The Monday Tavern

There are 18 teams with .500 records or better in the NFL right now and all of them have a chance to make the playoffs. Or do they? Are the Falcons a legitimate playoff team? Are the Dolphins? The Giants? And are the Jags going to continue to win and become a viable playoff team? That’s what makes this time of the year so exciting. The NFL season really starts now, and for the next six weeks we get to see the best of what 2009 has to offer. Here’s a look at all the teams not in first place and how the fight for the wild-card spots might shape up. This doesn’t include the Texans, who play tonight.

They’re in, but they’re really almost out

1. Miami 5-5 As much as I like them, their lack of speed on defense makes them a liability. Here is their remaining schedule. I doubt they can win five of the next six.

Nov. 29 @ Buffalo Bills
Dec. 6 vs. New England Patriots
Dec. 13 @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Dec. 20 @ Tennessee Titans
Dec. 27 vs. Houston Texans
Jan. 3 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

2. Atlanta 5-5 Their defense makes them vulnerable on the road. Here’s a look at their remaining schedule. I can find four wins there, but will that be good enough?

Nov. 29 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dec. 6 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Dec. 13 vs. New Orleans Saints
Dec. 20 @ New York Jets
Dec. 27 vs. Buffalo Bills
Jan. 3 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3. Baltimore 5-5 The inability of the offense to carry the team the last few weeks has made them a very average a team. Here’s their schedule -- three winnable games, three tough games, which means they have to hope 9-7 gives them a spot or they’re gone.

Nov. 29 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Dec. 7 (Mon) @ Green Bay Packers
Dec. 13 vs. Detroit Lions
Dec. 20 vs. Chicago Bears
Dec. 27 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Jan. 3 @ Oakland Raiders

The pack

1. Jacksonville 6-4 Quietly, they’ve gotten themselves in position. If the playoffs started today, they’d be the No. 1 wild card. Not many easy games remaining. This team might end up 8-8.

<p>Nov. 29 @ San Francisco 49ers
Dec. 6 vs. Houston Texans
Dec. 13 vs. Miami Dolphins
Dec. 17 (Thu) vs. Indianapolis Colts
Dec. 27 @ New England Patriots
Jan. 3 @ Cleveland Browns

2. Pittsburgh 6-4 With huge slips the past two weeks, the Steelers are no longer in the elite class – they’re running with the pack. The Ravens or Steelers seem destined to cancel one another in the race.

Nov. 29 @ Baltimore Ravens
Dec. 6 vs. Oakland Raiders
Dec. 10 (Thu) @ Cleveland Browns
Dec. 20 vs. Green Bay Packers
Dec. 27 vs. Baltimore Ravens
Jan. 3 @ Miami Dolphins

3. Denver 6-4 The Broncos started fast and might be dying fast. They’re not very effective on either side of the ball right now. There are three potential wins on their schedule, but they better hope 9-7 can get them in the door.

Nov. 26 (Thu) vs. New York Giants
Dec. 6 @ Kansas City Chiefs
Dec. 13 @ Indianapolis Colts
Dec. 20 vs. Oakland Raiders
Dec. 27 @ Philadelphia Eagles
Jan. 3 vs. Kansas City Chiefs

4. New York Giants 6-4 They’re vulnerable and have lost their swagger. They can be attacked on defense, and their lack of team speed at linebacker is a concern. The team that loses to the ‘Skins will be the team that does not win the NFC East. Based on this schedule, making the playoffs looks difficult.

Nov. 26 (Thu) @ Denver Broncos
Dec. 6 vs. Dallas Cowboys
Dec. 13 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Dec. 21 (Mon) @ Washington Redskins
Dec. 27 vs. Carolina Panthers
Jan. 3 @ Minnesota Vikings

5. Philadelphia 6-4 Huge win in Chicago last night. The loser was not going to advance, and the winner must keep on keeping on. Nine wins are very possible, and it might take 10 to be sure to get in. If they lose to the ‘Skins next week, they will not win the NFC East.

Nov. 29 vs. Washington Redskins
Dec. 6 @ Atlanta Falcons
Dec. 13 @ New York Giants
Dec. 20 vs. San Francisco 49ers
Dec. 27 vs. Denver Broncos
Jan. 3 @ Dallas Cowboys

6. Green Bay 6-4 Losing too many key players, but they have an offense that can potentially carry them. Four road games will expose their already suspect offensive line even even more.

Nov. 26 (Thu) @ Detroit Lions
Dec. 7 (Mon) vs. Baltimore Ravens
Dec. 13 @ Chicago Bears
Dec. 20 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Dec. 27 vs. Seattle Seahawks
Jan. 3 @ Arizona Cardinals

The AFC leaders

1. New England 7-3 They fought back Sunday and showed the NFL they’re best when their backs are to the wall. Their schedule isn’t easy, but if they’re playing well, they can handle any team.

Nov. 30 (Mon) @ New Orleans Saints
Dec. 6 @ Miami Dolphins
Dec. 13 vs. Carolina Panthers
Dec. 20 @ Buffalo Bills
Dec. 27 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jan. 3 @ Houston Texans

2. Cincinnati 7-3 Had a predictable stub of their toe that most teams do on the West Coast. But they’re good and can handle their remaining schedule.

