The NFC playoff picture boils down to seven teams. The playoff race in the AFC is a little more chaotic. Eight teams are currently contending for the conferences two Wildcard positions. Do the Dolphins have a chance? Are the reigning champs really dead? Did the Phillies seriously trade their 2009 MVP?
We’ve reached the time of year when predicting wins and losses becomes even more difficult. Winning teams may rest players (Colts, Saints, Vikings), while hopeless teams find momentum heading into the next season (Redskins, 49ers, Jets). Despite the obstacles, I went ahead and made a few changes to the charts this week. Some changes are educated guesses. For example, I think the Giants will lose one of their final three, so I settled for next week at the surging Redskins. I left my Cowboys/Saints pick alone in the chart because New Orleans wants to lose. (They won’t admit this, but trust me, it’s true.) In the AFC, I thought I changed something. Although, I can’t for the life of me figure out what. Old age I guess. Anyway, please remember, I picked the remaining games based upon how I feel about each team RIGHT NOW. As you can see, the playoff pictures have grown more crowded (especially in the AFC). Fortunately, tiebreakers have provided us with a pretty good idea of who will reach the postseason. Let’s get to it.
First things first. The Colts clinched the top seed in the conference. I’d be surprised if they played the season out with their starters. Also, who would have predicted the Steelers finishing the season at 2-4 in their division, or even worse, 1-5? This is shocking. With one division game against Baltimore remaining, 1-5 is a real possibility. Good thing Cindy Crosby is still in town.
The Chargers will claim the two seed if they can hold off the Bengals this weekend. These teams are heading in opposite directions, so I expect San Diego to prevail. Cincinnati’s struggles could even cost them the third spot. If they finish according to my projections, both Cincinnati and New England would own identical records and conference records as well (8-4). The next tiebreaker would be record in common games. Again, based on my projections, both would tie at 3-2. The tiebreaker would then go to strength of victory (overall record of teams they’ve beaten). The Patriots prevail (76-100 to 71-105). Oh yeh, the Pats and Bengals stink. As you can see, they’ve beaten mostly bad teams.
The race for the two wildcard spots will be fun to watch. The standings would lead you to believe there are eight teams in contention for those spots. Look deeper, only four have a legitimate shot. Due to tiebreakers, Houston, New York, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee are beyond long shots. Think the Mets blowing two consecutive September leads in NL East. Oh sorry. That actually happened. Bad example. Think Sarah Palin winning the Democratic nomination in 2012. Like I said, beyond long shots. Therefore, the Broncos, Dolphins, Jaguars, and Ravens will battle for the final spots. The schedules favor the Broncos and Ravens. Difficult inter-conference opponents will make life rough for the Dolphins and Jaguars. While there’s hope, the odds are stacked against them.
As you can see via the chart, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee all finished 9-7. When three teams are tied, you always eliminate the lesser of two teams from the same division. Therefore, the Steelers are removed based on a poorer division record. Baltimore would then win the sixth seed over Tennessee with a superior conference record. For those who are wondering, starting 0-6 in your conference is never a good way to make the playoffs. The Titans will confirm this.
Some notes to clear up the tiebreakers on the current chart:
*Steelers win tiebreaker for 7th seed vs Titans with head to head victory in Week 1
*Dolphins win tiebreaker for 9th seed vs Jaguars based on head to head victory in Week 14
*Jets win tiebreaker for 11th seed vs Texans based on head to head victory in Week 1
The NFC isn’t nearly as messy as the AFC. In fact, the six projected playoff teams haven’t moved in weeks. The biggest questions remain, how far will Dallas fall, and can the Giants take advantage? The correct answer is; pretty far, and; I have no clue.
I only have Dallas losing one of their final three games. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if they lost two or even all three. The Cowboys have no back bone, no leader to rally the troops and circle the wagons. Once they start spiraling, only a harsh landing will stop them. Historically, that landing has been the end of the season. Despite their struggles, the Giants have a good chance of reaching the postseason. They control the tiebreaker with Dallas, so they can finish with identical records and still advance. Monday’s contest in D.C. will be their biggest test. New York’s other remaining games are against a philosophically confused Carolina team and Minnesota (who by that time may be in mop-up mode). Three wins is very likely. In that time, Dallas will face New Orleans and Washington on the road, and welcome Philadelphia to close out the year. Not a walk through the park. I currently have Dallas advancing because the Redskins are playing really well right now. If they win on Monday night, I think the Giants will advance. The worst part of all of this is the Eagles will most likely play a division opponent in the first round. This is never, ever a good thing. Ever.
It’s important to note that Arizona’s ugly defeat last Monday probably cost them the third seed. They’ll need help from Philadelphia to avoid New Orleans in the Divisional round of the playoffs. As for the other “semi, but not really legitimate” contenders; the 49ers need a miracle to catch Arizona for the division, and a bigger miracle to catch anyone for the wildcard. The Falcons are hopeless because they lose the tiebreaker to virtually every playoff team except San Francisco.
Some notes to clear up the tiebreakers on the current chart:
*Falcons win tiebreaker vs 49ers for 8th seed based on head to head victory in Week 5
*Packers win tiebreaker vs Cowboys for 5th seed based on head to head victory in Week 10