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NFL playoff picture: Betting on the Bears, waiting on the Patriots and hoping for the Colts

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There are seven weeks left in the NFL season. Already, the playoff picture is coming into view.

Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Tuesday is election day. Americans go to the polls to make important choices about who will lead our nation, states and municipalities. As soon as you take care of your civic responsibilities you can get back to thinking about football, and with the NFL playoffs just two months away, you have plenty to think about these days.

Let's take a look and see just how soon your hopes and dreams will be smashed by the tuck rule or some other random twist of fate.

The AFC Playoff Picture

AFC South: Houston Texans, 7-1, first seed*

AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, 6-2, second seed*

AFC East: New England Patriots, 5-3, third seed

AFC West: Denver Broncos, 5-3, fourth seed

Wildcard: Indianapolis Colts, 5-3, fifth seed

Wildcard: Pittsburgh Steelers, 5-3, sixth seed

* first round bye

It would be a pretty major upset if the Texans don't end up with a first-round bye at this point in the year. Make a case that there is another AFC better than the Texans. Well...still waiting. Soon, the Broncos or the Patriots will usurp the Ravens as the second-best team in the conference. In fact, the Steelers' win over the Giants last week makes me think the two teams swap places atop the AFC North following a Week 11 showdown.

Let's talk about the Broncos. How many column-inches got stuffed with assurances of Peyton Manning just needing time to round back into form? That might, in fact, be the case, or maybe somewhere underneath his giant forehead he figured out how to work within the limitations of a 36-year old quarterback with a surgically repaired neck. Either way, the wrinkles on John Elway's face are filled with delight as his plan gets closer and closer to fruition.

I don't know who made the Patriots' schedule for them, but I think we need a recount. Over the next four games cunning homeless person Bill Belichick gets to face the Bills, Colts, Jets and Dolphins. That Week 11 game against Indianapolis ought to bring out the inner Colts fan in you, especially if your team is being led to slaughter by the likes of Norv Turner or Andy Reid.

The NFC Playoff Picture

NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, 8-0, first seed*

NFC North: Chicago Bears, 7-1, second seed*

NFC West: San Francisco 49ers, 6-2, third seed

NFC East: New York Giants, 6-3, fourth seed

Wildcard: Green Bay Packers, 6-3, fifth seed

Wildcard: Seattle Seahawks, 5-4, sixth seed

Every now and then, some "not for real" chatter about the Falcons and Bears percolates up through the filters of the interwebs. Why? What is wrong with you people? The Falcons are undefeated, a notable accomplishment even when the first eight games of the scheduled do include all four AFC West teams. As for the Bears, maybe you only saw the Thursday turd against the Packers back in Week 2.

Where the Bears and Falcons are vulnerable is in the turnover department. The Bears' defense has picked up 28 turnovers, to give the team a league-best +16 turnover ratio. Some Sunday, the Peanut Punch isn't going to come up with four or five extra opportunities. That could very easily happen this week against a Texans team that has fumbled just four times and lost only one of those. The Falcons are in a similar boat too with a +10 turnover ratio, fourth-best in the NFL. A lack of turnovers might cost either one of those teams a game in the seven weeks ahead, but both are locks for the playoffs and probably a first-round bye. Unless ...

The Packers are really starting to come into their own, winners of four straight games. Aaron Rodgers has 15 touchdowns in that stretch. A Week 15 game in Chicago could be mighty interesting in sorting out the playoff picture.

If the Niners and the Giants had the fortune of being in the AFC, both could be in contention for first-round byes. As it stands now, both teams sit in the second tier of the NFC. The Giants have the Packers in Week 12 and the Falcons in Week 15. San Francisco still has St. Louis on the schedule twice, but they do at least have the Bears in Week 11 and the Patriots in Week 15.

Wildcard Weekend Matchups - AFC

Steelers vs. Patriots - Two teams most of America is really tired of hearing about could duke it out for the honors of being smashed by the Texans a week later.

Colts vs. Broncos - Think how much nicer it will be when the media has Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning to fixate on if this scenario happens? Of course, we'll still be force fed a diet consisting of 65 percent Tim Tebow taking the Broncos to the playoffs this time last year. Right now the winner of this game would take on the Ravens, probably beating them.

Wildcard Weekend Matchups - NFC

Seahawks vs. 49ers - Yes! This is the game we've all been waiting for, a pair of NFC West teams! If San Francisco wins -- and they will -- they travel to Atlanta the next week.

Packers vs. Giants - I'm not sure what to make of this game. It should be a very good one. Can the Giants' pass rush get to Rodgers like they do the Patriots? Or is this going to be like the last time the Giants went to the playoffs and rolled over just a year after winning the Super Bowl? The Bears will probably be waiting on the other side for whoever wins.

Outside Looking In

San Diego Chargers - Excuse me a moment. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Actually, this might happen, just as a cruel way of tossing reason aside and keeping Norv Turner as a head coach in the NFL and not somewhere in Conference USA where he belongs.

Miami Dolphins - You know that, right now, there are no other teams in the AFC with a winning record beyond the six mentioned above?

Minnesota Vikings - The dream is almost over in Minnesota, with two games against the Bears and one with the Packers over the next five weeks.

Detroit Lions - Jim Schwartz has finally pulled his tear out of the police blotter and got them focused on football. They have a tough schedule to play though.

Long Shots

The AFC - With the notable exceptions of the Browns, Chiefs, and Jaguars, any team in the AFC could sneak into the mix, even the Jets. That's the ugly side of parity.

New Orleans Saints - The defense isn't getting any better, but if Drew Brees and Co. can score 35 points every week, they might still sneak back into this thing.

Dallas Cowboys - The media is already picking at Jason Garrett's rotten carcass, but if the Cowboys can somehow manage to turn this thing around, we'll have the chance to write those Cowboy obituaries all over again next year.