eye's of friends and foes alike. Denver's ground game is the key to success on offense. Red Zone attack needs to step it up a notch, especially when playoff football begins.

Playoff picture:
4 of 6 teams in. New England (11-3), Baltimore (10-4), Houston (10-4) & Pittsburgh (10-4) secured playoff slots.
Denver (8-6) wins the west with a victories at Buffalo and home closer vs Kansas City. Tebow's inspiring play and Broncos tenacious defense hope to rebound after New England showed why their AFC's #1 seed. Two wins (or combination of win/loss by Oak/SD) and the West belongs to Denver.
Oakland (7-7) remains in the hunt but needs help to catch Denver. Winning remaining games is their only option.
Remember when San Diego (7-7) began the season 4-1? Then lost 6 straight? Riding a 3 win streak, Chargers must win their final 2 games and hope for both Denver & Oakland to collapse. Good luck.
New York Jets (8-6) control their Wild Card destiny. Win two and they're in. They also own tie-breaker over Cincinnati. Big game vs stadium sharing playoff seeking New York Giants (7-7).
All sorts of implications/possibilities could trigger tie-breakers kicking in to determine eventual playoff teams. Playoff seeding also at stake. Patriots currently #1 followed by Baltimore. AFC North is still up for grabs (Baltimore owns tie-breaker).

Division winners: (1) Patriots, (2) Ravens, (3) Texans, (4) Broncos. Wild Card: (5) Steelers, (6) Jets.

Can you believe it? For much of the season Green Bay's 13 game winning streak took a backseat to Tebow fever. Packers offense plays nearly flawless football. Aaron Rodgers is one of football's greatest players. He's amassed 4,360 yards - 40 TD's and only 6 interceptions. It doesn't get much better than this folks. 13 wins in 14 games isn't too shabby either. Defending Champs fine tuning to defend their crown.

Has anyone been paying attention to San Francisco football outside of the NFC West? Better take notice. 49ers defense is making a name for themselves. They're getting stronger as confidence grows. This current 49ers teams reminds me of 80's style Giants football. Opportunistic team gains advantage while most focus on NFC's Packers & Saints.

Drew Brees might give himself a Christmas present this weekend - and - possibly giving Hall of Famer Dan Marino a lump of coal. Brees is on the verge of breaking Marino's single season passing record - a remarkable accomplishment. He needs just 305 yards to set a new record.

What is up with the New York Giants (7-7). Stunning losses to weaker teams leaves this group - and head coach - battling for their short and long term futures. Two losses to Washington, one to a Vick-less Eagles squad and Seattle cost them from clinching the NFC East. These were all ugly losses. Coughlin will be gone if Giants get eliminated. Big New York vs New York match-up this weekend. Loser's season in jeopardy.

Playoff picture:
Top seed Green Bay's (13-1, North) run at perfection ended last weekend. San Francisco (11-3, West) & New Orleans (10-4, South) won their division.
Dallas (8-6) currently leads the East over New York (7-7). East is there's if they beat Philly coupled with a Giants loss this weekend. Expect a final game showdown at MetLife to decide who wins. I'm betting Eagles and Giants win this weekend forcing a winner take all final game.
Atlanta (9-5) and Detroit (9-5) appear to have a lock on Wild Card status but it's not said and done until the final gun sounds.

Division winners: (1) Packers, (2) 49ers, (3) Saints, (4) Giants. Wild Card: (5) Lions, (6) Falcons.

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