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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fanhouse NFL Rankings, Playoff Edition

This article was originally posted on

1. Chargers (13-3) First-Round Bye

The hottest team in football by virtue of their 11 straight wins and in possession of a passing attack that will test any defense thanks to the number of options and height of the targets available to Philip Rivers. The defense hasn't been particularly scary, but it hasn't had an awful outing since the fifth game of the season. They enter the playoffs with a well-balanced team capable of winning the whole thing. In other words, it's a lot like 2004, 2006 and 2007.

2. Colts (14-2) First-Round Bye

There wouldn't have been so much hullabaloo about the decision to quit against the Jets if people weren't fairly convinced the Colts were capable of running the table this season. As long as Peyton Manning is running the offense, they still can. And there may be even more reason to think they can make a playoff run with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis well-rested and ready to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

3. Vikings (12-4) First-Round Bye

Are we ready to proclaim the offense healthy again off the last six quarters against the Bears and Giants? The fact that both teams changed their defensive coordinators in the last 48 hours should give some pause, but it was encouraging to see the Vikings going back to throwing the ball all over the field. That's been when they've been most effective this season. One last note: The Vikes are 10-0 on turf this season and won't see grass unless they make it to Miami.

4. Cowboys (11-5) Saturday 8 P.M. vs. Eagles

They aren't as hot as the Chargers, but they're as close as any team in the NFC. The wins over the Saints, Redskins and Eagles to close the season showed off the multi-faceted offense that was promised all season and, more importantly, a defense that forces errors at every turn. There's still that lingering doubt about Wade Phillips and Tony Romo in the playoffs, of course, but there's a very different aura about this team than in past years.

5. Saints (13-3) First-Round Bye

It's more than three straight losses to close out the year that's created some doubt about the Saints, it is the fact that they haven't played remotely well since routing the Patriots in late November. That's an awfully long time and you have to wonder if they can just turn things back on in the second weekend of if they have to face a Cowboys team that's already beaten them once.

6. Patriots (10-6) Sunday 1 P.M. vs. Ravens

The Wes Welker injury hurts, no doubt, but the defensive resurgence in the three games preceding Sunday's loss to the Texans is very encouraging. Throw in the rather robust playoff resumes of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and you've got a lot of reason to believe in what the Patriots can do. They'd rank higher if they didn't have to win twice on the road in the U.S. during the postseason since they only pulled it off once during the regular season.

7. Cardinals (10-6) Sunday 4:40 P.M. vs. Packers

Pro: It's very tough to stop the Cardinals passing game when they're at home or indoors. Con: It's very tough for the Cardinals to stop anyone else's passing game in any setting. Pro: They've been here before. Con: They aren't sneaking up on anyone this time. Pro: They've won without Anquan Boldin before. Con: They may have to win without Boldin again.

8. Packers (11-5) Sunday 4:40 P.M. at Cardinals

How much does that home loss to the Vikings sting right now? That one win means the Packers have to go on the road three times to make it to Miami instead of getting a chance to hang out at Lambeau for at least one week to get their playoff feet wet. You can't write off a team that has players like Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson playing as well as they are, but it's a tough road to follow to the promised land.

9. Eagles (11-5) Saturday 8 P.M. at Cowboys

Let's just put to rest once and for all the notion that the Eagles were playing possum in Week 17 because it's insulting to them, the Cowboys and anyone with intelligence. It is tough to beat a team three times in one season, but it's also tough to commute from Philly to Dallas to face that Cowboys pass rush twice in a row when you were devoid of any answers the first time around.

10. Bengals (10-6) Saturday 4:30 P.M. vs. Jets

Give Marvin Lewis a lot of credit for keeping his team together in a rough season emotionally. The loss of Chris Henry and Mike Zimmer's wife would be too much for some teams, but the Bengals kept grinding and did what they needed to do to win the division. If Domata Peko isn't 100 percent on Saturday, though, they aren't going to be able to stop the Jets rushing game.

11. Ravens (9-7) Sunday 1 P.M. at Patriots

It's pretty simple what the Ravens need to do to advance past the first round. They need to run early and run often to keep Brady and Randy Moss from getting too many chances to put the ball up against their leaky secondary. Ray Rice and Willis McGahee are certainly good bets to keep the chains moving, but it would be the first time they beat a decent team on the road all season since September.

12. Jets (9-7) Saturday 4:30 P.M. at Bengals

The Jets don't owe anyone any apologies about the way they got into the playoffs, but they can't spend too much time patting themselves on the back either. The Bengals will give them a whole lot more on Saturday than they did on Sunday night and Mark Sanchez on the road is a bit of a scary proposition. That said, they match up well with Cincinnati, although you can't say that about any of the other teams they're likely to see in January.

--- Josh Alper for .

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Man, that chick beside me is smokin'.

Imagine waking up and seeing this on ESPN. I look like I'm having a stroke back there. Good Lord.

Imagine waking up and seeing this on ESPN. I look like I'm having a stroke back there. Good Lord.

3:30 AM, after the Louisville game.

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