NFL playoff picture after Week 10
You usually have to parse his words in a postgame setting to glean even so much as a nugget of useful information, but leave it to Bill Belichick late Sunday night to offer the only summation that truly fits this most unpredictable of NFL seasons.
Asked how it was that his Patriots team could look so dominated one week in Cleveland and so dominant the next in Pittsburgh, Belichick tossed off one of his trademark shrugs and said: "That's the NFL. That's the NFL. You never know. If you knew what was going to happen in this league, you could make a lot of money.''
If only. Ten weeks into the 17-week drama that is the NFL's regular season, we still don't know much, if anything, about how the story will end. Not when there's so much conflicting and confounding information streaming in on a near-weekly basis.
Last week at this time, there was a healthy amount of projection starting to build that the Steelers and Giants were sturdy, well-grounded teams that wore the sheen of Super Bowl favorites in their respective conferences. Even my colleague and SI.com's astute NFL contributor, Kerry Byrne, had recently thrown his usually reliable "Defensive Hog Index'' behind the notion that Pittsburgh and New York had
I was starting to agree with that assessment, and the Steelers and Giants were No. 1 and 2, respectively, in my weekly
There were other examples of the misdirection play this season has been from Kickoff Weekend on, of course.
• Last-place Denver hanging 49 points on the first-place Chiefs at Invesco Field, just three weeks after the Broncos allowed Oakland to score 59 in their most recent home game. So much for a sense of order in the AFC West.
• Once 5-2, Kansas City tumbling on the road within the division for a second consecutive week, slipping back into that 5-4 morass that seems to represent about half the league. The Raiders (5-4), praise be, are actually in first place through 10 weeks.
• Ditto for Tennessee, which lost 29-17 at Miami despite its new toy, Randy Moss, and the Dolphins going through every quarterback in town this side of Earl Morrall. Just the other day, I was writing about
• On Monday night, we witnessed the Michael Vick-led Eagles' demolition of the Redskins -- to the tune of 59-28 -- just six weeks after Washington had handled Philadelphia 17-12 at Lincoln Financial Field. Get ready for a wave of breathless Eagles-are-Super-Bowl-bound coverage, which will somehow still manage to be out of date the moment it's generated.
But enough about what we don't know when it comes to the NFL's 2010. Let's embrace what we do have this season. True excellence is in short supply, but we may be in store for the mother of all playoff races. With 10 weeks down and seven to go, here's a look at what we've got so far, and what the 12-team postseason field would be if the playoffs opened today:
1. Atlanta (7-2)
-- Philadelphia beats the Giants out for the NFC East based on their 2-1 record against common opponents (New York is 1-2 in that department).
-- Chicago wins the NFC North because it beat Green Bay head-to-head.
-- The Giants get the No. 5 seed based on their superior conference record (5-1), compared to New Orleans (5-2), Green Bay (4-2) and Tampa Bay (4-2).
-- New Orleans beats out Tampa Bay for a wild-card berth because the Saints defeated the Bucs head-to-head, and the Saints have the edge over Green Bay for the sixth seed because of their 5-2 conference record is better than Green Bay's 4-2.
-- NFC East: We're lucky in that the top two teams, the Eagles and Giants, have both of their matchups left. They play next Sunday night in Philly, then have their rematch in New Jersey in Week 15. Another key game in the potential wild-card chase is Giants at Packers in Week 16.
-- NFC North: If we get that far, Chicago at Green Bay in Week 17 is the showdown that could decide the division title. Philadelphia at Chicago in Week 12 could be significant in the wild-card picture.
-- NFC South: With three teams very much alive for what's likely to be two playoff spots, three games stand out as pivotal: Atlanta at Tampa Bay in Week 13, New Orleans at Atlanta in Week 16, and Tampa Bay at New Orleans in Week 17.
-- NFC West: Somebody's going to win this puppy and get the No. 4 playoff seed that annually goes to both West Division champs. St. Louis at Seattle in Week 17 looms the biggest of the big games, but don't overlook San Francisco at St. Louis in Week 16 if the 49ers">49ers make a charge.
1. New York Jets (7-2)
-- Oakland (5-4) is in first place in the AFC West because the Raiders beat Kansas City (5-4) head-to-head in overtime in Week 9.
-- AFC East: With the Jets and Patriots being two of the NFL's three 7-2 teams, it's not a stretch to bill New York at New England in Week 13 as the league's game of the year. But there's plenty more showdowns to come involving this division, including this week's Colts at Patriots annual grudge match, Miami at the Jets in Week 14, the Jets at Pittsburgh in Week 15, or Miami at New England in Week 17.
-- AFC North: What a blast Week 13 should be. Before we get Jets-Patriots on Monday night, we get Steelers at Ravens on Sunday night. If Baltimore can win at home and sweep Pittsburgh, that likely will be the game that decides the AFC North champion. But games like Jets at Steelers in Week 15, Ravens at Browns in Week 16, and Steelers at Browns in Week 17 should make for compelling theater as well.
-- AFC South: In terms of who wins the division that Indianapolis has dominated since the 2002 realignment, the two games that figure to mean the most will be Colts at Titans in Week 14, and Titans at Colts in Week 17. But if the Jaguars keep hanging around, they'll be going for a sweep of the Colts in Indy in Week 15. And playoff implications will also be in play this week when the Colts face the Patriots, and next week, when the resurgent Chargers visit the Colts (who they own).
-- AFC West: Wouldn't it be fun if the Oakland at Kansas City game in Week 17 was for all the marbles? The two former AFL rivals have already played one overtime thriller this season. Do I hear two? But the Raiders (Week 13) and Chiefs (Week 14) still have to play at San Diego, and if the Chargers keep winning, maybe their game at Denver in Week 17 will have more meaning than even the Oakland at Kansas City showdown.