GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 25: Jordy Nelson #87 and quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on December 25, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
The NFL playoffs are taking shape as we now know all but a handful of the postseason teams. The list starts with the Packers and Patriots, who are en route to securing the top seeds in the NFC and AFC.
We have seen 16 weeks in the 2011 NFL season and everything has gone as expected.
Actually, that's a lie. It's all been completely unexpected. The Packers are 14-1 and look like one of the best teams in NFL history. The Giants and Cowboys will settle the NFC East next weekend and Philly is already out. Drew Brees is about to break a 20-plus-year-old record. The 49ers might be Green Bay's toughest test (if they meet in the playoffs). The Jets are en route to missing the playoffs. Tim Tebow and Co. still control their own destiny but Oakland is coming quick.
And a few things we already knew -- the Patriots are really good and could wrap up the No. 1 seed next weekend. The Steelers and Ravens are also very, very good and will hold the No. 2 and No. 5 seeds this year.
Lots and lots went down in Week 16. Here's a roundup of what we saw and where we stand with the playoffs looming:
One spot remains up for grabs in the NFC. The winner of the Cowboys-Giants season finale will make the playoffs and the loser will be out. The NFL powers that be make the schedule in April hoping a win-and-you're-in situation like this pops up. These types of games are incredibly intense, we know that; but add in the fact that this is the Cowboys and Giants, two bitter rivals, and this Week 17 at the Meadowlands is going to be totally bonkers. That's the sole remaining playoff spot in the NFC to be determined.
The rest of the NFC playoffs look like this: The Packers wrapped up the top seed and the 49ers should secure the second seed, unless they stumble and the Saints catch them. New Orleans should finish with the third seed while the NFC East winner will be the fourth seed. The Falcons and Lions are both in and the results of Week 17 will determine which order they're in.
The AFC North and AFC West are still up for grabs. The AFC North is pretty easy -- if the Ravens win, they're the No. 2 seed and earn a first round bye. If they lose and the Steelers win, Pittsburgh earns the No. 2 seed. Either way, both teams are in -- it's just a matter of whether they get that first round bye or whether they're the fifth seed. In the AFC West, the Broncos win in Week 17 and they're in. If the Broncos lose, the Raiders can get in by winning.
The rest of the AFC playoffs look like this: The Patriots should clinch the top seed with a Week 17 win, which means they'll get a first round bye. Either Baltimore or Pittsburgh will get the No. 2 seed and the other will get the No. 5 seed. The Texans are locked into the third seed. Denver or Oakland, whoever comes out of the AFC West, would be the fourth seed. The sixth and final seed goes to Cincinnati if they win. If they lose, however, the Raiders, Jets and Titans are still alive in the AFC playoff picture.
Aaron Rodgers may have wrapped up his MVP award. Drew Brees may end the year with better stats, but Rodgers has clearly been the best quarterback throughout the season, and he showed that on Sunday, throwing for five touchdowns in a victory over the Bears. Every time you watch this guy you understand how lethal is on the field. Rodgers has really had just one "off game" and that came last week in Kansas City. An "average" game for him is somewhere around 300-plus yards and three touchdowns -- again, that's "average".
Where were Josh McCown and Kahlil Bell a few weeks ago? In the Bears' previous three games before Sunday, they had scored 14, 10 and three points and the blame for that was usually pointed somewhere in the direction of QB Caleb Hanie, who was starting in place of Jay Cutler. Hanie was, as many suspected, awful, so the Bears on Sunday night against Green Bay started Josh McCown. He didn't light the world on fire by any means, but he was clearly more capable than Hanie. Plus, Kahlil Bell rushed for 121 yards out of nowhere, only a few weeks after Matt Forte went down for the year. Nice performances by those guys, but if they had done it a little earlier, the Bears would be talking about the playoffs right now. As it stands now, Chicago is done this year.
The Adrian Peterson injury (torn ACL, MCL) could affect 2012. As Peter King points out, Wes Welker had a similar injury in 2009 and people were shocked that he came back in seven months. Edgerrin James had a similar injury in 2001 and it took him nine and a half months. We're now roughly nine months from the start of the 2012 season so the clock is already ticking.
Colts are dangerously close to losing the No. 1 pick. In fact, I'd say it's almost likely that the Colts are NOT drafting No. 1. If the Colts beat the Jags -- which is very, very possible -- and the 49ers beat the Rams -- which definitely should happen -- then the Rams get the top pick and the Colts are second. It's that simple. Remember three weeks ago when we couldn't fathom the Colts losing the rights to the top pick? It very well may happen this weekend.
Drew Brees makes his run at Dan Marino on Monday night. Brees is 305 yards away from Dan Marino's single-season passing record of 5,084 yards. Brees was 15 yards away from the record a couple years ago, and now he stands 305 yards away with two games to play. There's no doubt he should break it -- obliterate it, actually.