The Falcons lost. The Bears lost. The 49ers tied the Rams. If you belong to a cult seeking signs of the Apocalypse amid the NFC playoff picture, lace up your black Nikes and prepare to be called home very soon. Ignore the guffaws of those AFC worshiping heathens. Their world is as disorderly as yours.
Rational folks like us, we know that the end of the NFL season cannot be predicted. What we can do in order to get a better sense of the end of times is take our weekly assessment of where the playoff race stands. We also recommend burying a small stockpile of millet, Schlitz and dehydrated chicken wings in your back yard, just in case.
AFC Playoff Picture
AFC South: Houston Texans, 8-1, first seed
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, 7-2, second seed
AFC East: New England Patriots, 6-3, third seed
AFC West: Denver Broncos, 6-3, fourth seed
Wild Card: Indianapolis Colts, 6-3, fifth seed
Wild Card: Pittsburgh Steelers, 6-3, sixth seed
The Tennessee Titans did something important last week, reminding the world that the Miami Dolphins are not legitimate threats to the Patriots in the AFC East. You now have another reason to hate the Titans, though I get the sneaking suspicion that we will see Bud Adams again when Gabriel honks his horn.
Pittsburgh is not the only team in the AFC North to narrowly lose to the Chiefs this season. The Ravens beat Romeo Crennel's bunch by a 9-6 final. Who ever opens the postseason against the AFC North is likely to remember that fact.
There's also the issue of Ben Roethlisberger's injury, which could blow the whole playoff picture up.
Face it, the Texans are your Super Bowl favorite from the AFC at this point in the season. Houston and the Colts play twice in the final three weeks of the season. Those games are likely to tell us more about Indianapolis' veracity than Houston's.
NFC Playoff Picture
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, 8-1, first seed
NFC North: Chicago Bears, 7-2, second seed
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers, 6-2-1, third seed
NFC East: New York Giants, 6-4, fourth seed
Wild Card: Green Bay Packers, 6-3, fifth seed
Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks, 6-4, sixth seed
Don't panic. Atlanta's going to the playoffs, and it would be a big surprise if Mike Smith's team doesn't get to stay home during the Wild Card weekend. The only thing you need to worry about with the Falcons is whether or not the team can finally win a playoff game.
Chicago is the team you have to wonder about now that Jay Cutler's dealing with a concussion. If Cutler's out for this week's game in San Francisco, the Bears have to choose from Jason Campbell and Josh McCown. All of it sets up a scenario where Green Bay climbs back to the top of the division and lays claim to the second seed in the playoffs.
In a more just world, the playoffs would not include TWO teams from the NFC West. Seattle has the defense to stay in the chase, but Pete Carroll's team is also going to have to win games on the road.
Bad Eli returned to action for the Giants this month. If the rest of the NFC East weren't so bloody awful, the Giants would have reason to be concerned. New York should bounce back into form with a bye to cool Eli's heels in Week 11. Waiting for the Giants on the other side of the break is a date with the Packers, which means the top of the NFC standings could look very different in just two weeks.
Wildcard Weekend Matchups
Steelers vs. Patriots - The last time these two teams squared off in the postseason was January 2005, Ben Roethlisberger's rookie year. New England went on to win the Super Bowl. Could that happen again this year? The Patriots, assuming a win here, would get the Texans in the Divisional game.
Colts vs. Broncos - We all really want this game to happen, preferably in Indianapolis. The winner of this game would get the Ravens, which probably means another trip to the AFC Championship game for Peyton Manning.
Seahawks vs. 49ers - So much NFC West. At least this one wouldn't result in a tie. The Falcons await the winner, and we anticipate some excellent side-by-side graphics of Mike Smith and Jim Harbaugh.
Packers vs. Giants - Another trivia quirk for you. The Giants have played the Packers twice in the playoffs in the last decade. Each time, the Giants have gone on to win a Super Bowl. Chicago, the way it looks now, gets a shot at the winner of this one.
Outside Looking In
San Diego Chargers - Norv Turner is no dummy, despite being such an easy target. He and A.J. Smith have figured out that any team capable of winning eight games has a chance to sneak into the AFC playoff race. This is one of the greatest cosmic injustices, and it could mean that Norv Turner is still coaching in the NFL when 2013 rolls around.
Minnesota Vikings - We'll know more about the Vikings soon enough. After a bye this week, Minnesota plays Detroit and Green Bay on the road.
New Orleans Saints - Gone is the Stalinist photo of Sean Payton from the practice room. Someone replaced it with a picture of last year's Patriots team that went all the way to the Super Bowl in spite of having no defense to speak of.