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NFL Week 11: Playoffs Muddle

By Brian Chase

COLUMNIST

Just like I promised last week, I will run down the many NFC wild card candidates today. But first let me vent a little.

The Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL’s last undefeated team, finally lost in a tough game to the Cincinnati Bengals last week, who are 5-5. Suddenly, at 9-1 (still the best record in the NFL), the Chiefs are no longer considered the best team. Every pundit is picking the Tennessee Titans over the Chiefs, even though the Titans looked hardly more convincing in barely beating the Jacksonville Jaguars. This annoys me somewhat because it completely discounts the Chiefs strength and success. Many writers are saying they have no chance in the playoffs now, simply because they didn’t go undefeated. It really burns me how the Chiefs are dismissed so quickly.

Anyway, on to the NFC, which has a playoff race as clear as a quantum physics lecture. There are nine teams in contention for the wild card or lead in their division. If you take away the Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams, and Minnesota Vikings as the winners in their divisions, you get the following teams, each with a brief description of their weaknesses, strengths, and chances of making the playoffs.

Philadelphia Eagles (7-3):

Strengths: Quarterback Donovan McNabb, who has finally overcome the problems he had earlier this season and is leading a much improved offense.

Weaknesses: This team is still recovering from the start of the season, and the defense can be a little fuzzy at times.

Chances: Very good, considering that they have the best record of any wild-card contender thus far, and that the Cowboys may lose the division to the Eagles anytime within the next few weeks.

Green Bay Packers (5-5):

Strengths: Offense. Period. Led by quarterback Brett Favre and running back Ahman Green, this team can score on anybody at will.

Weaknesses: Defense. Period. Sometimes the Packers can’t stop an offense even if they build a brick wall across the field.

Chances: Also good, considering that the also defense-less Vikings are only a game ahead of them, and the Packers defense may be improving. Plus, they currently look stronger than the Seattle Seahawks, and may be front contention for the second wild card spot.

New Orleans Saints (5-5):

Strengths: The Saints have a decent defense, a decent offense, and a decent coach. There isn’t really any aspect of the game the Saints seriously lack.

Weaknesses: The flip side of the coin is that there isn’t any aspect of the game the Saints are really good at, either. They rate just below average in total offense and in points per game allowed. Doing everything OK is in this instance worse than doing something really well and something else poorly.

Chances: Not good. They won’t have the ability to win their division like the previous teams, and they don’t really have the talent or the schedule to keep up with the wild card.

Seattle Seahawks (7-3):

Strengths: They are undefeated at home. Their defense, like Kansas City, keys well off turnovers, and their quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, is fairly good.

Weaknesses: They have yet to win on the road. Neither their defense nor their offense has the consistency needed to pull out road wins, and since their next few games are all road games, that will be important.

Chances: It all depends on the next four road games they have. If they can come out winners in at least two of the four, they have a good shot of at least getting a wild card slot. If they do better, they could conceivably edge out the St. Louis Rams for the division title.

San Francisco 49ers (5-5):

Strengths: Their passing game is top notch, and their defense is capable of really clamping down on an opponent, depending on how fired up they are.

Weaknesses: Like the Seahawks, there are signs of inconsistency, and they may not have the running game or talent needed to pull out of the NFC West with a wild card or a division title, since they are two games back and in the toughest division.

So whom do I see? Well, sticking with my predictions made two weeks ago, I like the Eagles (or Cowboys if the Eagles win the division) and Seahawks. Could I be wrong? More likely than not. On that note, on to this week’s game predictions (prediction record thus far, 4-4):

Games of the week for Week 12:

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (both 5-5): The loser of this game has pretty slim playoff chances, so you know both teams will be playing their hardest. While Green Bay’s defense is probably weaker, San Francisco does not have a real running threat, so Green Bay can focus on limiting the 49ers’ pass attack. On the other hand, the 49ers must deal with one of the best running backs in football, Ahman Green. While you might think home field advantage is big for the Packers, they have lost three already at home this season. I think this week they will buck the trend. The Packers win a shootout, 40-32.

Carolina Panthers (8-2) at Dallas Cowboys (7-3): This game has as much defense as the last one did offense, and it is entirely possible that not a touchdown will be scored this game. Recent Cowboys history, like the game against the Patriots last Sunday, showed that while Dallas may have the D to win games, its offense can’t take advantage of it and has scored no points the last three games. I do not think that will change against this Carolina defense. The Panthers will win 12-0 on four field goals.