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Last updated: Wed. Dec. 04, 2013 - 02:07 am EDT

COLUMN

Which NFL teams have realistic playoff dreams?

Race for the final wildcard spots should be great

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The NFL must be doing something right. With four weeks left in the season, the New York Zombies and Miami Incognitos still have a shot at the playoffs.

Wait, that sounds wrong.

But it's true. The Zombies (aka Giants) remain undead despite a seeming season-killing 0-6 start and Dolphins (aka Incognitos) lack sensitivity training but can still pick on the right people sometimes.

Parity can be a blessing and curse, but there's no question it exists in the NFL.

Only one team – the Seattle Seahawks – can say they're in the playoffs today.

Sure, some teams are out of the running, including the Houston Astros 2.0 and the Atlanta Doves, who were considered contenders back in September. If you follow those teams, you're already pining for Mel Kiper Jr. and the NFL Combine 40-yard dash times.

Nearly everyone else can buckle up for some playoff positioning fun through December.

Destiny, if not a first-round bye, seems to have reserved a playoff spot for the NFC's Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers and probably San Francisco 49ers.

On the AFC side, near locks are the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots (thanks to quality play) and Indianapolis Colts (thanks to timely wins and lousy AFC South foes). The Kansas City Chiefs are likely in, too, despite three straight losses, thanks to their nine wins and the fact the next-closest wildcard contenders are 6-6 (Dolphins, Ravens).

At the risk of nothing other than being wrong (again), here's how I see the playoff picture ultimately shaking out, with seeds and projected records:

AFC

No.1 seed: Denver Broncos (14-2). Peyton and friends have home games against the Titans and Chargers and road games at Houston and Oakland. I smell a sweep.

No.2 seed: New England Patriots (13-3). I like the Patriots sweeping their last four games, too, vs. the Browns, at the Dolphins and Ravens, and home vs. Buffalo. They could, I suppose, lose at Baltimore, but that won't change their seeding.

No.3 seed: Cincinnati Bengals (11-5). This week's home game against the Colts looks big, and it is. They should all but clinch the No.3 seed with a win.

No.4 seed: Indianapolis Colts (10-6). I look for the Colts to split their remaining games, with wins at home (vs. Texans, Jaguars) and losses on the road (Bengals, Chiefs). That's survival mode.

No.5 seed: Kansas City Chiefs (12-4). Mini-slump will end with road wins at Washington and Oakland and a home win over Colts before a loss at San Diego.

No.6 seed: Baltimore Ravens (8-8). They'll get in, barely, with a win at Cincinnati in the season finale. They could end up 9-7 if they surprise the Lions at Detroit in two weeks.

Alternative ending: The Bengals beat the Ravens in the season finale, giving the Dolphins the No.6 seed leading to reinstating Richie Incognito for the playoffs. Hugs all around.

NFC

No.1 seed: Seattle Seahawks (15-1). They're emerging as the clear Super Bowl favorite and home-field advantage almost guarantees a trip to the Super Bowl. How can any team beat the Seahawks' defense in Seattle?

No.2 seed: New Orleans Saints (12-4). Yeah, they got spanked at Seattle (and likely would again in a rematch). But they should split with Carolina and win their other games at St. Louis and home vs. Tampa Bay.

No.3 seed: Detroit Lions (10-6). Just a reminder that being the No.3 seed doesn't mean you're the third-best team. Division winners take the first four spots. That said, the Lions could be that team that gets hot down the stretch.

No.4 seed: Dallas Cowboys (10-6). It likely comes down to the season finale of the Philadelphia Eagles at the Cowboys for the division title. Boy, is it tempting to pick the Eagles.

No.5 seed: Carolina Panthers (12-4). They say you should wait until his third season before judging an NFL quarterback. Cam Newton is winning in Year 3. That says it all.

No.6 seed: San Francisco 49ers (11-5). Yes, both Harbaughs are headed to the playoffs again. Neither one is going to the Super Bowl this year.

Alternative ending: The Arizona Cardinals knock off the 49ers in the season finale, handing the sixth seed to the Eagles and leaving Jim Harbaugh in a very sour mood.

rhayes@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.


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