NFL thoughts

dshirley@macon.comDecember 18, 2012 

There are two weeks remaining in the regular season, and there is a ton still to be decided in the NFC and AFC playoff hunts, especially in the NFC.

NFC playoff update

1. Atlanta 12-2, 2. San Francisco 10-3-1, 3. Green Bay 10-4, 4. Washington 8-6, 5. Seattle 9-5, 6. Minnesota 8-6, 7. Chicago 8-6, 8. Dallas 8-6, 9. New York Giants 8-6.

Atlanta and Green Bay have clinched their division, while San Francisco has clinched a spot but not yet its division. The Falcons can clinch the home-field advantage with one more win, while San Francisco can clinch its division with a win and is battling Green Bay for a bye.

After that? Things get crazy.

Washington has the tiebreaker right now over Dallas and New York in the East. The Redskins and Cowboys play in the final week of the season, while Washington plays at Philadelphia on Sunday and Dallas hosts New Orleans. The Giants went from having control of this division to controlling, really, nothing by losing four of their past six games. New York plays at Baltimore and hosts Philadelphia to finish the season.

Seattle is in the best shape of any of the teams chasing down the leaders. The Seahawks have won five of their past six games, and they host San San Francisco and St. Louis to finish.

Minnesota, on the other hand, has the toughest schedule the rest of the way, playing at Houston and hosting Green Bay.

And then there's Chicago. The Bears were 7-1 and fighting for the top seed midway through the season, but they have lost five of their past six and finish at Arizona and at Detroit.

AFC playoff update

1. Houston 12-2, 2. Denver 11-3, 3. New England 10-4, 4. Baltimore 9-5, 5. Indianapolis 9-5, 6. Cincinnati 8-6, 7. Pittsburgh 7-7.

Houston, Denver and New England have clinched their divisions, while Baltimore has clinched a spot.

Things are a little more clear in the AFC than the NFC.

Indianapolis is in good shape at 9-5 and will play at Kansas City and host Houston. Cincinnati stays in the North for its final two games: at Pittsburgh and home to Baltimore. Pittsburgh (home to Cleveland in the final week) is also in the hunt, while Miami (vs. Buffalo and at New England) has an outside, long shot to even think about getting in.

So while the NFC has six teams battling for three spots, with two division titles still up for grabs, the AFC is really down to four teams vying for two spots.

Quick week for Falcons

The Falcons had their best performance of the season beating the Giants 34-0 on Sunday and have a quick turnaround for a trip to Detroit on Saturday.

If Atlanta wins that game or its final game against Tampa Bay, it will be at home for the NFC playoffs. The Falcons are 7-0 at home and 5-2 on the road, and the Lions and Buccaneers simply are playing out the string, so Atlanta should be in good shape.

Too much is made of statement games in the league, which changes from week to week, but the Falcons made a big statement Sunday with the win over New York. Atlanta hasn't gotten much respect this season because of its easy schedule, but the win over Giants was certainly impressive. Even though most of the national talk about that game focused on what is wrong with the Giants, the Falcons had a lot to do with that and made the defending Super Bowl champions look really bad.

Big-time win

The San Francisco-New England game Sunday night might have been the best game of the season so far.

The 49ers looked dominant through two-plus quarters and then saw firsthand just how good Tom Brady and New England's offense are.

The 49ers' 41-34 victory certainly lived up to the prime-time spotlight (unlike Tennessee's 14-10 win over the New York Jets on Monday), and it was a game that could be a Super Bowl preview.

MVP race

Peyton Manning is having a great season, for sure. Brady is, too.

But Adrian Peterson should be the clear favorite for the MVP. Less than a year after a terrible knee injury, Peterson has rushed for 1,812 yards and has a chance to break the league's record for rushing yards in a season.

To have that kind of season in a league that has moved away from a focus on the running game to more a passing league is amazing. To do it less than a year after the knee injury is something else altogether.

And Peterson has done this with a team that is in the playoff hunt and with an offense that doesn't have a strong passing game or many other weapons. Opposing defenses go into games with the Vikings knowing the only threat is Peterson, and they still can't stop him.






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