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If the Season Ended Today…

With Week 12 underway and the Thanksgiving Day games in the rearview mirror, the playoff picture is becoming more and clearer. Yes, the usual suspects are in the process of securing their playoff seed with the exception of the Colts, yet the AFC is still wide open. One could easily figure out the New England Patriots, Pittsburg Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens are a lock, but who else is in? Who will be sitting out come January? In addition, which team on the bubble has the best shot of getting in…?

2012 AFC Playoffs Tickets

1.     Houston Texans (8-3)

As of Week 12, the current number one seed in the conference is the Houston Texans. They have the league’s number one ranked defense, a top five passing attack, and a two back combo in Ben Tate and Arian Foster. This may be the year the Texans finally get over their playoff drought and reach the postseason for the first time in franchise history. The biggest concern moving forward is the health of star wide-out Andre Johnson. He has yet to be health for a full year. With added postseason play, this may spell out an early exit for Houston. It will all come down to the game management by the new starter at quarterback T.J. Yates. Yates is coming into a comfortable scenario. Of the defense plays well down the stretch and the running game keeps Houston out for any sort of trouble, the Texans will surprise many come playoff time.

2.     New England Patriots (8-3)

This is no surprise. The Patriots are one of the top teams in the conference heading into December. With the NFL’s easiest remaining schedule, it looks like things will not change all that much. Tom Brady is still thee quarterback and that alone gives this team any shot of playing through January. The biggest indictment on this roster is their sub-par talent in the defensive backfield. Granted the last three weeks this undrafted unit has come together somewhat, there is still much to be desired. The front seven has been picking up the slack for the latter portion of the season. Offseason acquisitions such as Andre Carter and Mark Anderson were slow to start, yet have proven to be a force off the edges. Offensively the Patriots have nothing to concern themselves with. They are healthy, on point, and surprisingly balanced. If the defensive unit can keep tackling, this team will be a force in January.

3.     Baltimore Ravens (8-3)

The Ravens are sitting at projected third seed and atop the AFC North. Coming off two huge wins, the Ravens seem to be making a statement. Their defensive captain and anchor, Linebacker Ray Lewis, has been sidelined with a toe injury. While he may not be in pads, he is still on the bench offering up advice and words of encouragement to his fellow teammates. Although the Ravens look good on paper this season, no one truly knows which Ravens squad will show up on Sundays. Will it be the highflying offense and shutdown defense? Alternatively, the passive, turnover prone units we have seen against Seattle and Jacksonville. Joe Flacco has to either put up or shut up this yeah. He has been close in recent years, but there is no better time than the present.

 4.     Oakland Raiders (7-4)

Much has changed in Oakland since the last time they went to the playoffs. The Raiders lead a tight race in the AFC West. With the Broncos surging, Oakland needs these next few weeks to cement their spot in the playoffs. Oakland’s schedule is not easy by any means including a week 13 matchup with the currently undefeated Packers. The Raiders could find themselves on the outside looking in come week 17.

5.     Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3)

Quietly in the fifth seed are the Steelers. They have proven to be road tested and road tough. After an embarrassing loss to the Ravens earlier this season, they ripped off six of seven wins before falling to the Ravens again in week 9. The health of Ben Roethlisberger in question, this Steelers team is not a lock for the playoffs any more. With the added injury of star defensive back Troy Polamalu, the Steelers need to find alternative help.

6.     Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)

Arguably, the biggest surprise in the NFL this season has to be the play of the Cincinnati Bengals. After free agency dismantled the defense and offense, the Bengals went ahead and started at rookie at both quarterback and wide receiver. Make no mistake these young men can play. Rookie Andy Dalton, out of TCU, has proven he can make the kind of throws that separate him from other young players at his position. Rookie receiver A.J. Green has proven he is an outside the numbers threat that any defense has to account for. The lingering hamstring injury is a question for him, but the Bengals have had success running the football this season. Defensively they have been good but can be better. This unit is still young and with the loss of cornerback Jonathan Joseph, it will take time to really gel as a unit.

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In The Hunt:

There are few teams still left in contention for a playoff bid. Although Buffalo is a great story this season, they are too young and inexperienced to make a playoff push. Surprisingly the Chargers are on the outside looking in. A team known for starting slow and finishing strong has done the complete opposite this year. The Chargers may find themselves out of the playoffs and Norv Turner may be out of a job.

The New York Jets are in interesting team. They play when they want to play. Mark Sanchez can light up the scoreboard or make fans want to put a bag over their head. The defense is the only redeeming quality in this football team and frankly, it has not been as good as we have seen in the past few years. The Jets are more susceptible to the run, putting more pressure on the secondary. Antonio Cromartie has not played well this year. More often than not being “picked on” by offensive coordinators. Rex Ryan is a good coach and he has the ability to rally his troops for battle. If any of the teams still in the hunt have, a legitimate shot of playing in January…it’s the Jets.

Whats Your Verdict?