Last Half of NFL Season Can Be Springboard to Playoffs
by Greg Melikov - 12/10/2008
NFL teams that fail to shine during the first half of the season aren't necessarily out of the playoff picture.
This year there are two that were 4-4 before getting on track and are now prime contenders to take their division. A third team has a slim shot, but is still alive.
In the NFC, Minnesota leads the North while none of the other three teams have a winning record in the division. The Vikings went to 4-4 after the bye week.
Minnesota won five of six since early November and go for its fourth in a row on Sunday at Arizona. Then the Vikings close out at home where they're 5-1: Atlanta on Dec. 21 and the Giants on Dec. 28.
According to sportsbooks Bodog and SBG Global, the Vikings are 8-1 to win the NFC. The Giants, one of three NFL teams that clinched their division, are 8-7 favorites, followed by Dallas, 13-2, fighting for a wild-card berth.
New Orleans is alive, but barely, after going 4-4 in the NFC South as October ended. However, the odds are against the Saints marching into the playoffs. The main reason: 1-5 on the road where they have two remaining games.
New Orleans closes out at home, but it's against NFC South leader Carolina. On Oct. 7, the Panthers crushed the Saints, 30-7, en route to winning six of their last seven.
Miami is the other team that was even after eight games before getting hot. The Dolphins are in a three-way battle for the AFC East lead, tied at 8-5 with the Jets and Patriots with three regular season games to play.
Miami, 1-15 last year, has posted four victories in its last five games. The only loss was home to New England, which evened the series.
The Dolphins have the easiest road to the playoffs: at San Francisco on Sunday and hosting Kansas City on Dec. 21.
The decider likely will be the Dec. 28 contest on the road against the Jets. However, Miami hasn't beaten New York in the Meadowlands since 2003 when it swept the series.
The Jets are playing the worst of the three, losing their last two. New York won at Dolphins Stadium earlier in season and split with the Patriots. New York hopes to sweep the series against the Bills at home on Sunday and visits Seattle on Dec. 21.
The Patriots, all even with New York and Miami, go to Oakland on Sunday, host NFC West champ Arizona on Dec. 21 and travel to Buffalo on Dec. 28 with high hopes of sweeping the series.
If either the Jets or Dolphins capture all their games, that team wins the division. All three have a shot at the playoffs. According to Bodog, Miami is 3-2 to win the East while New York is 6-5 and New England 7-4.
Favored to win the AFC, according to SBG Global and Bodog, is Tennessee, 2-1, which clinched the South. Pittsburgh, battling Baltimore in the North, is 13-2, while the Ravens and Colts are 5-1.
The odds of Minnesota, New Orleans or Miami winning the Super Bowl are quite high. According to the two sportsbooks, Minnesota is 18-1, Miami, 22-1 and New Orleans, 75-1.
Since '00, only one of 19 that were 3-5 or 4-4 at mid-season captured the big one: New England, which finished 11-5 in '01, and nipped the St. Louis Cardinals, 20-17.
Only one other team made it to the Super Bowl: Oakland in '02, losing 48-21 to Tampa Bay. Nine others didn't get past the wild-card contests. And two others lost in the AFC conference finals.