December marks the point in the NFL season when the sprint to postseason begins for the teams that are still in the race, and everyone else begins to look ahead to a long offseason.
Off the field and on, the 2014 season has been a complete roller coaster ride. From child abuse to domestic violence, broken records to the inevitable surprises, we’ve yet to see a dull moment.
Speaking of surprises, how about the Arizona Cardinals as one of the biggest ones this season? Sitting pretty at 9-2, they’re tied with the perennially great, Tom Brady-led New England Patriots for the best record in the league.
Can we really see them as contenders to win it all, though? After Carson Palmer suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 10, the Cardinals are left without their starting quarterback, who was in the midst of a career-reviving season up to that point. Since Palmer went down, the Cardinals’ aerial attack has not been the same under replacement Drew Stanton, who has thrown for 540 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions since taking over. Arizona will have to lean on their dominant defense and ground attack to have any hope of clinging to their two-game NFC West lead and making a deep postseason run.
Though everyone drools over the NFC West as one of the toughest divisions in football, all four teams in the AFC North sit at three games over .500, something that has never happened before in league history. It’ll be interesting to see if the division can send three teams to the playoffs for the second time in four years, and if the Cleveland Browns can pull off their first winning season since 2007.
How about that putrid NFC South? Not only are the division-leading Atlanta Falcons sporting a horrid 4-7 record, the last-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t too far behind them for the lead! With a 2-9 record, the Bucs currently stand as the fourth pick in the draft if the season ended today, but are also only two games behind for the division lead and a home playoff game — talk about the best of both worlds!
It goes without saying that only one team can win it all, but the landscape of contenders this year is quite large compared to last season, in which the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were on another level, playing as though they were simply destined for their eventual meeting in Super Bowl XLVIII. Brady’s New England Patriots and Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos still stand as the AFC’s creme de la creme. Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts aren’t too far behind with their offense that puts up video game-esque numbers.
The NFC landscape is very top-heavy, led by two offensive powerhouses: the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers. After a rocky start to the season, the reigning champions, the Seattle Seahawks, have undergone a resurgence, putting up convincing wins over the rival San Francisco 49ers and division-leading Arizona Cardinals over the past two weeks. The Dallas Cowboys also look to be a real threat this year, led by their lethal ground attack spearheaded by fourth-year phenom Demarco Murray. Assuming the Cowboys get into the postseason, the real question will be whether or not they can get over the hump and win a playoff game, something Dallas hasn’t done in four years.
As the regular season draws to a close, every game matters that much more in the hunt for that ever-so-valuable playoff berth, which translates to us fans being treated to some of the best action of the year. Trying to predict what will transpire in the next month would be akin to getting my palm read by a psychic — fun, but probably a load of pure baloney. With that said, check out our predictions for who makes the playoffs in January!