It's at that point in the season when the contenders hunker down and make things happen, while the pretenders start looking to next year. There are 32 teams in the NFL and about 19 of them have decent playoff hopes.
In the NFC, a lot of the action is pretty clear cut already. In the West, the Arizona Cardinals have a commanding four-game lead over the closest division opponent.
With just six games to play, it would take either a monumental collapse or unbelievable luck by the 3-7 San Francisco 49ers, the 2-8 Seattle Seahawks or the 2-8 St. Louis Rams. The best the Rams or Seahawks can hope for is an 8-8 record, and that's if they run the table. It's a long shot to win the division and 8-8 won't get them into the wildcard spot in the NFC this season.
In the South, the Carolina Panthers lead the division at 8-2, but the Tampa Bay Bucs are not far behind at 7-3, and the Falcons are still within reach of the division at 6-4. Right now, if the season ended today, the Bucs would be the No. 5 seed in the NFC, taking the top wildcard spot. The New Orleans Saints are bringing up the rear in that division at 5-5, which isn't a terrible record, but considering the number of teams with the same or better record, their chances of reaching the post season are slim at best.
In the Central, there is a logjam at 5-5. The Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings are all tied for the division lead at 5-5, and the Detroit Lions, possibly the worst team in the NFL, are 0-10. The Packers, Vikes and Bears will compete for the division. The winner will be in the playoffs, and the two losers are likely heading home.
Lastly, in the East, the Giants are out to a 9-1 start and have a 3-game advantage over both the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, both 6-4. It looks like the Giants have the division wrapped up, so Washington and Dallas will likely be fighting with Tampa Bay and Atlanta for the wildcard spots. All in all, it looks like about 10 of the 16 teams in the NFC still have a decent shot. Yes, there are teams at 5-5 that could make a run, but the odds are stacked against them.
Over in the AFC, there are a handful of teams that have very little hopes of a postseason berth. In the South, the 10-0 Titans have already eliminated the 3-7 Houston Texans from contending for the division. At 4-6, the Jacksonville Jaguars are pretty much done, too. The Indianapolis Colts, at 6-4, have a solid shot at the wild card, but it looks as if the division is out of reach for them as well.
In the West, the only team above .500 is the Denver Broncos, who lead the division at 6-4. San Diego is holding on by a thread at 4-6, with its best shot to make the playoffs only if it can overtake the Broncos in the division. There are too many other teams vying for the wild card spot. My old team -- the Oakland Raiders -- is 2-8 and the Kansas City Chiefs are 1-9. Count them both out.
In the North, the race is really between the Steelers (7-3) and the Baltimore Ravens (6-4). Cleveland, at 4-6 and Cincinnati at 1-8-1, are done -- stick a fork in them. In the East, the Jets (7-3) are in first right now, but that's a very close division and the race should be fun. I expect more than one team from the East to make the playoffs. Miami and New England are each 6-4, while the Buffalo Bills are 5-5. Right now, 6-4 is good enough to get into the playoffs. The Colts, Ravens, Dolphins and Patriots are all 6-4. There are two wild card spots. And then of course Buffalo at 5-5 has an outside chance to sneak in.
All in all, seven out of the 16 teams are most certainly already finished. The Chargers would make it eight, but I'm holding off on pronouncing them dead just yet. And, out of the 32 teams, it looks like 13 or so have very little or no shot at the postseason. Right now, for whatever reason, those teams are just not winners.
I look for winners each and every week -- three times a week -- with my stock picks. The markets have been tough, but I think I have a winner:
The auction Web site has a quality brand and dominance in the second-hand auction marketplace. You can find nearly anything on eBay. It is true that the average amount people are spending on eBay has declined, but as the economy worsens, the demand for second-hand goods should be on the rise. eBay is in perfect position to benefit from that bump.
The site has strong customer loyalty rates and should bounce back once the economy eventually moves upwards. That may not be right away, but when investing for the long-term, you can't look at the immediate future.
To me, I look at eBay trading at $11.69 and see a real bargain. It's lost almost 62% of its value in the last year and is right near its 52-week low of $11.39, which it hit on Nov. 13. It is nowhere near its 52-week high or $35.12. This company is sound. It has no debt, $3.64 billion in cash and $2.99 billion in operating cash flow on revenue of $8.69 billion.
This company should put you in contention late into the season.
Keep moving the chains!
At the time of publication, Brown had no positions in stocks mentioned, although positions may change at any time.
Tim Brown played 16 seasons in the NFL, where he made nine Pro Bowls. After a brief stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004, Brown retired as an Oakland Raider. He was a Heisman Trophy winner in college for Notre Dame.