Winning the home field advantage or a first round bye hasn’t meant much in the NFL playoffs lately. It comes down to which team gets healthy and on a roll when the regular season comes to an end. Which teams have a great chance to do just that?
New York Jets – Carolina Panthers only winning team on schedule
Consistency abandoned the New York Jets from the very beginning of the 2013 season. They win a game and then lose one, almost like clockwork. Time is running out for them to right the ship and go on a serious streak to fulfill the promise made by Geno Smith to make the NFL playoffs. The return of Kellen Winslow from suspension should help the passing game, but it is a lucky turn in the schedule that should help the Jets the most. Out of all their remaining tilts, only one of them is against a team with a winning record. That is the Carolina Panthers who are 5-3. Buffalo and Miami are also looming but if they can escape those tough games the Jets might prove a tough out in the AFC.
Detroit Lions – Return of Nate Burleson and weakened Packers open door
Of any team in the NFC North the Detroit Lions look like the favorite if for no other reason than they’re healthy at quarterback. Matthew Stafford is having arguably his best season and it has helped masked ongoing problems with their defensive. Still, the team is finding ways to win and soon they will get more help back from receiver Nate Burleson. Tough contests against Chicago and Green Bay are ahead but other than that every game left on their schedule is a favorable matchup for them. Their key is keeping both Stafford and Calvin Johnson healthy.
Chicago Bears – Lance Briggs and Jay Ratliff should bolster defense
Winning in Green Bay has opened up so many avenues for the Chicago Bears. Not only are they fully in the race for the division lead, they also showed that backup quarterback Josh McCown is an able fill in for Jay Cutler under the guidance of Marc Trestman. The Bears offense continues to get better and their defense, maligned all season due to injuries could get some much needed reinforcements. Their leaders, linebacker Lance Briggs is due back soon as is newly acquired defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, a four-time Pro Bowler. Both should help stabilize their porous run defense. Toss in a manageable schedule down the stretch and they might hit their stride at exactly the right time.
Indianapolis Colts – T.Y. Hilton ably replacing Reggie Wayne
Their comeback win over Houston caught some breaks but the Indianapolis Colts have already proven themselves a dangerous team with wins over San Francisco and Seattle. The big question for them was could they survive without star receiver Reggie Wayne? T.Y. Hilton gave the answer when he scored three touchdowns against the top ranked Texans pass defense. Andrew Luck is not racking up stats but he is playing exceptional football. The Colts suffered a brief hiccup Sunday Night on defense but otherwise they have been solid all year. Chuck Pagano has his team playing well, and a favorable schedule to end the season might catapult them into contention.
Buffalo Bills – E.J. Manuel return could prove critical
If any team can run the table the rest of the way it is the Buffalo Bills. They haven’t had much success without quarterback E.J. Manuel, but they’ve been competitive in the majority of the games. Now the rookie quarterback is returning and with him the removing of the cap on their offense. Best of all the schedule is softening. The floundering Steelers are up next and the remaining games include games against TampaBay, Jacksonville, and Atlanta. Their big tests are all division games, two at home but the big one in Week 17 at New England.