With 12 weeks remaining in the NFL season, divisional play is starting to heat up, making for an interesting stretch run for the wild-card spots and the battle for the eight divisional championship crowns. Every year there are surprise teams, those that drafted well and the continued building of their championship foundation is huge. If the playoffs started today, there would be a few surprises.
In the AFC, the resurgence of the Buffalo Bills is the big story and deservingly so. This team is aggressive on defense and is winning the turnover differential. Just think: If Carolina would have passed on quarterback Cam Newton in the 2011 draft, the Bills’ personnel department would have found themselves in a tough position. It was obvious toward the end of the 2010 season that the Bills had their quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick. A leader that is putting his team on his back along with the production from running back Fred Jackson, they truly believe and are back, although they will have to show they can stay consistent down the stretch.
In the NFC, the early success of the Detroit Lions has taken the league by storm. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, has remained healthy and hopefully will for the remainder of the season. The Lions’ playoff run is tied to his healtht. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is in his element calling plays, putting Blue players (playmakers and difference-makers) in position to make plays like tight end Brandon Pettigrew, running back Jahvid Best, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who the league can’t cover, and tackle Gosder Cherilus, one of their bookend tackles. The Lions’ defense has set the tone by man-handling opponents offenses, punching them in the mouth and bullying them into submission in every game played. Led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who may be this year’s NFL Defensive MVP; defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, who apply consistent pressure off the edge, and let’s not forget hard hitting safety Louis Delmas.
Anything can happen in the upcoming weeks. Injuries, scheme changes and the unpredictability of turnovers will make for an interesting 12 weeks.
Here are my picks for this weekend:
St. Louis @ Green Bay = Packers
Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh = Steelers
Philadelphia @ Washington = Eagles
San Francisco @ Detroit = Lions
Carolina @Atlanta = Panthers
Indianapolis @Cincinnati = Bengals
Buffalo @ New York Giants = Bills
Houston @ Baltimore = Ravens
Cleveland @Oakland = Raiders
Dallas @ New England = Patriots
New Orleans @ Tampa Bay = Saints
Minnesota @Chicago = Bears
Monday Night Football
Miami @ New York Jets = Jets