No. 4 New York Giants (6-3, 1st in NFC East)
New York’s remaining schedule: @CIN, BYE, GB, @WAS, NO, @ATL, @BAL, PHI
The Giants like to take us on the same ride every year. They start out 5-3 or 6-2, then once November comes, cue the annual swan dive into a losing streak. Whether they recover and build any momentum in December determines if they make the playoffs, go one and done, or go on another improbable Super Bowl run.
It’s the same script every year with those three alternate endings waiting to be called upon.
Eli Manning has not had a “complete” game since playing the Browns in Week 5. In his last four games, Manning has two touchdowns, four interceptions, and has been held under 200 yards passing in three games.
The Giants have played some tough teams, but these are numbers that draw some concern. Where there’s not concern for the time being is their place in the NFC East. Washington’s done at 3-6, Dallas is 3-5, and the Eagles are 3-4 pending Monday night.
The remaining schedule looks rather difficult, but the Bengals and Redskins should guarantee 8-8 at least, and the Giants will have to grind out a tough few wins to improve their seed.
But as we have seen, it really does not matter what seed the Giants earn. Their fate will be written in the postseason, which they should make just because of the state of the division.
The Verdict: Contenders. They are still the defending champions.
No. 6 Seattle (5-4, 2nd in NFC West)
Seattle’s remaining schedule: NYJ, BYE, @MIA, @CHI, ARI, @BUF, SF, RAM
This team plays great at home (4-0), and who is going to expect Sanchez, John Skelton/Kevin Kolb, and Sam Bradford to go into that building and actually complete 60 percent of their passes and put some points on the board?
That should get them to 8-8 at least. The trips to Miami and Buffalo are long, but at least the Buffalo game is scheduled to start at 4:05 p.m. EST. Seattle will likely have to win one or two of those games.
This offense in Chicago will likely not be pretty, and we already seen what the 49ers can do (though the rematch will be in Seattle). Do not count on those as wins.
The Seahawks could certainly challenge for a 10-6 record and the sixth seed in the NFC. As long as they keep defending home field, the defense plays great against the pass, and Wilson continues to improve, then they are going to be a factor for the playoffs.
The Verdict: Contenders. Young, cocky, but can back it up (at home).
No. 7 Minnesota (5-4, 3rd in NFC North)
Minnesota’s remaining schedule: DET, BYE, @CHI, @GB, CHI, @RAM, @HOU, GB
No matter how well Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin play, Ponder has been held to 58 ad 63 yards passing in two of his last three games. Those are unfathomable, Derek Anderson-esque numbers in this era of huge passing stats.
If the struggling quarterback is not enough, just look at that schedule. Four games against the Bears and Packers plus a trip to Houston? That sounds like 0-5 to me, which means a 7-9 season at best.
In fact, it would not be a surprise to see Minnesota end the season on a nine-game losing streak.
The Verdict: (Major) Pretender.
No. 8 Detroit (4-4, 4th in NFC North)
Detroit’s remaining schedule: @MIN, GB, HOU, IND, @GB, @ARI, ATL, CHI
The NFC North is the only division with every team at .500 or better, which of course makes it hard on Detroit to return to the postseason when they are in last place.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The Lions have three comeback wins already against so-so competition. Imagine how things will go in these tough games. We have already seen how hard it was for the offense to score on the 49ers and Bears in losses.
Looking at that schedule, hard to predict anything better than 8-8 for Detroit. The only good news is their head-to-head win over Seattle, which could come in handy should Matthew Stafford get on a hot streak.
But that’s assuming Calvin Johnson starts making frequent trips back to the end zone again.
The Verdict: Pretender. Stafford is 0-12 against teams who finish season with winning record.
No. 9 Tampa Bay (4-4, 2nd in NFC South)
Tampa Bay’s remaining schedule: SD, @CAR, ATL, @DEN, PHI, @NO, RAM, @ATL
While you want to like this team for their offense with Josh Freeman’s hot streak, Doug Martin’s huge games, and the skill of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, it is hard to look past that eyesore of a defense.
Carson Palmer nearly led an 18-point comeback Sunday in the fourth quarter until he remembered he was Carson Palmer. Quarterbacks have been roasting the Buccaneers for major yards all season.
What do you expect will happen when they play Matt Ryan twice, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees again? That should be at least three losses, even with respect to Atlanta being a Week 17 game, which you never know what you will get with playoff rest implications.
Other than maybe hosting the Rams in Week 16, there is nothing on the schedule that will come easy to Tampa Bay. They are building a nice offense and Freeman is having the rebound year many expected, but there’s just not enough there defensively yet in Greg Schiano’s first season.
The Verdict: Pretender. Young Bucs make some noise in 2013.
Putting it all together, here is what I expect for the postseason when it’s all said and done.
1. Houston Texans
2. Denver Broncos
3. New England Patriots
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Baltimore Ravens
6. Indianapolis Colts
1. Atlanta Falcons
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Chicago Bears
4. New York Giants
5. Green Bay Packers
6. Seattle Seahawks
Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback) writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, Bleacher Report, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network.
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