NFL Landscape at the 3/4 Pole

The NFL season, unbelievably, is already 75% complete.  Also, I didn’t fall asleep in my chair until 2am.  So, this would seem to be a good time to take a more exhaustive look at the playoff picture in both conferences.  Remarkably after Week 13 not only does no one yet have a playoff spot clinched, but there are not even any clinching scenarios for Week 14!  Usually by now we at least have a couple pace-setters that have a convoluted way to clinch, but everyone is still at least two weeks away.  As usual I’ll start with the AFC, which is the more muddled, especially when it comes to the wildcard picture and a 6 way tie for the 6th seed (as always please keep in mind that breaking ties within a division are of paramount importance; a team cannot be ranked higher in conference standings than a team that it is behind in division standings):

1. New England (9-3) (head to head tiebreaker on Denver)

2. Denver

3. Cincinnati (8-3-1)

4. Indianapolis (8-4)

5. San Diego (8-4)

6. Miami (7-5) ([division record tiebreaker on Buffalo for division rank] conference record tiebreaker on Kansas City & Baltimore [head to head to head tiebreaker on Pittsburgh & Cleveland for division rank])

In the Hunt

7. Kansas City (conference record tiebreaker on Buffalo & Baltimore)

8. Buffalo (conference record tiebreaker {more wins} on Baltimore)

9. Baltimore

10. Pittsburgh (common opponents record tiebreaker {more wins} on Cleveland)

11. Cleveland

12. Houston (6-6)

Playing for 2015

13/14. New York & Tennessee (2-10) (Tennessee has head to head tiebreaker on Jacksonville for division rank, New York also has tiebreaker on Jacksonville via conference record {more wins})

15. Jacksonville

16. Oakland (1-11)

Starting at the top New England is currently in decent shape to win their division, holding a two game lead on the Dolphins and Bills.  They then also are in good shape to be the #1 seed based on the fact they beat the other 3 current division leaders in head-to-head matchups.  Denver can hold off San Diego even if they lose the upcoming rematch based on a better division record (Chargers lost to Kansas City whereas the Broncos swept the Chiefs).  A Week 16 Monday Night trip to Cincinnati could help determine a bye seed.  The Colts are a game back having already lost to Denver and New England, so they would need help to get a bye seed.  However they are in solid shape to at least win their division.

A critical Week 14 game in the wildcard chase is Miami v Baltimore, as the winner of that game will obviously improve their standing.  The Dolphins have a game with New England looming also; if they were to end up 10-6 it would likely be with a strong 9-3 conference record.  Kansas City has critical remaining games with both San Diego and Pittsburgh.  San Diego has the advantage of being a game clear of the field, but they have a brutal remaining schedule that includes Denver, New England, and San Francisco along with that Chiefs game.

Pittsburgh is currently 10th in the conference, but they actually control their destiny for winning the division.  They still have both games left with the Bengals, so winning out would put Cincinnati a 1/2 game behind them.  And, while they are behind Baltimore right now, the fact is they would win a 2 way tie with either Baltimore or Cleveland at 11-5.  If the Steelers go 10-6 and don’t win the division they would still likely win a tie with either Baltimore or Cleveland.  A tie with San Diego could be problematic if one of the Chargers losses was the San Francisco game.  The Steelers have a stronger conference record than the Ravens or Browns because they have been doing more losing to the NFC South than they should.  A potential problem would be a tie with Miami; odds are that tie would come down to record against common opponents, and, in that eventuality, the Steelers loss to the lowly Jets, whom the Dolphins beat twice, could be crippling.

The Ravens are in better shape to go 11-5; that doesn’t guarantee them the division but almost certainly a wildcard.  After Miami their remaining games are Houston, Jacksonville, and Cleveland.  But at 10-6 they won’t be well-positioned for most tiebreakers, especially if the loss is Miami or Cleveland.  They just took a loss to San Diego and they would be 6-6 in the conference, the weakest possible mark for a 10-6 team.

Cleveland is in a similar predicament with all of their losses thus far being conference games.  They do get to play Carolina and can impact Baltimore by beating them Week 16, but they also still have games left with Indianapolis and Cincinnati.  Of course, the fact they play the Bengals once more still means they would not need much help to win the division should they win out to 11-5.  But at 10-6 they would also only be 6-6 in the conference including losses to Buffalo and Houston.

I haven’t mentioned Buffalo yet; at 7-5 they are in the thick of the race.  However, they also do not have a good conference record.  Also, they still have games remaining with New England, Denver, and Green Bay, so my hunch is they’ll end up around 8-8 and out of it.

Houston is also still alive 1 game back.  If they were to win out they would be 10-6 with a 9-3 conference record.  They have beaten Cleveland and would have to beat Baltimore to get to that mark.  They do have a loss to Pittsburgh.

And now for the NFC

1. Arizona (9-3) (conference record tiebreaker on Philadelphia & Green Bay)

2. Green Bay (head to head tiebreaker on Philadelphia)

3. Philadelphia

4. Atlanta (5-7) (head to head tiebreaker on New Orleans for division lead)

5. Seattle (8-4) (conference record drops Dallas from 3-way tie involving Detroit, then record against opponents common with Detroit to break 2-way tie)

6. Detroit (conference record tiebreaker on Dallas)

In the Hunt

7. Dallas

8. San Francisco (7-5)

In the Hunt NFC South Edition

9/10. New Orleans (5-7) (conference record drops St. Louis from tie involving Chicago [head to head tiebreaker on Minnesota for division rank]. Chicago & New Orleans have same conference record and will play each other later in season)

Playing for 2015

9/10. Chicago (conference record on St. Louis)

11. Minnesota (head to head tiebreaker on St. Louis

12. St. Louis

In the Hunt NFC South Edition

13. Carolina (3-8-1)

Playing for 2015

14. New York (3-9) (head to head on Washington)

15. Washington

16. Tampa Bay (2-10)

The top of the NFC is very tight with 3 division leaders sporting the same record and three 2nd place teams also sporting the identical records that trail their leader by 1 game.  Philadelphia has lost to both the Packers and Cardinals.  However, Arizona is now only leading the division by 1 game after losing the past two weeks.  In the last 4 weeks we still have one matchup each of Philadelphia v Dallas, Green Bay v Detroit, Arizona v Seattle, Arizona v San Francisco,  Seattle v San Francisco, and Philadelphia v Seattle to help either settle some things or muddle the picture even more.  At this moment Dallas would have the extreme bad luck of missing the playoffs at 8-4 which suggests its very possible that 10-6 will not be good enough for one or two teams in the NFC, maybe not even 11-5.

Then there is the NFC South.  Atlanta and New Orleans did pick up wins outside the division in Week 13, improving the division’s record in said games to 8-25-1.  The Saints and Falcons have a showdown remaining in Week 16 that will likely settle things.  Carolina still has the chance to win out to 7-8-1 having 3 division games and a home game with Cleveland remaining so they, at 3-8-1, are not completely out of it yet.

Enjoy the last month of the season!

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