Dom Bonvissuto
Tuesday December 9th, 2008

The shocking, oatmeal-smoking, whiskey-imbibing, glue-sniffing revelation in this week's projections won't be hard to find. Especially if you're a Cowboys fan. Or if you believe the NFC East is the best division in football. Or simply if you're really good at scrolling to the bottom of the page to see the table for yourself.

With three weeks to go, it's our projection that the NFC East -- the division everyone was falling all over themselves trying to declare as the best in the league earlier in the season -- will have only one team reach the postseason. The beneficiary? The NFC South, which we predict will make up half of the conference's six-team playoff field.

Why would we predict something so asinine? We make our case below as we break down the playoff picture two ways: 1) As though the season ended today; and 2) As though the season will play out the way we predict it will. We will continue to do this weekly until the playoff field is set.

(We use the NFL's official tiebreaker procedures to determine seeding. If you have any questions or comments, please email us.)

New York Giants (11-2) If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 1 seed. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Dallas (L), vs. Carolina (W), at Minnesota (L) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 12-4; No. 1 seed. Extra Point: The beauty of having such a great start is the Giants can struggle down the stretch and still have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Carolina Panthers (10-3) If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 2 seed. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Denver (W), at NY Giants (L), at New Orleans (W) Final Projected Record: 12-4; No. 2 seed. Extra Point: Believe it or not, the Panthers quietly could earn homefield advantage by winning their final three games. They would certainly earn it, with a home game against a playoff team and two road contests still left on the slate. But even a worst-case scenario (losing two of three) should be enough to get Carolina at least a wild-card entry.

Minnesota Vikings (8-5) If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 3 seed (win tiebreaker with Arizona on conference record). Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Arizona (L), vs. Atlanta (L), vs. NY Giants (W) Final Projected Record: 9-7; No. 4 seed. Extra Point: Look, the Giants won't have anything to play for in Week 17. And the Vikings, who will struggle the next two weeks without the Williamses and possibly Gus Frerotte, will. That's our theory and we're sticking to it.

Arizona Cardinals (8-5) If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 4 seed. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Minnesota (W), at New England (W), vs. Seattle (L) Final Projected Record: 10-6; No. 3 seed. Extra Point: The NFC West champs won't relax because ... 1) the No. 2 seed is still within grasp; and 2) they still have a lot to prove.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-4) If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 5 seed. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Atlanta (L), vs. San Diego (W), vs. Oakland (W) Final Projected Record: 11-5; No. 5/6 seed. (tiebreaker with Atlanta would be strength of victory). Extra Point: Two home games against the AFC Worst to close out the season virtually guarantee the Bucs a playoff spot.

Dallas Cowboys (8-5) If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 6 seed (win tiebreaker with Atlanta on conference record). Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. NY Giants (W), vs. Baltimore (W), at Philadelphia (L) Final Projected Record: 10-6; out Extra Point: Back-to-back home games (the last two ever at Texas Stadium) will give the Cowboys a chance to save the season, but a trip to Philly in Week 17 might be asking too much.

Atlanta Falcons (8-5) If The Playoffs Started Today: Out. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Tampa Bay (W), at Minnesota (W), vs. St. Louis (W). Final Projected Record: 11-5; No. 5/6 seed. (tiebreaker with Tampa Bay would be strength of victory). Extra Point: Three December games left with nary a snowflake in sight for the story-of-the-season Falcons.

Philadelphia Eagles (7-5-1) If The Playoffs Started Today: Out. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Cleveland (W), at Washington (L), vs. Cowboys (W) Final Projected Record: 9-6-1; out. Extra Point: Winning out and hoping the Falcons stumble is a realistic possibility for the surging Eagles.

Washington Redskins (7-6) If The Playoffs Started Today: Out. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Cincinnati (W), vs. Philadelphia (W), at San Francisco (L) Final Projected Record: 9-7; out. Extra Point: Even if they win out, the Redskins would be fighting an uphill battle in tiebreakers.

Chicago Bears (7-6) If The Playoffs Started Today: Out. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. New Orleans (W), vs. Green Bay (L), at Houston (L) Final Projected Record: 8-8; out. Extra Point: With the Vikings potentially struggling down the stretch, the Bears could go into their road finale against the Texans with a shot at the division title.

New Orleans Saints (7-6) If The Playoffs Started Today: Out Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Chicago (L), at Detroit (W), vs. Carolina (L) Final Projected Record: 8-8; out. Extra Point: The Saints will continue to disappoint if they ride this win-one-lose-one system they've mastered the past two seasons.

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Tennessee Titans (12-1) If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 1 seed. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Houston (L); vs. Pittsburgh (W); at Indianapolis (L) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 13-3; No. 1 seed. Extra Point: The intrigue with the AFC South champion Titans is homefield advantage, which they can clinch Sunday with a win and a Steelers loss. Anything less and it will bring extra meaning to a Week 16 showdown at home against Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 2 seed. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Baltimore (W); at Tennessee (L); vs. Cleveland (W) Final Projected Record: 12-4; No. 2 seed. Extra Point: The Steelers will clinch the AFC North and guarantee themselves at least one playoff game at home with a win over the Ravens on Sunday.

Denver Broncos (8-5) If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 3 seed (win tiebreaker with N.Y. Jets on head-to-head). Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Carolina (L); vs. Buffalo (W); at San Diego (W) Final Projected Record: 10-6; No. 4 seed. Extra Point: A perfect finish could give the inconsistent Broncos the No. 3 seed, important for a team not interested in facing what will likely be a red-hot Colts team in round one.

New York Jets (8-5) If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 4 seed (win tiebreaker with New England and Miami on three-way, head-to-head). Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Buffalo (W); at Seattle (W); vs. Miami (W) Final Projected Record: 11-5; No. 3 seed. Extra Point: The road trip to Seattle scares us, but if the Jets take care of business there, they will host the Dolphins at the Meadowlands for all the marbles.

Indianapolis Colts (9-4) If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 5 seed (wins tiebreaker with Baltimore on head-to-head). Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Detroit (W), at Jacksonville (W), vs. Tennessee (W) Final Projected Record: 12-4; No. 5 seed. Extra Point: We give the Colts a win in Week 17 against the resting Titans, in a you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours payback for last season's playoff-clinching finale for Tennessee.

Baltimore Ravens (9-4) If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 6 Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Pittsburgh (L); at Dallas (L); vs. Jacksonville (W) Final Projected Record: 10-6; No. 6 seed (win tiebreaker with New England on conference record). Extra Point: If the Ravens can't win either of their next two brutal games, the goal should be to get through them healthy so they have enough left in the tank to clinch a playoff spot at home in Week 17.

New England Patriots (8-5) If The Playoffs Started Today: Out. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Oakland (W); vs. Arizona (L); at Buffalo (W) Final Projected Record: 10-6; out. Extra Point: Still very much alive, and with winnable road games sandwiched around a home game against a Pacific Time Zone team, the Patriots know the AFC East title is still possible.

Miami Dolphins (8-5) If The Playoffs Started Today: Out. Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. San Francisco (W), at Kansas City (W), at NY Jets (L) Final Projected Record: 10-6; out. Extra Point: If the Dolphins win their next two, which they should, they will enter Week 17 with control of their playoff destiny. Pretty remarkable for a one-win team from one season ago.

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