FanPost

Yahoo! Sports final season predictions..

Seventeen. That's the number of NFL teams either leading or within one game of tying for a division lead in the NFL after Week 9. Eight others also are still clinging to faint playoff hopes.

In a massive glut of defeat, seven woeful franchises have helped fuel the rest of the NFL with sweeping parity this season. Those teams - the Lions, Chiefs, Bengals, Raiders, Seahawks, 49ers and Rams - reached the midway point of the season with a pitiful combined record of 10-47.

While the rest of the league has feasted on the inept, the NFL's playoff picture has become more muddled than ever. Fourteen teams have records of 4-4 or 5-3, including the entire AFC East and the top three teams in the NFC North - two divisions expected to be in dead heats over the length of the second half.

With that in mind, and coming off a month of election projections, we've looked into the crystal ball and predicted how the playoff seedings will play out. It's hardly scientific beyond the comparison of schedules and weighing of current injuries. But with eight weeks left in the NFL schedule, we've boiled down how the final records, division winners and playoff seeds are likely to shake out over the next two months.

Starting with a surprise to many observers ...

AFC East

 

1. MiamiMiami Dolphins
Final regular-season record: 10-6, No. 3 seed in the AFC
Skinny: Miami climbs out of the basement with wins over Seattle and Oakland, then completes a stunning season sweep of New England at home. The four road games in the final five are daunting, but Miami manages three wins in the final five, and then Chad Pennington leads the Dolphins to a division title by beating Brett Favre and the Jets in the season finale.

2. NY JetsNew York Jets
Final regular-season record: 10-6, No. 6 seed in the AFC
Skinny: Back-to-back road losses against Tennessee and New England push the Jets into a scrum with Miami down the stretch. The season finale against the Dolphins should determine the division winner.

3. New EnglandNew England Patriots
Final regular-season record: 9-7, no postseason
Skinny: A tough second-half schedule unmasks a team that had only one semi-impressive, first-half win (over the Jets). Even the back-to-back road games against Oakland and Seattle prove harder than expected when the Seahawks pull off a home upset. The Patriots fall apart at the end, losing at home to Arizona in the cold and falling to Buffalo in the season finale.

4. BuffaloBuffalo Bills
Final regular-season record: 8-8, no postseason
Skinny: Defensive injuries foretell a slippery slide backward for the Bills. Offensive sputtering gets worse in the cold of road games in New England, Kansas City, Denver and against the Jets. The season-ending home win against the Patriots comes too late to make a difference.

AFC North

1. PittsburghPittsburgh Steelers
Final regular-season record: 13-3, No. 2 seed in the AFC
Skinny: The Steelers show themselves to be the giant of the second half. They prove to be right there with the Titans defensively, and with Willie Parker back, they beat Tennessee on Dec. 21 to pull within a game of the No. 1 seed. Tennessee will close out home-field advantage, but Pittsburgh and its frenetic pass rush will be the scariest team in the playoffs.

2. BaltimoreBaltimore Ravens
Final regular-season record: 9-7, no postseason
Skinny: The Ravens aren't as good as they looked in back-to-back wins over dysfunctional Oakland and Cleveland. A tough second-half schedule will show this team is a work in progress, and the final four-game stretch against Washington, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Jacksonville will kill their playoff hopes.

3. ClevelandCleveland Browns
Final regular-season record: 6-10, no postseason
Skinny: Pulling the plug on Derek Anderson was basically pulling the plug on the season. Braylon Edwards will drop what Brady Quinn throws in the second half, too. In the last eight games, the Browns try to figure out if Quinn can be the team's future quarterback. Fans will spend the time wondering who would give up a middle-round pick for Anderson

4. CincinnatiCincinnnati Bengals
Final regular-season record: 3-13, no postseason
Skinny: The win over Jacksonville was nice, but the Bengals come back to earth hard with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Washington to open the second half of their schedule. The Bengals win back-to-back games to close the season against Cleveland and Kansas City, and it looks like Marvin Lewis will be back next season. After that, it's all about Carson Palmer's elbow rehab in the offseason.

