It’s getting to be that time of the year in the NFL.
It’s crunch time, better known as the December postseason push.
With four games remaining in the regular season and three weeks of playoffs in front of us, it’s time to start thinking about who will wind up in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on the evening of Feb. 3 in Super Bowl XLVII.
Only four teams have clinched playoff berths at this point, which means that eight more spots are up for grabs heading into the final four weeks of the season.
With that, let’s take a look at who’s already in and who are the contenders and pretenders — and who will eventually wind up in New Orleans (maybe):
Already in: Houston Texans (11-1), Denver Broncos (9-3 going into Thursday night), New England Patriots (9-3).
Contenders: Baltimore Ravens (9-3), Indianapolis Colts (8-4), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5), Cincinnati Bengals (7-5).
Pretenders: New York Jets (5-7), Buffalo Bills (5-7), Miami Dolphins (5-7).
How it’ll play out: The Broncos and Patriots, who have already won their respective division titles, will be joined by the Texans and Ravens as top-four seeds after winning their divisions.
The Texans and Patriots will nail down the top two seeds, while at the other end of the bracket, the Colts and Bengals will claim the two wild-card spots — the latter in a squeaker over the Steelers.
The final four will have the Texans beating the Ravens and Broncos upsetting the Patriots before the Broncos go on the road again to end the Texans’ hopes in Reliant Stadium.
Already in: Atlanta Falcons (11-1).
Contenders: San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1), Green Bay Packers (8-4), Chicago Bears (8-4), New York Giants (7-5), Seattle Seahawks (7-5), Tampa Bay Bucs (6-6), Washington Redskins (6-6).
Pretenders: Dallas Cowboys (6-6), Minnesota Vikings (6-6), St. Louis Rams (5-6-1), New Orleans Saints (5-7).
How it’ll play out: The Falcons have already clinched the division title and are eyeing the No. 1 seed in the NFC, while the 49ers, Packers and Giants will join them.
That leaves four, perhaps five, teams chasing the two wild-card berths. It looks like the Bears and Seahawks have the edge and should get it done, while the Falcons and 49ers grab the top two seeds.
In the NFC’s final four, the Falcons will dethrone the Giants and the 49ers will top the Packers, with the Niners yanking the rug out from under the Falcons in the Georgia Dome — where they’ve had several close calls this season.
Many people are hoping for a Manning vs. Manning matchup in the first Super Bowl to be played in New Orleans in 11 years.
Sorry, Archie and Olivia. While it would be a great storyline to have two sons dueling in the biggest game of the year in their own back yard, you’ll have to settle for one. ... Broncos 24, 49ers 21.
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