The NFL playoff picture for the 2011 season is slowly but surely coming into focus. We're nearing the midpoint of the season with eight weeks down and nine to go. Some divisions, like the NFC West, are essentially decided but others, like the AFC East and NFC South, have no clear leader right now.
Who's going to the playoffs in 2011? Here are SB Nation's predictions at the midpoint.
AFC East: Patriots. New England has some issues on defense this season but they've shown over the last decade that they can consistently win games and that won't change this year. I can see 11 wins out of New England this year.
AFC North: Steelers. Pittsburgh or Baltimore could win this. It seems like they're the exact same team but Pittsburgh, the defending AFC champs, ultimately pull it out. Baltimore gets in with a Wildcard.
AFC South: Texans. This is just as much about the Texans as it is their competition in the AFC South. Last year, the Jaguars and Colts were involved in the division title race but this year both teams are nowhere near the AFC South title talk. The Texans and that offense win enough to finally put themselves in the playoffs.
AFC West: Chargers. There's a three-way tie in the AFC West between the Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders but we think Philip Rivers eventually gets his act together and leads the Chargers to an AFC West title.
Wildcard: Ravens and Bills. The Wildcard teams mean that the Jets miss out on the playoffs for the first time in the Rex Ryan era. They clearly have the talent to make a run but their inconsistency this season comes back to bite them while the Bills keep on winning.
NFC East: Eagles. This is a tough pick because the Eagles, while clearly talented, haven't been the best team in the first half of the division. They're 3-4 while the Giants have a two-game lead at 5-2 through the first eight weeks of the season. Philly has enough talent to come back and take the division, though.
NFC North: Packers. Despite the Lions' resurgence, this is almost the easiest pick of them all. The Packers are head and shoulders the best team in the league. The question is who, if anyone, beats them.
NFC West: 49ers. We said the Packers' winning the NFC North was almost the easiest pick. We say almost because the 49ers are the easiest division winner pick of the year. They have a four-game lead and, if things fall right, they could have the division wrapped up by Thanksgiving.
Wildcards: Saints and Lions. Detroit makes it at 6-2 right now and they'd probably win the division if they were anywhere but the NFC North with the Packers. The Saints and Falcons will battle it out in the NFC South and both teams will make it into the playoffs.
AFC Championship: Ravens over Steelers. A Wildcard team makes the Super Bowl as Joe Flacco and the Ravens finally make it through the AFC to reach the big game. The Ravens offense will continue to come into their own and topple the Steelers.
NFC Championship: Packers over 49ers. Indeed, the 49ers making the NFC Championship game by limiting their mistakes and playing excellent defense. Ultimately, though, you can't pick against the Packers making the Super Bowl. They're in another world compared to the rest of the league right now.
Super Bowl: Packers over Ravens. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers win two in a row. Can you pick anyone else to win the Super Bowl right now?