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NFL Week 8: The Midpoint

By Brian Chase

We’re halfway through the 2003-04 NFL season, right at the time when all the sports analysts re-predict who will be in the postseason based on the first half of the games. So why should I be any different? Here’s how the NFL divisions stand now with my guesses as to who are going on in the postseason:

NFC East: The Dallas Cowboys (5-2) are in the lead now, but they have shown that they aren’t prepared yet for tough opponents. But that won’t matter too much because I think the Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) will not be able to mount an effective campaign to challenge the Cowboys for the division title. Quarterback Donovan McNabb is too banged up, and the rest of the team is mediocre. The Washington Redskins (3-4) and New York Giants (3-4) are both on-again-off-again teams that won’t really factor into the playoffs.

NFC North: The Minnesota Vikings (6-1) are three games ahead of the Green Bay Packers (3-4) for the division title, and with the Vikes playing the way they are, that’s a lot. It is going to take a huge effort by the Pack just to get the wild card, and I don’t think they will do it. The Chicago Bears (2-5) and the Detroit Lions (1-6) are both unutterably bad.

NFC South: This division could be a tight race between the Carolina Panthers (6-1) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3). If Tampa ever strings together consecutive wins and plays as a team, Carolina might be in trouble. It will probably come down to the Tampa-Carolina game at Carolina on Nov. 9. I do think that whoever doesn’t gain the division will get one of the NFC Wild Cards. The New Orleans Saints (3-5) and the Atlanta Falcons (1-6) are both huge disappointments this season, and won’t sniff the playoffs.

NFC West: While the NFC South has the potential to be a close race, this division already is. The St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks are tied atop with division at 5-2, but the Rams, coming off a four game winning streak, look like the more solid team, while Seattle’s wins always seem to leave questions. The consensus from the sports people is that the Rams will take the division, and I think they are right. But, I think that Seattle is a more solid team than Philadelphia, and so they will get the second NFC Wild Card. As for the San Francisco 49ers (3-5) and Arizona Cardinals (2-5), I say get a better kicker, and see you next year.

AFC East: The New England Patriots (6-2) are atop the division with a big win against the Miami Dolphins (5-2) two weeks ago. Neither team can score well, but the Pats have the better defense and they have people coming back from injury in the next half of the season, so they are likely to hold on to the division lead. The Buffalo Bills (4-4) could contend if they could ever score and defend in the same game, but they do not look capable of that. The New York Jets (2-5) are hoping they don’t get as bad as the Bears or the Cards. Whoops, they already are.

AFC North: This division is interesting only because none of the teams in it are great so everyone has a chance to win. The Baltimore Ravens (4-3) are in the lead now, but the Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) or Cleveland Browns (3-5) could both vie for the title. However, as much as Cincinnati has improved, their tough schedule will make it difficult to win, and the Browns aren’t consistent enough. And the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5) have no offense to speak of and no heart to play.

AFC South: This will be the best division race to watch down the stretch. The Indianapolis Colts (6-1) and the Tennessee Titans (6-2) are both great teams with all-star quarterbacks. The Colts walloped the Titans the first time they played, so the Titans need to even it up if the want to take the division. I honestly have no clue who will win, but it doesn’t really matter because whichever one doesn’t win will get an AFC Wild Card. The Houston Texans (2-5) and Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) are bad, but not as bad as the NFC cellar-dwellers.

AFC West: This division is practically sewn up. The Kansas City Chiefs (8-0) are likely the best team in the NFL and hold a three game lead over the Denver Broncos (5-3) who are without their starting quarterback for a couple more weeks due to injury. The Broncos won’t be able to catch up to the Chiefs, but if they play well I think they can take the second AFC Wild Card over the Dolphins and the runner-up in the North. The Oakland Raiders (2-5) and the San Diego Chargers (1-6) are again a pair of huge disappointments, the Raiders due to old age and the Chargers due to just plain bad football.

So who will win the Super Bowl? From the NFC, I still like the Minnesota Vikings, because I haven’t fully bought into St. Louis’s re-emergence yet. In the AFC, I have to go with my hometown team, the Chiefs. And I hope the Chiefs will win the Super Bowl as well, capping one of the greatest years of sports Kansas City has ever seen.

And by the way, these predictions come with an “any or all picks will be wrong or your money back” guarantee. It’s the least I can do.