AFC South

1. TennesseeTennessee Titans
Final regular-season record: 14-2, No. 1 seed in the AFC
Skinny: Five road games in the second half of the season are tough, but the stars align for the Titans, and they cement the league's best record and a No. 1 seed in the season finale. The biggest issue is a December loss to Pittsburgh that promises to add drama to a potential AFC championship showdown.

2. IndianapolisIndianapolis Colts
Final regular-season record: 10-6, No. 5 seed in the AFC
Skinny: The Colts open the second half of the season with a loss to Pittsburgh, but they catch fire and reel off six straight wins before a season-ending loss to Tennessee. The run defense is still never right and it doesn't look like a deep playoff run, but coach Tony Dungy's postseason appearance streak (currently at nine) remains intact.

3. HoustonHouston Texans
Final regular-season record: 6-10, no postseason
Skinny: The Texans suffer a pair of losses to Baltimore and Indianapolis to start the second half of the schedule and the defense spirals. But Sage Rosenfels makes his case down the stretch to be Houston's starter, and Mario Williams locks up a Pro Bowl spot.

4. JacksonvilleJacksonville Jaguars
Final regular-season record: 6-10, no postseason
Skinny: The hangover from the loss to Cincinnati nearly results in a loss to Detroit and then manifests itself in a home loss to Tennessee. Jacksonville struggles running the ball the rest of the season, and Jack Del Rio's job security is in question with the regular season flameout.

AFC West

1. San DiegoSan Diego Chargers
Final regular-season record: 8-8, No. 4 seed in the AFC
Skinny: The Chargers get more aggressive under new defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and the offensive line starts wearing defenses down, generating a consistent running game. A sweep of the Chiefs and wins over Atlanta and Oakland set up a season finale against Denver in which the winner takes the division.

2. DenverDenver Broncos
Final regular-season record: 7-9, no postseason
Skinny: Five games on the road and lingering injuries in the backfield and on defense prevent Denver from putting together a significant run. Wins over Cleveland, Oakland and Kansas City give the Broncos a chance to capture the division against San Diego in the season finale, but going to Qualcomm Stadium proves to be too much.

3. OaklandOakland Raiders
Final regular-season record: 4-12, no postseason
Skinny: The Raiders go through the second half of the season as underdogs in every game save for Kansas City's visit on Nov. 30. In turn, the Chiefs are the last team Oakland defeats in 2008. All the while, Al Davis prepares to discard a few more dead weight players, like wideout Javon Walker.

4. Kansas CityKansas City Chiefs
Final regular-season record: 3-13, no postseason
Skinny: Tyler Thigpen's development and the return of Larry Johnson don't amount to much in the way of wins. A Nov. 23 upset of Buffalo is the last bright spot of the season. In December, Chiefs fans start researching quarterbacks for April's draft.

NFC East

1. NY GiantsNew York Giants
Final regular-season record: 12-4, No. 1 seed in the NFC
Skinny: A horribly difficult second half of the schedule takes its toll. Eight remaining games against teams that all had a .500 or better record at the midway point - including five road games - trips up the Giants. The running game and defense help the Giants hang on to the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

2. DallasDallas Cowboys
Final regular-season record: 10-6, No. 5 seed in the NFC
Skinny: Tony Romo returns and Dallas gets healthy down the stretch. The defense solidifies in the last three games of the season, including a big momentum-building win over the Giants on Dec. 14. When the playoffs start, nobody wants to play Dallas anymore.

3. WashingtonWashington Redskins
Final regular-season record: 10-6, no postseason
Skinny: Some of the close games and lack of consistent big plays from the passing offense comes back to haunt the Redskins. Washington loses two of its final three division games, including one to Dallas, and ends up losing divisional and conference tie breakers to Dallas and Tampa, and finishes looking in from the outside.

4. Philadelphia Philadelphia Eagles
Final regular-season record: 9-7, no postseason
Skinny: The Eagles finally get Brian Westbrook back into his groove, just in time to face the Giants twice, along with Baltimore's run defense. The Eagles are in the thick of the wild-card race, but the postseason slips away in the final two games of the season - a road loss to Washington and a home loss to Dallas. T.O. returns to the playoffs, and Philadelphia fans curse him again as he leaves the field after the finale.

