It's that time of the year.
Now that Thanksgiving and all that turkey that we all stuffed ourselves with is over and Christmas is just around the corner, it's time to start to thinking about the NFL playoffs.
Jim Mora might not agree, but the playoff picture is starting to take shape. It's still a little fuzzy, but within the next five weeks things will become crystal clear.
For the first time in a while the Redskins are among the contenders to make the playoffs, so lets' start with the NFC East. The Giants are still in charge and have a two-game lead over the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.
The Giants always play their best football in December, so there's no reason to think they won't run away with the title. The Redskins host the Giants next Monday, and a win by the Skins would really shake things up and pull them, and potentially Dallas, within a game of first. As a Cowboys fan, I'd almost consider rooting for the Redskins -- almost.
The NFC South is a lot clearer. The Falcons have a four-game lead with five games left and should easily win the title. Tampa Bay and New Orleans are still in the running for a wild card spot, but that's all they can really hope for.
The Chicago Bears have a one-game lead on Green Bay, but the Packers did win their earlier meeting in the regular season. They play again on Dec. 16 at Chicago, which could go a long way to determining the champion. Don't forget the replacement refs pretty much took a game away from the Packers, and it could end up being a pivotal game as far as the Packers winning the division.
Most likely, whoever doesn't win the division title will probably get the first wild card spot. Right now the Packers have a two-game lead for that position.
The NFC West doesn't have a lot of suspense, as San Francisco is running away with the title. The 49ers have a 2 1/2 game lead with five games remaining. And they seem to be doing just fine with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.
While the Bears or Packers should get the one wild card spot, the other one is very much up for grabs. The Buccaneers, Vikings, Seahawks, Redskins, Cowboys and Saints are all most likely going to be battling for that one playoff berth. I actually like the Saints to get it. Drew Brees knows how to win and that offense is still strong, even without suspended head coach Sean Payton there running the team.
The AFC is a little clearer at the top, (kind of like the NVD's football forecast). New England (East), Houston (South), Baltimore (North) and Denver (West) all have at least a three-game lead in their division. I'm not sure I can remember a year where the division races have been so lopsided in one conference.
The wild card race is a little bit different. Indianapolis (Peyton who?) at 7-4 has a one-game lead for the first spot, while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are tied for the second one. Miami is a game behind the Steelers and Bengals.
The key will probably be, when does Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger return? If he doesn't return soon, the Steelers may be sitting at home for the playoffs.
The Texans and the Falcons have the best records in the NFL, but does anyone really believe either of them will make it to the Super Bowl?
Throughout the season I have switched my picks on who I think will win it all this year, and I expect that to continue the rest of the way. Just when it looks like one team is the team to beat, they lose.
I think that's a good thing. It's great to go into the playoffs and have no idea who will win it all -- it's simply the way it should be. And the last few years, that's how things have went.
That means that pretty much everyone has a chance, and fans can still boast that even their team can win the Super Bowl this year. Yes, even the Redskin fans.
With five weeks left, business is about to pick up around the NFL, and I for one can't wait to see how it all unfolds.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org