We're getting into late November, and you know what that means: FATTENING, DELICIOUS PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS. Indeed, the next two months will be a veritable orgy of games with playoff implications. Must-wins. Gotta-wins. Double-must-wins. With that in mind, we thought this would be a good time to run down the playoff contenders in each conference and separate the contenders from the scrap heap. Here we go.
ALIVE WITH PLEASURE
1. Green Bay Packers
Mercury Morris and the '72 Dolphins are already starting to kick up a fuss about the Packers going unbeaten. And so I find myself torn between seeing the main rival of my favorite team go 19-0 and my fervent desire for Mercury Morris to never, ever speak again. You see how that tears a man up inside? Anyway, one of the scary things to note about the Packers is that they're IMPROVING. They could potentially go into the playoffs with all of their weak spots (running game, pass defense) fixed, and that's a bit scary.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Listen, I know Alex Smith is playing well right now, but aren't you just waiting for him to get to the playoffs and turn back into Alex Smith? Bill Simmons already has an obnoxious "I can't wait to bet against Alex Smith in the playoffs!" joke in the hopper. The defense is for real. The running game is for real. The coach is for real. But if Smith is at Lambeau in late January, I don't count on him staying for real for very long.
3. New York Giants
It was here just a few months ago that Grantland's Katie Baker told us, "Last time the conventional wisdom went so virulently against the Giants at the beginning of a season, the team went out and won a #@()%*@ Super Bowl." If there's any team I like to go into Lambeau to upset the Packers, it's this one.
4. Chicago Bears
We could have a repeat of the 2010 NFC title game! With Cutler going down AGAIN and everyone calling him a gutless coward AGAIN. I kinda want that to happen.
5. New Orleans Saints
The problem with the Saints is that they're only going to make the Super Bowl by outscoring the Packers, and Week 1 proved that they aren't able to do it. The Giants and Bears have the defense to maybe have a shot. I'm nowhere near as sold on the Saints defense.
6. Dallas Cowboys
Much as I'm enjoying the whole Lions' revival, this is the team that's gonna claim the sixth seed in the NFC. And look at that playoff field! So much deeper than the AFC, it's not even funny. Every one of these teams could make a run. If the Packers are gonna lose in the playoffs, they will lose BEFORE they get to the Super Bowl. They're not losing the Super Bowl if they get there, I guarantee it.
7. Detroit Lions
Last week was proof that, unlike the Packers, the Lions can't survive with such a lousy running game. You can feel the Lions and Bills both swooning after starting the year as league darlings.
8. Atlanta Falcons
I know the stats say Mike Smith didn't necessarily make the wrong call when he went for it last week, but he did. He SO did.
THE SCRAP HEAP
9. Tampa Bay Bucs
I picked them to make the Super Bowl in the preseason, so you probably should have seen this coming.
10. Philadelphia Eagles
I think if Mike Vick plays on Sunday, it's proof that he's an idiot, and that the Eagles lack the kind of coaching leadership to stop him from being an idiot.
11. Carolina Panthers
Defenses are actually beginning to solve Cam Newton, which is annoying because I like him much more when he's destroying everything in his path. Why do defensive coordinators have to ruin everything by studying tendencies? I just want to be happy!
12. Seattle Seahawks
This is their destiny in the Pete Carroll Era: a handful of great wins every year, along with 10+ horrible losses.
13. Arizona Cardinals
The emergence of John Skelton only makes their QB situation seem more hopeless. Speaking of which...
14. Washington Redskins
Not out of the Landry Jones sweepstakes yet!
15. Minnesota Vikings
If they fall into the Top 3 of the draft, I think they could be very tempted to draft a QB and let him battle it out with Christian Ponder for the starting gig. It wouldn't be the nuttiest idea.
16. St. Louis Rams
Fire Josh McDaniels.