With Week 13 nearly in the books, we have a quarter left of what's proven to be a wild 2015 NFL season. The drama has been all sorts of awesome heading into the stretch run.
But as things have heated up, the myths have begun flying around fast and furious. So let's separate fact from fiction, Schein Nine style.
1) Cam Newton will win his first MVP award.
This is a fact.
Tom Brady was leading this race by a hair entering Week 13, but now my vote is going to Cam Newton, who tossed five touchdown passes for the second time in three weeks and survived seemingly countless Ted Ginn Jr. drops in guiding the Panthers to a huge win over the Saints. Carolina's 12th victory of the year -- a nailbiter against an NFC South rival that involved five lead changes, four of which came in the fourth quarter -- was all Cam. And it was brilliant. He completed 28 of 41 passes for 331 yards, including a clutch fourth-down completion that kept alive the drive that ended with Newton throwing the clinching scoring toss with just over a minute left. He's been on fire lately, notching a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 14:2 and a combined passer rating of 113.9 over his past five games -- and his Week 13 performance might have permanently shifted momentum in his favor.
Remember, voters for this award only vote for one player; we don't rank it like baseball or the NBA with a weighted point system. That said, my top three candidates are Cam, Brady and Carson Palmer, with Cam in the lead to get my vote heading into the final quarter of the season.
2) The NFC playoff field is set.
Carolina, of course, has already clinched the NFC South -- but while there's technically still a race for the other five berths, I think they're as good as sewn up.
The Seahawksembarrassed and crunched the Vikings on Sunday, making a thunderous statement that they are ready for the stretch run and won't collapse. We needed to see if the win over Pittsburgh last week -- which put Seattle over .500 for the first time in the 2015 season -- was simply a victory or the start of something. And we got our answer, to the tune of a 31-point thrashing of another legit conference contender.
Tampa Bay has overachieved and been very impressive while climbing to 6-6, and quarterback Jameis Winston is a true Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite. But the Bucs aren't leapfrogging Seattle in the wild-card race. As for the Falcons, well -- as I quipped after Atlanta lost to San Francisco and again after the team blew two 14-point leads at home to Indy -- they should leave the football business and sell ice cream. The bloom fell off the Dan Quinn rose rather quickly.
Then we get to the NFC East, which is so bad it's plain offensive. The Giants are dreadful, though sadly (for us as fans) not quite out of it, thanks to the quality (or lack thereof) of their division. And the Eagles -- after their remarkable win against the Patriots (See? I told you Chip Kelly was a genius!) -- are still in it. But I like the Redskins -- who have a chance to move back to .500 and go a full game up on the Eagles and Giants by beating the Cowboys tonight -- to hold on, because somehow this Kirk Cousins-led squad looks to me like the best team of the bunch. What a time to be alive!
3) The Vikings will win the NFC North.
Even after Rodgers saved the gameagainst Detroit, the Packers have a lot to clean up in every phase. Meanwhile, I thought the Vikes were going to win Sunday -- but I was dead wrong. It's going to come down to who can beat the Cardinals (spoiler alert: Arizona beats them both) and that regular-season finale. Of course, the faceoff is in Lambeau, so give me the Packers.
4) The Carolina Panthers will go undefeated.
I'm going to call this fiction, because I think going 16-0 is so darn hard to do; look at how difficult it was for Carolina to beat New Orleans on Sunday. And the Panthers still have three NFC South games left (two againstAtlanta and one against Tampa Bay). Yes, the Falcons are officially dreadful and the Bucs don't match up, but neither did the Saints. Divisional rivals will always bring their "A" game and treat these clashes with the seriousness they would a Super Bowl -- so Carolina can expect the best shots of both Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
5) New York will be shut out of postseason play.
This is also fiction.
The Giants are toast and need a new general manager and a reboot, but the Jets will make the playoffs, surviving the dogfight that is the AFC wild-card race. The Jets didn't play great in their win over the Giants on Sunday, but they have a knack for showing toughness and making plays -- led by Brandon Marshall -- when it matters most. The Jets finish the regular season with games vs. the Titans, at the Cowboys, vs. the Patriots and at the Bills. I see them winning three of four -- and I'll even give them a chance against New England.
As for the Jets' competitors for a wild-card spot, Pittsburgh, as I wrote last week, can be very dangerous -- if the Steelers make the playoffs. But getting there will be a challenge, as they still have brutal games against Cincyand Denver on the schedule. Buffalo had a tremendous win over Houston. But do you trust the focus of a Rex Ryan-coached team down the stretch?
6) Peyton Manning will start another game this season.
Brock Osweiler has been a major upgrade for Denver since taking over for the injured veteran in Week 10. Osweiler has made three starts, beating his former coach and offensive coordinator (John Fox and Adam Gase) in Chicago, the previously undefeated Patriots and a divisional opponent (the Chargers) on the road in that span. His numbers as a starter (62.1 percent completion rate, 89.2 passer rating, 4:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three starts) outpace Manning's (59.9 percent completion rate, 67.6 passer rating, 9:17 TD-to-INT ratio in nine starts), and the run game performs much better with Osweiler under center (161.0 rushing yards per game) than it did with Manning this season (86.0).
So I'm guessing the next time we see Peyton Manning will be in a commercial. Of course, I don't say this with any joy in my voice. Manning is a living legend. But he likely should've retired after last season.
7) The Bengals will get the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
8) The Patriots are the favorites to win Super Bowl 50.
9) The Chiefs are making the playoffs.
This, my friends, is a fact. Kansas City has got it going on during this six-game winning streak.
Alex Smith is playing brilliant ball. His season-high passer rating of 123.7 on Sunday marked the latest high point in a nine-game stretch that's seen him put up 235.4 passing yards per game and a 10:0 TD-to-INT ratio. His rapport with receiver Jeremy Maclin is incredible. The team's mindset has totally flipped since the Chiefs' 1-5 start. And the schedule going forward -- which includes games against the Chargers, Ravensand Browns -- is relatively easy.