With six more weeks of the regular season remaining and with teams jockeying for position to make a playoff run, we feel confident in telling you that we know seven of the teams that will make the postseason. That would be the Broncos, Chiefs, Patriots, Seahawks, Saints, Panthers, and Colts. Assuming you're not in preschool while reading this, that means there are five empty postseason spots that will be filled.
I also think the Lions will probably find themselves in the playoffs -- I think they're a level above the teams I write about below. So, really, the 10 teams below likely will be fighting for four spots.
The problem -- or maybe, if you're the NFL, the nirvana -- of not knowing who else should be in the postseason is that most NFL teams are somewhere between slightly above average to slightly below average. In other words, there's a whole bunch of mediocrity out there.
Here are 10 teams that could very well make the playoffs, and below, I describe why those squads will and will not make the postseason. If your favorite team isn't listed, it's because, well, I figure your squad had very little chance of playing after Week 17.
Let's call all these teams questionable for the playoffs.
10. Browns -- Why they will: Why, at 4-6, would Cleveland have a better chance of making the playoffs when I don't include division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh, both of which also are 4-6? Truth is, I just trust Cleveland more. It seems silly, doesn't it? Why they won't: Looking at their schedule, I could see Cleveland going no better than 3-3. That would put the team at 7-9 overall. That's simply not going to be good enough to get that second wild card spot.
9. Jets -- Why they will: The fact that the Jets are even in this position is remarkable, considering what we all believed was a roster bereft of talent before the season began. New York is not a great team, and unless the team makes the playoffs, I don't see Rex Ryan surviving the season. But if the team can continue to play standout defense and get some help from rookie quarterback Geno Smith, there's a chance the Jets somehow could make it. Why they won't: Smith and the rest of the offense are simply too inconsistent. Smith might be the quarterback of the future, but he's probably not the quarterback who will lead his team to a victory presently if it continually has to count on him to do so.
8. Cardinals -- Why they will: Arizona has gotten hot, winning three-straight games and getting itself to a 6-4 record. If San Francisco continues to play poorly and the Cardinals can take winnable games against the Eagles, Rams and Titans, they'd have a good shot at a wildcard spot. Why they won't: They'll probably be underdogs against the Colts, Seahawks and 49ers. Lose those three, and it'll be tough to slip into the postseason.
7. Dolphins -- Why they will: Miami has proven to be a streaky team -- winning the first three games of the season, losing the next five and winning its past two. Who's to say the Dolphins couldn't keep up the hot streak and win enough games to grab a wild card spot? Why they won't: The investigation into the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito scandal eventually will cause enough cracks in the team's foundation to submerge the Dolphins into a sinkhole.
6. Cowboys -- Why they will: The NFC East is the weakest division in the league, and it appears as though a team that finishes at 8-8 could very well win it all. Beating the Redskins in Week 16 and the Eagles in Week 17 could put Dallas over the top. Why they won't: Tony Romo is a top-five quarterback in my book. But he's rarely good in clutch situations (even if he's oftentimes the main reason that the team is in a position to win in the first place), and until he proves he can get to the playoffs and win there, I'll continue not to have faith in Dallas.
5. Packers -- Why they will: Green Bay hasn't missed the playoffs in five seasons, and the Packers have plenty of experienced veterans who know how to win. Plus, if Scott Tolzien can beat the Vikings this weekend, the team is right back in the chase. Why they won't: The hole the team might be in when Aaron Rodgers returns and replaces Tolzien might be too much to overcome, particularly if the Lions and Bears both are two games ahead of the Packers with five games to play.
4. Bears -- Why they will: The last time Bears quarterback Jay Cutler missed significant time, the team blew its playoff chances because of shoddy backup quarterback play. But Josh McCown has been impressive, and the Bears have kept winning even without Cutler. When he returns from injury, Chicago will have a solid chance to beat out the Lions. Why they won't: Two losses to the Lions this season means the Bears won't win a tiebreaker against Detroit. And with so many NFC teams at the 6-4 mark, winning a second wild card spot will be tough.
3. 49ers -- Why they will: From Weeks 4 to 8, the 49ers scored at least 31 points per game and vaulted themselves to the top of the wildcard standings. Plus, defensively, they're still one of the best teams in the league. If they can marry again a solid offense with a tough defense, they could land in the postseason. Why they won't: Colin Kaepernick has stopped playing like the quarterback that was five yards away from winning last season's Super Bowl. If he doesn't start playing like his old self, his team will have a hard time going anywhere.
2. Eagles -- Why they will: They seem to have found their groove offensively with Nick Foles at quarterback -- I don't see, at this point, why Philadelphia would give back Michael Vick his starting spot when he's healthy -- and this past week, the Eagles set a franchise record with their ninth 400-yard game of the season. After all the offseason hype, coach Chip Kelly has turned the Eagles into a top-five offense. Why they won't: A defense ranked 31st in the league. If the offense stalls out for whatever reason, there's almost no chance the defense will keep the team in a game.
1. Bengals -- Why they will: They're the best in the mediocre AFC North. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's unit continues to impress, ranking fourth in the NFL, and with a few dynamic players on offense (receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard), Cincinnati will do just enough to win the division. Why they won't:Andy Dalton would have to be really bad for this to happen. But then again, there are times this year he has been that bad.
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