Handicapping the field as playoff race hits full stride
Posted: Tuesday November 29, 2005 12:27PM; Updated: Tuesday November 29, 2005 7:27PM
Carson Palmer and the Bengals appear to be headed for their first winning season since 1990.
As December in the NFL beckons, exactly half the league (16 teams) is above .500, and half is below the break-even mark. There are eight winning teams in each conference, and we're pretty confident those will be the teams to fill all 12 playoff spots.
Who's going to be there in January and who's going to see their drive for Detroit come up short in the season's final five weeks? Here's a look at the 16 playoff contenders, with a projection of their chances to participate in the post-season:
1. Indianapolis (11-0) -- Even Colts head coach Tony Dungy looked ahead after Monday night's win over Pittsburgh, saying he liked the game's "electric atmosphere,'' because that's how "it's going to be in the playoffs.'' We like Indy's chances to make the postseason, too, T.D. Playoff probability: 100 percent
2. New England (6-5) -- Pretty lofty ranking for a team barely breaking .500, right? Not when Miami and Buffalo (both 4-7) are the only teams chasing the Patriots. Playoff probability: 95 percent
3. Denver (9-2) -- The Broncos hold a two-game lead over both San Diego and Kansas City, and have beaten them both at INVESCO Field. Even a 2-3 finish would get them into the AFC field. Playoff probability: 85 percent
4. Cincinnati (8-3) -- If the Bengals can win this week at Pittsburgh, they'll rise to near-lock status -- and end their 15-year streak of non-winning seasons. If they lose, they're back in the AFC wild-card scramble. Playoff probability: 65 percent
5. Pittsburgh (7-4) -- The same applies for the Steelers, who have dropped two in a row. Beat the Bengals and they own the division lead by virtue of their two-game series sweep. Lose and they'll be fighting it out with Jacksonville, San Diego and Kansas City for the two wild-card slots. Playoff probability: 60 percent
6. Jacksonville (8-3) -- The Jaguars only face one team with a winning record (Indianapolis), but they're also playing without starting quarterback Byron Leftwich (broken ankle) for the next month. That makes them something of a tricky calculation. Playoff probability: 60 percent
7. San Diego (7-4) -- The Chargers should be 9-4 when they head into their brutal season-ending three-game stretch: at Indy, at Kansas City, Denver. But at that point, it might still take 11 wins to be absolutely sure of making it to the dance. Playoff probability: 40 percent
8. Kansas City (7-4): No contender has a tougher road to the playoffs: Denver, at Dallas, at Giants, San Diego and Cincinnati. Four first-place teams and the best second-place team in football (the Chargers). Playoff probability: 30 percent