Nov. 29 vs. Cleveland Browns
Dec. 6 vs. Detroit Lions
Dec. 13 @ Minnesota Vikings
Dec. 20 @ San Diego Chargers
Dec. 27 vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Jan. 3 @ New York Jets

3. Indy 10-0 Tied for the best record in the NFL and winner of the AFC South. They’re hard to beat right now, and based on the schedule, it appears that home field advantage in the playoffs is a real possibility.

Nov. 29 @ Houston Texans
Dec. 6 vs. Tennessee Titans
Dec. 13 vs. Denver Broncos
Dec. 17 (Thu) @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Dec. 27 vs. New York Jets
Jan. 3 @ Buffalo Bills

4. San Diego 7-3 They always seem to save their best for later in the season. There are three wins for sure on this schedule, and 10 should win the AFC West.

Nov. 29 vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Dec. 6 @ Cleveland Browns
Dec. 13 @ Dallas Cowboys
Dec. 20 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Dec. 25 (Fri) @ Tennessee Titans
Jan. 3 vs. Washington Redskins

The NFC leaders

1. Dallas 7-3 Will have to play better than they have the past two weeks, and there are no easy games left for them after Thanksgiving.

Nov. 26 (Thu) vs. Oakland Raiders
Dec. 6 @ New York Giants
Dec. 13 vs. San Diego Chargers
Dec. 19 (Sat) @ New Orleans Saints
Dec. 27 @ Washington Redskins
Jan. 3 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

2. Minnesota 9-1 With the NFC North under control, they gave their head coach an extension.

Nov. 29 vs. Chicago Bears
Dec. 6 @ Arizona Cardinals
Dec. 13 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Dec. 20 @ Carolina Panthers
Dec. 28 (Mon) @ Chicago Bears
Jan. 3 vs. New York Giants

3. New Orleans 10-0 They have the NFC South wrapped up, and the fight that remains is for home field advantage. Hard not to see them go at least 14-2.

Nov. 30 (Mon) vs. New England Patriots
Dec. 6 @ Washington Redskins
Dec. 13 @ Atlanta Falcons
Dec. 19 (Sat) vs. Dallas Cowboys
Dec. 27 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jan. 3 @ Carolina Panthers

4. Arizona 7-3 With a newfound running game, the Cards have become the best road team in the NFL. With a three-game lead and six games to go, they’ll win the NFC West.

Nov. 29 @ Tennessee Ti tans
Dec. 6 vs. Minnesota Vikings
Dec. 14 (Mon) @ San Francisco 49ers
Dec. 20 @ Detroit Lions
Dec. 27 vs. St. Louis Rams
Jan. 3 vs. Green Bay Packers

The season starts now, and what makes it even better is that most of these teams will play each other, which will make the games even more entertaining.

A look at Sunday

Yesterday, I had my first visit to the new Cowboys Stadium, which is stunning, to say the least. It was impossible for me to take my eyes off the video screen even as the game was going on. I strongly recommend to any football fan to see in a game in that magnificent building.

Matthew Stafford grew up big time Sunday, throwing five touchdowns passes and leading his team to a great come-from-behind victory. Nothing helps bond a team to the quarterback than a win like that, and I expect great things from Stafford for years to come. He’s the real deal.

One thing that was proven in the game between the Jets and the Patriots is that the Jets don’t have anyone who can cover Wes Welker. He was amazing, catching a career-best 15 passes and making the Jets reconsider who will guard him next year. Their draft thinking must be to find some who can handle Welker’s incredible quickness.

I admire the Chiefs for their toughness to keep fighting in every game they’ve played this year. Their efforts were finally rewarded at home with an impressive overtime win against the Steelers. Seven of the 10 teams they’ve played have gained more than 400 yard on the Chiefs defense, with two games over 500 yards. They might not be talented, but they’re competitive.

More random notes…

…The Falcons are 5-5, but until they can play better on defense, which I doubt will happen this year, they will not be a factor in the playoffs.

…The Cowboys need to make sure that what happened on the sideline between position coach Dave Campo and cornerback Terence Newman doesn’t happen again — or if it does, not in front of everyone.

…I know Tony Romo was high with some throws, but if Roy Williams wants to be a No. 1 wideout, he has to make those catches. Talking about being a one and being a one are two entirely different subjects.

…The Redskins paid $100 million last offseason to Albert Haynesworth, who didn’t play Sunday, but they still only allowed the Cowboys to score seven points. I’m not saying it was overspending, but when your defense doesn’t seem to miss its $100-million man, something is wrong.

…I’m worried about the Giants’ defense. They look too slow laterally and don’t show any explosion.

…Speaking of the Giants, running back Brandon Jacobs doesn’t seem to me to have the same power in his lower body. Right now, the G-Men look like a better offensive team when backup runners Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware are in the game.

…Even though his team lost, Brady Quinn played well enough to give Browns fans some hope. Now, if he can have a similar outing next week against the Bengals, at least Browns fans can feel he’s making some progress and the season won’t be a total loss.

…I’m really looking forward to watching Chris Johnson play for the Titans tonight against the Texans. Every time he touches the ball, I expect to see a 50-yard run.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

For more on the Texans-Titans Monday night game, check out this piece from Bleacher Report.

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