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2006 NFL Playoff Picture: What Teams Are in ItEight of ten NFL teams that made last year’s playoffs are expected to again fight it out for a trip to Super Bowl XLI in Miami.
Eight of ten NFL teams that made last year’s playoffs are expected to again fight it out for a trip to Super Bowl XLI in Miami.
The main contenders, determined by several online sportsbooks, pro football experts and strength of schedule, presented David Letterman style are this baker’s dozen:
13. Cincinnati Bengals, 18-1, could win 10 games, but schedule isn’t easy: Pittsburgh twice, New England and Carolina at home, and Indianapolis and Denver away. A healthy Carson Palmer will make the difference and extending blindside quarterback protector Levi Jones’ contract helps, but the Steelers once again stand in the way.
12. Miami Dolphins: 17-1, must win 10 to secure Wild Card berth. The team closed ’05 with six consecutive victories. Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington are necessary upgrades at quarterback. Strengthened offensive line should allow aging defense enough breathers to be more effective. Nick Saban’s new offensive and defensive coordinators and a shored up secondary are a big plus, but the schedule is no pushover: road games against Pittsburgh, Chicago and Indianapolis, New England twice and Kansas City at home.
11. New York Giants: 16-1, expected to win nine games, but will that be enough to make the playoffs? Defensive free agents led by former Dolphin cornerback Sam Madison must perform from the start. Improving Eli Manning can make a big difference, but must avoid quarterback miscues.
10. Chicago Bears: 15-1, should easily win nine games and dominate NFC North like in ’05 when the rest of the division’s composite record was 18-30. Free agents bolster the special teams unit, Brian Griese will keep Rex Grossman on his toes at quarterback and three defensive backs assure depth in secondary. Schedule favors Bears with only tough games at home against Seattle and Miami and away at New England.
9. Washington Redskins: 14-1, face season of ‘ifs’. Playoffs attainable if Mark Brunell has one more solid year, if Jason Campbell can step in at quarterback when needed, if Santana Moss can continue putting up great numbers and if receivers Randle El and Brandon Lloyd can perform. Wild card berth within reach if Redskins do as well as last year’s 5-1 against NFC East rivals. Toughest game is at Indianapolis.
8. San Diego Chargers: 14-1, are in three-way battle in AFC West. Philip Rivers must minimize mistakes in starting role, but receiving corps is weak. LaDanian Thomas anchors ground attack while the defense is sound except for a secondary that must improve. Toughest games: Denver twice, Pittsburgh at home and Seattle away.
7. Denver Broncos: 13-1, probably only 11 victories needed to win AFC West. Another 8-0 at home can lead to 13-3 repeat. Second solid season by Jake Plummer should lead to conference showdown against Steelers, one of two tough regular season contests, at Pittsburgh and New England. Difficult home games: Indianapolis, Seattle and Cincinnati.
6. Seattle Seahawks: 10-1, can again go unbeaten in NFC West since three rivals were 15-33 in ’05. Unbeaten at home, Seahawks’ schedule favors repeat of 13-3 record and return to Super Bowl. Most formidable opposition: Chicago and Denver away and San Diego home, but the Super Bowl runners-up haven’t done well the following season finishing with losing records the last five straight years.
5. Carolina Panthers: 10-1, could win 11 games again with addition of Keyshawn Johnson to lessen pressure on ace receiver Steve Smith. Running back DeShaun Johnson and linebacker Dan Morgan must bounce back from injuries. Doing well on the road is a good omen since Carolina plays at Cincinnati and Washington. Toughest home games: Cowboys, Giants and Steelers. Check out the futures line at your favorite sportsbook for a killer potential win.
4. Dallas Cowboys: 9-1, posting 10 to a dozen victories within reach since they missed playoffs because of two last-minute losses. Receiver Terrell Owns will make Drew Bledsoe better and kicker Mike Vanderjaqt vastly improves floundering kicking game. Only question mark: offensive line. The two tight end, two receiver, one back offense will improve running game. Toughest games are at Carolina and home against possible Super Bowl foe Indianapolis. Just might play the Colts again on Feb. 4, 2007.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-1, only Super Bowl winner with a pair of back-to-back championships could win 11 or more games. Although losing running back Jerome Bettis to the TV broadcast booth and Randle El to Washington, offensive weapons remain in place as well as bulk of the defense. If Ben Roethlisberger shows no ill effects from his motorcycle mishap, the Steelers can journey to the ninth Super Bowl in South Florida.
2. New England Patriots: 8-1, can take AFC again despite free agency losses because of easier regular season schedule than last year when it lost to three playoff teams, but defeated Steelers. The defense will be stronger. Hardest tests are at home: Denver, Chicago and Indianapolis. The B & B combination of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady hoping for fourth Super Bowl victory in six years makes this an exciting proposition for sports betting.
1. Indianapolis Colts: 11-2, lost two key cogs on offense, but defense continues to improve – last year to 11th from 29th in ’04. When the Colts reeled off 13 consecutive wins in ’05, it appeared they might go undefeated, but coach Tony Dungy rested the offense that, thanks to Peyton Manning, was third overall, first in passing and fourth in receiving. Two losses in a row quickly brought back starters for final season victory.
Mike Vanderjaqt went to the Cowboys, but Colts signed clutch Super Bowl kicker Adam Vinatieri whose last-second field goals won two of New England’s three Super Bowls and was margin of victory in the other.
The running game, 16th last season, lost Edgerrin James to Arizona, but drafted LSU tailback Joseph Addai fits in quite nicely. Faster than James, he runs well between tackles, fights for extra yardage and is hard to bring down. Just the guy you need when football betting is involved.
Indianapolis last year defeated main AFC South challenger Jacksonville twice and New England and Pittsburgh during the regular season before losing to Steelers by three points in playoffs. Toughest games in ’06: at Denver, New England and Dallas which could be a preview of the Super Bowl.
And the Super Bowl winner is: Colts 27, Cowboys 21. Thanks goodness for online gambling – Get you future bets in today.
About the Author: Greg Melikov has been handicapping and writing about horses for decades. His articles and columns appear globally in print and on the Internet. Greg is a retired newspaperman who became a racing fan at 13 when he saw 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation whip 20 older horses at old Arlington Park.