Twelve playoff spots. Two weeks to go. Ten positions remain undetermined. Eight AFC teams are battling for two Wildcard berths. Fans nationwide are anxious, especially in Minnesota. This landing could get a little rough.
I made some minor changes to the charts this week. I now have Green Bay winning their regular season finale in Arizona (more on this below), and I have the Colts finishing a perfect 16-0. It’s unusual that the playoff races become cloudier as the season draws to a close. The 2009 season is an exception. While four teams (virtually five) have sealed a playoff berth in the NFC, only one position has been nailed down. Similarly, only the top seed in the AFC has been determined. There’s also an eight team log jam for the two AFC Wildcard berths. Week 16 will provide some answers, but this race will go down to the final weekend. For now, we’ll rely on projections and tiebreakers to forecast who will advance. Vamonos.
The Chargers can clinch the second seed and a first round bye with one more win. If they fall apart and lose their remaining games, they could lose the second seed to New England if the Patriots were to win out. (San Diego would lose tiebreaker based upon record in common games.)
The Tennessee Titans are the NFL’s version of a Cinderella-AIG hybrid. Once forgotten, they’ve overcome a devastating start to crawl their way back into the playoff race. However, they’re still in need of an enormous bailout as they only own tiebreakers over Houston and Miami. Essentially, the Titans need to finish 9-7 and hope every other AFC Wildcard contender (other than HOU and MIA) finishes 8-8 or worse. Tennessee has lost to Pittsburgh, New York (Jets), and will finish with, at best, a 5-7 conference record. The Steelers last minute win over the Packers last Sunday was a devastating blow to the Titans’ playoff hopes. If Chris Johnson is running wild two weekends from now, I may start believing in Santa Clause.
As the two readers that have followed my projections over the past month can attest, I haven’t made any changes to create this mess. Somehow, my playoff projections have created a scenario that would produce four 9-7 teams vying for the two AFC Wildcard berths. I haven’t heard back from my source at the NFL office (no I don’t have a source at the NFL office), but here’s how I believe the situation would play out. The four 9-7 teams would be Baltimore, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee. Whenever there’s a tie between three or more clubs, you only include the highest seeded team from a division. Therefore, the Steelers would be bumped based on their division record. That leaves us with DEN, BAL, and TENN. The Titans would be eliminated from the process based on conference record (5-7 vs. 7-5 and 7-5). The Ravens would then win the 5th seed with their head to head victory over the Broncos.
Still with me? Good. Based on my interpretation of the NFL’s tiebreaking procedures, the process begins all over again. So now we have Denver, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee for the 6th spot. The winner here is easy. The Steelers defeated both teams in the regular season, earning them the conference’s 6th and final playoff berth.
Don’t be surprised if the final weeks of the regular season produce an entirely different outcome. The Jaguars could surprise the Patriots and almost guarantee themselves a playoff spot, or the Dolphins could upset the Steelers in week 17. I could run through every possibility but most of you would stop reading after scenario 6 of 37. For now, we’ll stick to my projections.
Some notes to clear up the tiebreakers on the current chart:
*Broncos win tiebreaker for 7th seed vs Titans based on conference record
*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
Alright, you caught me. The Saints haven’t clinched the top seed yet. However, pair New Orleans hosting Tampa Bay this week with the Vikings collapse, and the Saints are a virtual lock for home field throughout. So there.
As I mentioned above, I changed my pick in the week 17 GB@AZ contest to the Packers. I did this for three reasons. 1. The Packers’ offense is in a groove and the Cardinals, as a team, are slacking. 2. Unless both Minnesota and Philadelphia lose out and Arizona wins out, the Cardinals cannot get the second seed. Furthermore, their only shot at the 3rd seed is if Dallas wins the NFC East. Essentially, this game could mean nothing to the Cardinals. 3. The Packers could be playing for the 5th seed and the right to avoid Minnesota or Philadelphia/Dallas in the first round.
According to my projections, the NFC is on pace to leave a 10-6 team out of the playoffs for the first time since 1991. Despite 10-6 records, the 49ers and Eagles were left out of the postseason party following the ‘91 season. In 2009, it will be the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas would finish tied at 10-6 with the Giants, giving New York the final playoff berth with two victories over Dallas. (How good was the NFC in 1991? There were only 14 teams in the conference then and eight, EIGHT!, finished 10-6 or better. I miss those days.)
The second seed is up (way up) in the air right now. The Vikings control their destiny. Win out, and a first round bye is theirs. The Eagles need a Minnesota loss and victories in their final two games. The Cardinals scenario is detailed above. The Cowboys would need to finish 11-5, have the Vikings drop their final two, and require Arizona to finish worse than 11-5. So much could happen here, definitely something to keep an eye on down the stretch.
Several week 17 matchups in the NFC could have huge playoff implications.
Vikings@Giants: If both teams win in week 16, the Vikings could be playing for the second seed while the Giants may be fighting for a playoff berth.
Eagles@Cowboys: A lot of playoff consequences here. The Eagles could be battling for the NFC East and/or a first round bye. The Cowboys could need a win for the NFC East title, a first round bye, or even their playoff lives. It all depends on how the chips fall in the final two weeks.
Packers@Cardinals: The Packers may need a win to clinch the 5th seed while the Cardinals could get the 2nd or 3rd seed with a win.
If you’re excited by those matchups, allow me to poor a little icing on your cake. The Wildcard round of the NFC playoffs may very well offer two week 17 rematches. There are three possibilities.
1. Packers at Cardinals
2. Giants at Vikings
3. Cowboys at Eagles
This is too much fun.