ALL 32 NFL teams have made it through 12 weekends of football, each throwing in their bye among their first 11 games. Now the REAL season begins though with five games left to secure a spot in this year’s playoffs. Some of them have used the first two-thirds of the season to set themselves up for success, while other teams are left clinging to a faint strand of hope. Here’s how the playoff picture is shaping up with bye weeks in the rear vision mirror.
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1st: Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) – @Raiders, vs. Ravens, vs. Chargers
2nd: New England Patriots (8-3) – vs. Vikings, @Dolphins, @Steelers
3rd: Houston Texans (8-3) – vs. Browns, vs. Colts, @Jets
4th: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1) – vs. Chargers, @Raiders, vs. Patriots
5th: Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) – @Steelers, vs Bengals, @Chiefs
6th: Baltimore Ravens (6-5) – @Falcons, @Chiefs, vs. Bucs
IT’S fair to say that the division leaders are pretty safe in the AFC. Kansas City still has some easy beats remaining, as do the Texans and Patriots, while I can’t see anyone dethroning the Steelers. New England and Pittsburgh still square off a few weeks from now which could decide who gets a week off to start the playoffs. Houston has a leg up on their AFC South rivals too, with the wild card spots, theoretically the only two places still up for grabs.
A pair of road games to player higher-seeded foes might rock the boat for the Chargers, but they should be fine, likely destined to finish with the 5th seed. Baltimore however, is anything but safe, claiming a spot in the six right, holding the tiebreaker over the Colts with a better inter-conference record right now. Beating the Falcons in Atlanta is possible, but topping the Chiefs in Kansas City? That’s a much harder task. Drop one of those games and they can still rebound. Drop both and the door remains wide open for the final slot.
1st: New Orleans Saints (10-1) – @Cowboys, @Bucs, @Panthers
2nd: Los Angeles Rams (10-1) – @Lions, @Bears, vs. Eagles
3rd: Chicago Bears (8-3) – @Giants, vs. Rams, vs. Packers
4th: Dallas Cowboys (6-5) – vs. Saints, vs. Eagles, @Colts
5th: Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1) – @Patriots, @Seahawks, vs. Dolphins
6th: Washington Redskins (6-5) – @Eagles, vs. Giants, @Jaguars
Image from thevikingage.com
SINCE laying an egg and coming up short on opening day, the Saints have barely put a foot wrong, storming to 10 straight W’s. As a result, many have them pencilled in as the Super Bowl favourites right now, with the 2nd seeded L.A. Rams a fraction below them. Their spots in the top two appear set, unless the Bears can get a run on and cause an upset, earning a first-week bye in the process.
SEEDS 4-6 are a little more confusing, with Dallas leapfrogging Washington with a Thanksgiving win to take the NFC East lead. Both teams still have to stave off the 5-6 Philadelphia within the next fortnight, who aren’t that far behind Dallas or Washington. My preseason Super Bowl pick Minnesota is starting to like the team I thought they would be, but there are still question marks. A brutal run home, starting with a trip to New England this weekend might mean Seattle or Carolina snap up the last playoff spot over the Vikings.
IN THE HUNT
Indianapolis Colts (6-5) – @Jaguars, @Texans, vs. Cowboys
Miami Dolphins (5-6) – vs. Bills, vs. Patriots, @Vikings
Cincinnati Bengals (5-6) – vs. Broncos, @Chargers, vs. Raiders
Denver Broncos (5-6) – @Bengals, @49ers, vs. Browns
Tennessee Titans (5-6) – vs. Jets. vs. Jaguars, @Giants
THE race for the final AFC spot could go right down to the wire. However, I don’t think all five of these teams will remain in the mix. Indianapolis holds a one-game lead over their inter-conference foes on the edge of the playoff bubble, with their matchup against Houston shaping up as do-or-die for the Colts. Speaking of do-or-die, Miami might have to win out to snap up a playoff seed, a task that is looking more and more unlikely each day. The Dolphins have two games against the Bills left on their schedule, who all of sudden are no longer pushovers, but the real danger comes when they host New England next week, followed by a trip to Minnesota in Week 15, which could be the nail in the coffin.
CINCINNATI and Denver meet this weekend as two teams drastically trending in different directions. The Bengals’ season has gone up in flames, with their franchise quarterback now placed on IR with a busted thumb. Denver, on the other hand, are all in on winning out and ruffling some postseason feathers. The only team left on their schedule with a winning record is the Chargers, whom they play in Week 17. If it comes down to that game, Los Angeles might not have anything to play for in their final regular season game, leaving the door ajar for the Broncos. Oh and Tennessee? Yeah, you don’t need to worry about them, even if they face a bunch of bottom feeders to close out the season, their fate was all but sealed on Monday night.
Image from si.com
Seattle Seahawks (6-5) – vs. 49ers, vs. Vikings, @49ers
Carolina Panthers (6-5) – @Bucs, @Browns, vs. Saints
Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) – vs. Redskins, @Cowboys, @Rams
THE Seahawks’ win over Carolina could prove to be a HUGE factor down the stretch. Owning the tiebreaker over a conference foe is a huge advantage, one that Seattle will try to cash in on. A batch of winnable games makes them the favourite for the 6th seed in my eyes, but Carolina might have something to say about it. The Panthers have their work cut out for them but a playoff spot is still within sight, two games against the flawless Saints might not be as intimidating as it sounds, with New Orleans potentially entering Week 17 locked into their seeding. Philadelphia might have left their run too late, with two road trips to Dallas and L.A. looming as danger games that could knock them out of contention.
MIRACLES DO HAPPEN
Green Bay Packers (4-6-1)
Cleveland Browns (4-6-1)
Atlanta Falcons (4-7)
Buffalo Bills (4-7)
EVEN if the Packers and Browns find a way to win the rest of their fixtures then they still need other results to fall their way. Which makes Atlanta and Buffalo’s task even that much more impossible. However, technically speaking all four of them are still a mathematical chance to qualify for the postseason. For how long still remains to be seen. Green Bay’s tough division means a Week 15 game in Chicago could be the end of their season, with Cleveland eyeing a similar scenario over the next two weeks against the Texans and Panthers.
BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)
Detroit Lions (4-7)
New York Giants (3-8)
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8)
New York Jets (3-8)
Arizona Cardinals (2-9)
San Francisco 49ers (2-9)
Oakland Raiders (2-9)
FOR these eight franchises it’s time to start planning for 2019 if they haven’t done so already. With very little to gain from the remaining slate of games, we could see some mainstream names get shut down early and sent in for end of season surgeries to have them fresh and ready to go when preseason gets underway next year. This could also heat up the competition for picks, with just one win separating the bottom six teams right now.
Banner from thelandryhat.com