Roughly 3 quarters of the NFL season are in the books, and so I’ve gone ahead and predicted each of the remaining 80 games to come up with the final records for each of the teams in the NFL. I’m not going to list each of the 32 teams and tell you how I see them finishing, but I do want to give you all a peek into what I view the playoffs setting up to be, and how I see it shaking out.

Division Winners

AFC East – New England Patriots (11-5)
AFC North – Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
AFC South – Indianapolis Colts (15-1)
AFC West – San Diego Chargers (11-5)

NFC East – Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
NFC North – Minnesota Vikings (14-2)
NFC South – New Orleans Saints (15-1)
NFC West – Arizona Cardinals (10-6)

Wild Card Teams

AFC: Pittsburgh (11-5) and Jacksonville (9-7)
Interesting note: I had 5 AFC teams finishing 9-7, and the tie-breaker was determined by conference record.  Jacksonville benefits from having all of its last five games against AFC opponents.

NFC: Green Bay (11-5) and Atlanta (10-6)

The Playoffs

For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the NFL does the playoffs, each of the top two teams in each conference gets a first-round bye.  Unless the NFL changed things on me this year, the division winners comprise the top 4 seeds in each conference (ranked by record), with the wild card teams taking spots 5 and 6 (also decided by record).  In the first week of the playoffs (there’s no off-week between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs) the #3 seed plays the #6 seed, and the #4 seed plays the #5 seed.  In the NCAA tournament, the brackets are setup ahead of time, but not in the NFL.  For these playoffs, the top seed will have its first playoff game against the lowest remaining seed, meaning that if the #6 seed wins its opening round game, that’s who the top seed plays.  If the #3 team defeats the #6 team in that game, then the #1 overall seed would play the winner of the #4 vs #5 game instead.  Nothing’s setup until after that #3 vs #6 game.

Here’s how I have it shaking out:

Wild Card Weekend

#6 Atlanta Falcons defeat #3 Philadelphia Eagles
I don’t think Donovan McNabb is durable enough to last the entire season, and if they make it to the playoffs, McNabb will probably end up on the sidelines.  Not that Kevin Kolb is a huge step-down, as I actually think he’s got a lot of talent.  I just think that the Falcons will get Matt Ryan back, and by the time the playoffs are around, the Falcons are going to be clicking, and Philly’s not going to be able to stop them.  It’ll be a good game, though, especially if DeSean Jackson is back in time.  Besides, it’s not a very big upset at all, given that the Falcons and Eagles are both predicted to have 10-6 records to end the season.

#5 Pittsburgh Steelers defeat #4 San Diego Chargers
The Chargers’ win-loss record benefited from being in one of the easier divisions in football (they got to play the Chiefs and Raiders a combined 4 times), but the Steelers – as a team – benefited from having played in a tough division (going up against Cincinnati and Baltimore a combined 4 times).  I don’t think San Diego is for real, and I think the Steelers are going to take this one by more than 10 points.

#5 Green Bay Packers defeat #4 Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals win the NFC West almost by default, with San Francisco not stepping up as well as it should’ve this year, Seattle not being a contender and St Louis being a door-mat.  The Green Bay Packers are a team on the rise, and their defense can play well when needed.  I think the injuries and lack of running game catch up with Arizona, allowing the Cheeseheads to get a win by less than 10.

#3 New England Patriots defeat #6 Jacksonville Jaguars
In the only non-upset of Wild Card weekend, Bill Belichek wills his team past the Jaguars, who play well in defeat.  Jacksonville just barely gets into the playoffs, but having faced New England week 16 (in a losing effort) doesn’t help their odds, as the Patriots learn all they need to know about Jacksonville to move on to the second round.

Playoffs – Week 2

#1 New Orleans Saints defeat #6 Atlanta Falcons
Although it’s tough to defeat the same team three times in the same season, the Saints should be able to defeat the Falcons, who still won’t be able to find a way to shut down Drew Brees, his receivers, OR the Saints defense.

#2 Cincinnati Bengals defeat #3 New England Patriots
People don’t give the Cincinnati Bengals enough credit, but they ARE for real this season.  They find ways to win, and Marvin Lewis will get his team ready for Belichek’s squad and find a way to put the Orange and Black back into the conference championships.

#1 Indianapolis Colts defeat #5 Pittsburgh Steelers
I can’t find it in myself to pick against Peyton Manning at this point in the playoffs.  I think he can use his receivers and Joseph Addai to navigate the Steeler defense, and I think that the Colts will find a way to shut down Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense JUST ENOUGh to have Indy win by less than 7.

#2 Minnesota Vikings defeat #5 Green Bay Packers
I really wanted to pick the Packers to win this game, as I do believe it’s hard for one team to get three victories over a single opponent in a given season, but alas, I think the Vikings are just too strong.  I don’t think Brett Favre will have a great game, but I think Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor will find a way to melt the Cheeseheads.

Conference Championships

New Orleans Saints defeat Minnesota Vikings
No matter who the Vikings have as quarterback for this game, the Saints defense is going to rush them and sack them and hit them and keep them from being effective.  Adrian Peterson and the Vikings rushing attack might be able to help control the clock for portions of the game, but they won’t be able to keep up with the high scoring Saints offense.  As much as people would like to see Brett Favre back in the Super Bowl this year, it’s not going to happen, and I’m predicting it’s a nice game for Darren Sharper, who has been one of the best defensive players in the league this year (and is also a former Minnesota Viking).

Indianapolis Colts defeat Cincinnati Bengals
The Colts and Peyton Manning have been here before, and most of the guys on Cincy haven’t.  That’s going to be the biggest thing.  I think the Bengals are going to get crushed under the pressure and the Colts are going to return to the Super Bowl in a game which starts out bad for the Bengals, gets closer around half-time, and gets out of reach as the Colts get some unanswered scores before the 3rd quarter is over.

Super Bowl

I realize that it’s not a very original pick having the Colts and the Saints in the Super Bowl, but unlike most of the people who will just pick those two teams because they’re still undefeated, I’ve given you my reasons.

Indianapolis Colts defeat New Orleans Saints
Although I think it’s highly likely that the Saints will try to use the old formula of hurrying Peyton Manning and putting him on his back as often as possible, I don’t think it’s going to work.  Drew Brees is going to be matched with his AFC counterpart, and on the big stage, Peyton Manning is going to have his team ready to play, calmed down, and ready to take care of business.  The Saints are going to be soo happy to be in the Super Bowl that they’re not going to be able to play the same way they have all year, and it’s going to cost them the trophy.