NFL BOOTLEG: NFC playoff spotlight

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foxsports admin

The NFC is getting clearer every week. Makes it easy on people like us who have to write about it.

The five teams that was the cream of the crop three weeks ago still are. Philly has started to distance itself from the rest of the East, up two games in the standings and perfect in the conference (5-0), let alone the division (3-0). San Fran can make similiar claims in the West, and beat a significantly difficult team this week — on the road. Green Bay? They could clinch the NFC North before Thanksgiving. And the only question regarding New Orleans and Tampa Bay is which team will get the conference nod.

Still, that's five teams for six slots. Eleven teams are fighting — kind of — for the last playoff berth, and it's not going to be a pretty road. (It is, however, a recurring theme in this column.) Let's break them down into three categories:

That's right folks: Stick a fork in these teams, 'cuz they're done. It's a rather simple formula for figuring out whether or not a team is forkable: Can they reasonably get to 10 wins? If the answer is no, stab away. Dallas, at 3-6, goes. They lost to Detroit this week, and the only reason they'll not lose next week is because they have a bye. Seattle, Minnesota, and Chicago are all even worse at 2-6. Two 3-5 teams also make the list: Carolina, who loses quarterbacks like ADD kids lose Waldo; and Detroit, a 3-5 team that's beaten such stud teams like Dallas and ... oh, yeah Chicago. To all these teams, we wish you a fond farewell, and maybe you can win this game. Hey, stuff goes to charity if you play, so it's good even if you lose — which you're so good at anyway.

That cuts the illustrious eleven down to five.

If you look at the 4-4 and 3-5 , you have to wonder, are these teams really viable playoff contenders? And the can't-beat-a-good team ? Kinda sorta not really. Look, it could happen for both of them, but it's not bloodly likely. The strong start was attributed, correctly, to a strong passing game. But now is out and has turf toe. They're decent against good teams and good against decent teams, which could mean a 6-2 stretch run. But it'll more likely be 4-4. The , on the other hand, are showing that they're actually a good team — maybe. That win over the is looking less and less like a big-time victory, and Seattle and the suddenly earth-bound aren't wins of the champagne-popping variety. For either team, it could happen... but hope's a fickle being. For Arizona, hope isn't the correct word. After failing to beat either San Fran or St. Louis (and the former at home!), Arizona finds itself at .500 with Philly, Oakland, KC, St. Louis (again), and San Fran (again) left. See ya — unless you pull off four upsets.

Yes, that leaves us two teams that actually are contending. Really, truly in a race here. The first one comes with a mea culpa, because the 4-4 have been one nail short of a coffin (at least as far as this column is concerned) for about five weeks now. But beating Indianapolis and Seattle means they're still beating teams they should. And they face a lot of those teams from here on out. Jacksonville. The , twice. St. Louis. Dallas, twice. Houston. The other game is at Philly, who the 'Skins have already lost to at home. 7-1 down the back stretch isn't much of a reach, and that'd stick them in at 11-5. Wow. The other contender, Atlanta, is already 5-3 and has shown that hey, they can beat good teams like New Orleans. Which is good, because they'll have to. They're in Pittsburgh next week and they rematch the (this time in Hotlanta) in two weeks. The one-game lead they have on the rest of the pack makes them a true contender.

Our verdict? It's possible, yes, that the will go 7-1 from here on out, but we don't believe it. A 5-3 finish is more likely, and their losses are likely to be in the NFC. The could go 5-3 in the second half — teams like Seattle, Detroit, Carolina, Minnesota, and Cleveland pretty much solidify a at least a 4-4 finish. Yes, it's true: This could be an early preview of the era.

Tagged: Falcons, Raiders, Saints, Giants, Redskins, Cardinals, Michael Vick, Ike Hilliard, Jeremy Shockey

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