Don't count on Cards
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With the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, and Minnesota Vikings all leading their respective divisions, that question of who won't make the playoffs is challenge. Five of these teams played in last year's post season, and one played in the Super Bowl. Will any of these teams even miss the post season? Yes, and you may be surprised who.
Beginning in the AFC, you have to believe the Patriots will come off their bye and finish the second half of the season strong as Tom Brady's comfort level grows. They may have some difficult games left on their schedule, but they are capable of beating anyone and will undoubtedly win more than they will lose when it comes to those big games. The Colts should be considered in the same category and the fact that they currently sit at 7-0 doesn't hurt. They could finish 5-4 over their last nine games and still make the playoffs, but with Manning and company making things look easy, expect them to finish closer to 16-0 than 12-4. The big question marks in this conference are the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals.
While many people may tell you that the Broncos are simply getting ready for another mid-season collapse, don't let them fool you. Kyle Orton may not be your typical Pro Bowl quarterback, but he and the Denver Broncos are for real. Their offense can move the ball when needed, with an efficient passing game and a strong ground attack, and their defence is among the best in the league. With Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins patrolling the secondary, and Elvis Dumervil causing fits for opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks, these Broncos will be prepared to avoid a repeat. As for the Bengals, their road is a much tougher one and it is easy to see why I believe they would be the most likely division leading AFC team to flame out. However, with that being said I still believe that they will be there when it matters in January. The Bengals went 3-0 in their division the first time around and are currently 3-0 on the road. They will not finish with goose eggs in both categories, but their effective play in these situations will help them enter the post season, even if it is through a wild card birth.
That brings us to the NFC, where it is difficult to imagine the Saints missing the playoffs this season. In fact, when one considers their remaining schedule and what appears to be the emergence of a solid defence to compliment their offense, it is hard to see them not earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs. If anyone is to challenge them, it would have to be the Minnesota Vikings. With Adrian Peterson available to take some of the load off Brett Favre down the stretch, they should remain fresh through the final months and finish strong against what is also a fairly weak schedule. The Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in a very competitive NFC East, but coming into the season there was much talk about what was expected to be a potent Eagles offensive attack. Donovan McNabb's early rib injury prevented them from displaying that through the first four games, but he and the offense seem to be growing stronger with each passing week and Sunday's victory against the Giants provided viewers with an example of their true capabilities. Expect them to stay atop the NFC East down the final stretch, but we will not go so far as to say it will be an easy run.
That leaves the only team currently leading their division to play in last season's Super Bowl and, coincidentally, the only team in such a position that we believe will not get the opportunity to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy this post season. The Arizona Cardinals find themselves on top of the NFC West, leading the San Francisco 49ers by one game, but don't be surprised if this battle comes down to their week 16 matchup, and fortunately for Singletary's boys they will get to play that one on their home turf. They may be sitting at 3-4, but San Fran's defence has been strong throughout the year and they were without the services of Frank Gore for a few weeks early in the season. This is a team that has lost games which have come down to the wire against the Colts, Texans and Vikings. They have swept their division the first time around and, with Alex Smith looking like he may finally be the serviceable quarterback the 49ers expected him to be when they drafted him with the first overall pick in 2005, it is reasonable to believe that they will come out on top of the NFC West in 2009.
As for the wild card? We all know that it likely will not go to a team in that division, although an easy schedule down the final stretch may actually make that possible for the Cardinals. However, I wouldn't bet on seeing these birds fly when the playoffs roll around.
Jamie De Giorgio
November 4, 2009; 3:14 PM ET
New England Patriots
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