After another fascinating week in the NFL, opinions are flowing. With just four weeks remaining in the regular season, let's separate fact from fiction on some of the biggest emerging storylines ...
1) Seattle will overtake Arizona in the NFC West.
Last week, I detailed the Seahawks' dangerous potential, explaining why the reigning champs are poised to make noise down the stretch and in the playoffs. And obviously, I believe this even more after watching them smash the 49ers -- in San Francisco -- on Thanksgiving night. The "Legion of Boom" is back. Bobby Wagner is healthy, which is gigantic for this defense. Marshawn Lynch is powerful. Russell Wilson is clutch. Seattle has experience.
But still, I consider this to be FICTION.
Of course, December's no cake walk for Seattle, either: at Philadelphia, vs. San Francisco, at Arizona, vs. St. Louis.
While Arizona's defensive showing on Sunday was troubling -- and now there are injuries to monitor -- this team is too talented and too well coached to tank.
2) J.J. Watt is an MVP candidate.
Watt is a bona fide star. He's a special talent who's en route to his second Defensive Player of the Year award in three seasons. And Watt has expanded his electrifying play to the offensive side of the ball, too, as evidenced by his third touchdown reception of the season on Sunday. Regardless, this statement is FICTION.
Remember, in The Associated Press' NFL awards -- in which I'm proud to take part -- you vote for just one player in each category. It isn't like the MLB or NBA, where you rank a number of players and the award goes to the guy with the highest combined point total in a weighted system. If that were the system in the NFL, I could see Watt finishing second or third on many ballots. I mean, just look at his performance in Sunday's 45-21 win over the Titans: In addition to the touchdown grab, he racked up two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and six quarterback hits. Eye-popping stuff, which is the norm with this guy. I can't get enough.
3) The Packers and Patriots will meet again.
No need to beat around the bush: This is a FACT.
I'm looking forward to the rematch in Arizona for the Lombardi Trophy. The Pack will win that one, too. I think this is the best offensive line -- and the best defense -- Rodgers has enjoyed in Green Bay.
4) The NFC South champion will win more than seven games.
5) Johnny Manziel will lead the Browns to the playoffs.
What a story this would be. Certainly a tempting tale to write, but it would be FICTION.
I do think, whether the change occurs this week or next, Manziel will play more than Brian Hoyer down the stretch. Hoyer has regressed significantly over the last three weeks, with one touchdown pass, six interceptions and a 55.7 QB rating over that span.
6) The Oakland Raiders will net the No. 1 overall pick.
Oakland won't win again, and then the real drama will begin. Interim coach Tony Sparano won't be leading this team beyond December, but will Reggie McKenzie stay or go? I think the Raiders desperately need a new general manager. Do they draft a quarterback with the top overall pick? Or trust Derek Carr and trade down for a bushel of picks?
7) Dallas will be playing for a playoff spot in Week 17.
This is also FACT.
I am staying consistent. I think Philly wins the division and Dallas plays for a wild-card spot in Week 17. And I think the 'Boys can get it, despite last week's 23-point loss.
8) The AFC West will boast three playoff teams.
Denver will win the division. San Diego had a brilliant comeback win in Baltimore to improve to 8-4 -- just one game behind the Broncos -- but the Chargers' schedule is impossible down the stretch. Kansas City lost at home to the Broncos on Sunday night to fall to 7-5. And that Week 12 loss to the lowly Raiders feels like a potential killer for the Chiefs' playoff hopes.
9) San Francisco is cooked.
The Niners won't give in. But they're 7-5, and despite San Francisco still having a game left against the Raiders, I think the odds are too long and the competition (Detroit, Dallas, Arizona, Seattle) is too great. This team is not making the playoffs. That's FACT.