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The NFL
Jeffri Chadiha
December 04, 2006
Shakeout Time With five weeks left, which teams will emerge from the pack, and which will be left out in the cold come January?
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December 04, 2006

The Nfl

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What's not to like
New Orleans is last in the NFC in turnover margin at minus-9.

What to expect
The Saints have some difficult games in the final weeks—on the road against the Cowboys and the Giants, a season-ending date at home with the Panthers at the Superdome—but they're tough enough to win at least one of those, while dispatching the 49ers and the Redskins at home, to join the Giants as an NFC wild card.

PANTHERS (6--5)
Remaining opponents: 27--28
What's to like
The defense is finally living up to its preseason billing. Defensive end Julius Peppers (11 sacks) has been tremendous all season, and now he's getting help from unheralded players such as second-year outside linebacker Thomas Davis and middle linebacker Chris Draft. The Panthers had 17 sacks through eight games, then tacked on 11 in their next three.

What's not to like
The offense is suddenly struggling to move the ball. Carolina has generated only 28 points in its last two games. Aside from Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith, nobody scares the opposing defense.

What to expect
The most resilient team in the NFL, the Panthers will rally to win the NFC South. But they still haven't come close to resembling the Super Bowl team many thought they were.

SEAHAWKS (7--4)
Remaining opponents: 26--29
What's to like
For the first time this season the reigning NFC champs have their top weapons on offense. The absences of running back Shaun Alexander (sidelined six games with a broken left foot) and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (four games with a sprained right knee) explain the offense's lack of continuity.

What's not to like
The defense has given up 28 or more points five times and allowed 49ers running back Frank Gore to carve it up for 212 rushing yards.

What to expect
With a soft schedule left, the Seahawks will win the NFC West, but another Super Bowl appearance is a reach.

AFC JETS (6--5)
Remaining opponents: 21--34
What's to like
Rookie coach Eric Mangini has inspired a limited team to reach for the playoffs.

What's not to like
Motivation can't make up for all the Jets' deficiencies. The attack lacks playmakers, and the defense doesn't have the right personnel to effectively run the 3--4 employed by Mangini and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.

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