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Sunday, January 1st
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Playoff Scenarios

More by Ed Fulda
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I know itís a little early to start thinking about the playoffs, but letís face facts. The Chiefs, barring a complete collapse, are going to be in the playoffs and will probably be the top seed. The big questions left are which AFC teams are going to join the Chiefs in the post season and which ones pose the biggest threat.

After nine games, the Colts, Titans, and Patriots own a 7-2 record. The Dolphins, Ravens, and Broncos are all 5-4. Buffalo and Cincinnati are lurking in the shadows with a 4-5 mark. Last, and certainly least, Cleveland and Pittsburgh are still alive at 3-6 because the AFC North is so weak. The Jets, Texans, Jaguars, Chargers, and Raiders are toast.

Baltimore is in the worst shape of the teams with a winning record. The loss of their starting QB, Kyle Boller, for the remainder of the season will effectively destroy their chance to go to the big dance. The remaining schedule includes games against the Dolphins, Seahawks, 49ers, and Bengals. If they can hold on to win the division, it will only be because Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh are so bad.

The Dolphins seem ready to go into their late-season swoon earlier than usual. Jay Fiedler and Brian Griese are sub-standard QBs. Dave Wannstedt is not a very good head coach. Finally, the Dolphins have to play the Ravens, Redskins, Cowboys, Patriots, Eagles, Bills, and Jets to round out the season. However, their only real competition for the final wild card spot is the Broncos.

The Broncos have been ravaged by injuries. They are an average team when Jake Plummer is healthy and below average when heís out. They are four games behind the Chiefs and have almost no chance to win the division. Still, the Broncos are in decent shape for a run at a wild card spot because their remaining schedule is fairly easy (although they do have to face the Chiefs, Colts, and Packers) and the Dolphins are on the verge of collapse.

Cincinnati has yet to beat anyone of note and must face the Chiefs, Ravens, 49ers, and Rams down the stretch. There is an outside chance that they can overtake the Ravens for the division title, but that would be the only way the Bengals make the playoffs.

The Bills still have to play the Colts, Dolphins, Titans, and Patriots. They are three games behind the division leader with seven games left to play. Drew Bledsoe is their starting QB. Realistically, the Bills have almost no chance for a playoff spot.

So much for the pretenders.

The Colts, Titans, and Patriots are obvious locks to make the post season, but all three teams have issues.

New England still has to face the Cowboys, Colts, Dolphins, and Bills. The team has been hit with major injuries to its top defensive players, but has somehow found a way to keep winning. You have to wonder how long the Patriots can keep it up, especially since their running game is spotty.

The Colts suffered a major blow when Marvin Harrison got injured and still have to face the Bills, Patriots, Titans, and Broncos down the stretch. The team could replace Edgerrin James when he was out earlier in the season, but the Colts cannot adequately replace Harrison. How long he remains out will determine whether the Colts win the division or have to settle for a wild card spot.

The Titans are probably in the best shape. The remaining schedule is fairly easy except for games against the Colts and Buccaneers (and both of these games are at home where the Titans are almost unbeatable). Steve McNair is having an excellent season and the defense is playing well despite a rash of injuries. Where the Titans are vulnerable is in the running game. The lack of a running game has not been a problem so far but teams that canít run in January generally donít survive and Eddie George is a shell of his former self.

When the dust settles, expect KC, Tennessee, Baltimore, and New England to win their divisions. Indianapolis and Denver will be the wild cards. Under this scenario, Indianapolis would travel to Baltimore and Denver would play in New England in the wild card games. Expect Indy and New England to come out as winners. Indy would then travel to Tennessee and New England to KC for the divisional games. It looks like Tennessee vs. KC in the conference championship game. That ought to be an excellent game, but the Titansí lack of a running game will catch up with them and the Chiefs will go to Houston.

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