NFC North

1. ChicagoChicago Bears
Final regular-season record: 10-6, No. 4 playoff seed
Skinny: They'll struggle without (or with) Kyle Orton for the next week or two and play .500 football until the last two weeks of the season, when they will beat Green Bay and Houston to clinch the division title.

2. Green BayGreen Bay Packers
Final regular-season record: 9-7, no postseason
Skinny: They'll split the season series with the Bears but essentially lose the NFC North in the pivotal Dec. 22 match-up at Soldier Field. The loss of defensive end Cullen Jenkins and an inconsistent running game will loom large.

3. MinnesotaMinnesota Vikings
Final regular-season record: 7-9, no postseason
Skinny: The offense will be more consistent in the second half, but not enough to deal with road games at Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Arizona. A .500 record will be scuttled when the Giants play their starters for most of the season finale despite having the NFC's No. 1 seed locked up.

4. DetroitDetroit Lions
Final regular-season record: 1-15, no postseason
Skinny: The season's only win will come Dec. 7 against the Vikings, with Calvin Johnson delivering a monster game. Most of the second half of the season will be spent pondering a potential sweep of the coaching staff and front office, and whether Oklahoma sophomore quarterback Sam Bradford will enter the NFL draft.

NFC South

1. CarolinaCarolina Panthers
Final regular-season record: 12-4, No. 2 seed in the NFC
Skinny: The Panthers will suffer a Dec. 21 road loss to the Giants, giving New York the head-to-head tiebreaker for home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs. Carolina's running game will hit its stride in the final four games with linemen Jeff Otah and Ryan Kalil getting back into game shape.

 

2. Tampa BayTampa Bay Buccaneers
Final regular-season record: 10-6, No. 6 seed in the NFC
Skinny: The overtime road win at Kansas City turns out to be huge because it makes the final run much more manageable for the Buccaneers. Ball security in the backfield gets much better, and Jeff Garcia does his thing in the second half, pulling two critical wins out of the four-game stretch against New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta and San Diego.

3. AtlantaAtlanta Falcons
Final regular-season record: 8-8, no postseason
Skinny: Three losses in the buzzsaw, four-game stretch of Carolina, San Diego, New Orleans and Tampa Bay put the breaks on a playoff run. Matt Ryan struggles as Tampa Bay and Carolina see him for a second time and teams begin to figure out how to pressure him.

4. New OrleansNew Orleans
Final regular-season record: 7-9, no postseason
Skinny: The emotion of the win over San Diego doesn't hold up under the weight of five road games, middle-of-the-pack defense and a generally brutal schedule down the stretch. The Saints score the most points in the NFC South for the third straight year but have nothing to show for it, as the defensive strength of Tampa and Carolina keeps them far out front.

NFC West

1. ArizonaArizona Cardinals
Final regular-season record: 11-5, No. 3 seed in the NFC
Skinny: The Cardinals gain some second-half momentum with a relatively easy schedule, including only three road games. The running game picks up steam with Tim Hightower carrying the load. Arizona opens some eyes as a serious contender by cracking the west-to-east jinx and winning a wintry game in New England on Dec. 21. Kurt Warner starts pushing hard for a two-year contract extension.

2. SeattleSeattle Seahawks
Final regular-season record: 5-11, no postseason
Skinny: Matt Hasselbeck comes back in mid-November, just in time for the tough four-game stretch of Arizona, Washington, Dallas and New England. It's too late, but the Seahawks win three more and put up a far better fight in the second half than the first, even managing a late-season win over New England.

3. St. LouisSt. Louis Rams
Final regular-season record: 5-11, no postseason
Skinny: A blowout road loss against the Jets to start the second half of the season officially takes all the air out of Jim Haslett's regime. Not even four home games in the final six can get this team back on track. Steven Jackson chafes under Haslett's practice-to-play demands down the stretch, and the Rams start looking for another head coach.

4. San FranciscoSan Francisco 49ers
Final regular-season record: 4-12, no postseason
Skinny: Mike Singletary finally gets his first win at home against St. Louis, but falls victim to a tough schedule through the rest of the second half. Five road games in the second half - two to the East Coast - are just too much for a team that was never that mentally strong.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Phinsider's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of The Phinsider writers or editors.

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