NFL Standings After Week 11 & Clinching Scenarios

All teams are now 5/8 of the way through their seasons and the playoff races are starting to take shape. Some things look reasonably clear at this point, while a number of other things are as clear as mud. Here is a quickie synopsis, starting with the AFC:

1. Indianapolis
2/3/4. New England/Cincinnati/San Diego
5. Jacksonville
6. Pittsburgh
0 games out of 6th: Denver
1 game out of 6th: Miami, Baltimore, Houston
2 games out of 6th: NY Jets, Tennessee
Planning for 2010: Kansas City, Oakland, Buffalo, Cleveland

Indianapolis seems to have a near mortal lock on the #1 seed; going 4-2 down the stretch would flat out guarantee things without looking at scenarios. In the more immediate term they can clinch the division this Sunday with a win coupled with a Jacksonville loss. Even if it doesn’t happen this weekend its a fait accompli. After that things get more interesting. New England, Cincinnati, and San Diego all lead their divisions at 7-3 and they all have 5-3 conference records at the moment. The Bengals will visit the Chargers later in the season but other than that these teams do not play each other so they have little impact on each other. Of course none of them have their divisions sewn up, though the Patriots have a two game lead, the Chargers are surging and the Broncos reeling, and the Bengals have sweeps over their pursuers. As for the wildcard picture 3 teams are currently tied at 6-4. Jacksonville is placed 5th currently with a superior conference record, then when you re-evaluate for the 6th seed the Steelers edge the Broncos on head-to-head. 3 other teams are right there at 5-5. Miami has one less conference loss than Baltimore and Houston. The Ravens have two huge games left with Pittsburgh, Miami finishes the year with the Steelers, and Houston has a remaining game with Jacksonville having lost the first meeting, so they all have some measure of control over their own destinies. Also don’t look now but the Titans have won 4 straight games after purging their curse of the Terrible Towel by donating an autographed Towel to be auctioned for charity a month ago. If they survive the next couple weeks playing the Cardinals and Colts and get to 6-6 they’ll be a legit factor. The Jets are still alive also but fading fast and I think them moving into the planning for 2010 column is a matter of time. Given that the AFC is currently +4 against the NFC I doubt 9-7 is sufficient to get in, and the teams already on 7 losses I don’t see going on 6 game winning streaks.

As for the NFC:

1. New Orleans
2. Minnesota
3. Dallas
4. Arizona
5. Philadelphia
6. Green Bay
0 games back of 6th: NY Giants
1 game back of 6th: Atlanta
2 games back of 6th: San Francisco, Carolina, Chicago
Planning for 2010: Washington, Seattle, Detroit, Tampa, St. Louis

The Saints and Vikings both look good for winning their divisions and for getting the conference’s bye seeds. Indeed, New Orleans can clinch their division this weekend though it would involve Atlanta losing to Tampa and the Saints beating New England Monday Night. I currently score Dallas ahead of Arizona for 3rd and 4th though they have the same number of conference losses the ‘Boys have one more win. Arizona is virtually certain to win the West but Dallas is still in a legit 3 team race for the East. The wildcard realistically is 4 teams (2 East teams, Green Bay, and Atlanta) with the Falcons 1 game behind the rest after losing to the Giants Sunday. Philadelphia currently leads a division tie with the Giants having won their first matchup and gets the 5th seed on a better conference record than the Packers (2 vs 3 losses). Then the Packers get the 6th seed over the Giants (both have 3 conference losses but Green Bay one more win right now). Like I said Atlanta is one game back and very much alive but can’t afford much more losing. With 6 losses the Bears, Panthers, and 49ers are still alive but all 3 took huge losses this past weekend and are in big trouble. Being -4 to the AFC it is mathematically more likely on current trends that 9-7 works for an NFC team in a multi-way tie situation but I feel confident in saying neither the ‘Skins nor Seahawks will run the table and at 9-7 either of them would have 6-6 conference records that probably wouldn’t get the tiebreaking job done anyhow.

Between this weekend and next weekend there are a total of 4 games whose start times have been “flexed” from the original schedule. On 11/29 the Bears @ Vikings and Cardinals @ Titans games have been moved from 1pm to 4:15pm in order to comprise the Fox doubleheader schedule. And on 12/6 in a somewhat interesting move Patriots @ Dolphins has been demoted from Sunday Night Football to 1pm and Vikings @ Cardinals promoted from late afternoon to NBC. I guess Favre out-ratings Brady and Fox still has Cowboys @ Giants they can feature nationally.

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