The League

Dave Goldberg
Sports Reporter

Dave Goldberg

Covered the NFL for the AP for 25 years and now is a senior NFL writer for

Bubble's already burst


I've seen too many turnarounds to think that predicting playoff teams with five weeks to go can be done with any accuracy.

But given the streakiness (positive and negative) of a lot of "contenders,'' I kind of like what we have.

In fact, the way the NFC looks today is probably the way it will end: New Orleans, Minnesota, Dallas and Arizona as division champions. Philadelphia and Green Bay as wild-card entries.

Everyone else is heading south, notably the Giants, who seem to be suffering from Super Bowl hangover one year removed -- offensive linemen who are old without realizing it; a new defensive coordinator who has about half the charisma of the old one and calls predictable defenses that are torn apart.

Plus a tired 265-pound running back who got his big contract and seems to be playing not to get hurt.

So ask me which of the "bubble'' teams (New York, Atlanta, San Francisco) has the best chance to make it to the playoffs and I'll say "none.'' Unless a Matt Ryan's turf toe goes away and the Falcons' home schedule works to their advantage. Good luck: the next two opponents are Philadelphia and New Orleans.

There's a little more suspense in the AFC.

No one will catch the Patriots in the East, no matter what happens Monday night in New Orleans.

The Colts have clinched the South, the most interesting item about them the statement by coach Jim Caldwell that he'd rather keep the team healthy for the playoffs than finish unbeaten. The other two divisions also are set: the Bengals make me uneasy (a permanent condition), but their 6-0 division record gives them a huge edge and San Diego is playing as well as it has in several years.

I still like the Steelers, currently out of the mix, to get in -- their overtime loss Sunday night with third-stringer Dennis Dixon at quarterback only strengthens that view. They did that in 2005 and won the Super Bowl, although I don't see that result this year -- too many injuries.

I don't like Houston, which has proven to me it can't hold leads or close games. I don't like the Ravens, even though they have the "tiebreaker'' over Pittsburgh (let them play again before we decide that one.) Ray Rice is wonderful, but Joe Flacco's in a sophomore slump and the defense has slowed down. One bright spot: rookie Larders Web, who replaced the injured Fabian Washington at cornerback and played better than Washington.

The most intriguing AFC outsider is Tennessee, which started 0-6 and is 5-0 since Vince Young because the QB. His 99-yard game-winning drive Sunday was a classic, but can he sustain the momentum? The Titans are at Indy next week.

Who goes out? Baltimore, yes. Denver, probably not -- the Broncos had lost four straight until beating the Giants but they have two games left with Kansas City and one with Oakland, a formula for at least 10-6, which will get it in.

So, things should stay the same.

But I'm wrong more often than I'm right. So, look for change.

By Dave Goldberg  |  November 30, 2009; 11:55 AM ET  | Category:  Baltimore Ravens , Cincinnati Bengals , Denver Broncos , Green Bay Packers , Indianapolis Colts , NFL , New York Giants , Philadelphia Eagles Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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