NFL Picture at the 1/8th Pole

Some things are starting to come into focus with two weeks to go in the season, but many things are also still up in the air.  In the AFC we know 3 of the 4 division winners for certain with a still muddled, albeit stratified, wildcard picture.  In the NFC, we essentially have two teams each in the East, North, and West for a total of 5 spots while the mediocre South remains a 3 team race for a home game.  Below are the standings, analysis, clinching scenarios, and projected playoff schedule, starting in the AFC:

1. New England {clinched division} (11-3) (head to head on Denver)

2. Denver {clinched division}

3. Indianapolis {clinched division} (10-4)

4. Cincinnati (9-4-1)

5. Pittsburgh (9-5) (division record on Baltimore)

6. Baltimore

In the Hunt

7. Kansas City (8-6) ([head to head on San Diego for division rank] head to head on Buffalo)

8. San Diego (head to head on Buffalo)

9. Buffalo

10. Houston (7-7) (conference record on Miami & Cleveland)

11. Miami (conference record on Cleveland)

12. Cleveland

Playing for 2015

13. New York (3-11)

14. Tennessee (2-12) ([head to head on Jacksonville for division rank] conference record on Oakland)

15. Oakland (strength of victory tiebreaker on Jacksonville)

16. Jacksonville

The Patriots, Broncos, and Colts have all clinched their divisions, with the Patriots and Broncos having the inside track on getting the two byes into the divisional round.  The Patriots definitely get the #1 seed with two wins having beaten Denver head to head; the Broncos conversely can lose once and still be no worse than the #2 seed having beaten the Colts.

In the AFC North the Bengals and Steelers both control their destiny for winning the division; Baltimore can win the North by winning its last two games and having the Bengals or Steelers lose in Week 16, then beat the other in Week 17.  The Bengals make the playoffs by winning one of their last two.  The Steelers clinch a playoff spot if they beat Kansas City this coming Sunday.  If they lose to the Chiefs and beat the Bengals they would need the Bengals to have lost in Week 16 or the Ravens to lose once or the Chiefs to lose in Week 17 to the Chargers to make the playoffs at 10-6.  The Ravens get in the playoffs for sure with two wins; if they lose once down the stretch they need some help to get in as they would have at 10-6 a weak 6-6 conference record including losing to the Chargers.  All three have scenarios where they get in at 9-6-1 or 9-7 with considerable help.

Of the 8-6 teams Kansas City is in the best shape; they control their destiny.  If they get to 10-6 they would beat the Steelers, beat San Diego twice, have beaten Buffalo, and have a better conference record than Baltimore.  Their conference record also means they have ways they could get in at 9-7 but it takes a good deal of help.

San Diego gets in at 10-6 if Baltimore loses at least once.  They could also get in if Cincinnati or Pittsburgh loses twice.  Buffalo is in the weakest position because all 6 of their losses are conference games.  They need to win out, and have either one team in the North lose twice plus the Week 17 Kansas City v San Diego winner to have lost in Week 16 or for two North teams to lose out.

The teams at 7-7 are in a very weak position but can still get in with two wins and massive amounts of help.  Miami and Houston are in relatively better shape because of decent conference records.  For Cleveland, who at 9-7 would only be 5-7 in the conference they have to have the following all play out:

1. Win their two remaining games.

2. Baltimore loses Week 16 to Houston

3. Houston loses Week 17 to Jacksonville

4. San Diego loses to San Francisco in Week 16

5. Kansas City loses to Pittsburgh in Week 16

6. Buffalo loses its two remaining games

7. Miami loses one of its two remaining games (Minnesota & New York Jets)

8. The Week 17 game between San Diego and Kansas City ends in a tie.

And now for the NFC:

1. Arizona {clinched playoff spot} (11-3)

2. Detroit (10-4) ([head to head on Green Bay for division lead] conference record on Dallas)

3. Dallas

4. New Orleans (6-8)

5. Seattle (10-4) (head to head on Green Bay)

6. Green Bay

In the Hunt

7. Philadelphia (9-5)

Playing for 2015

8. San Francisco (7-7)

9. Minnesota (6-8) (head to head on St. Louis)

10. St Louis

In the Hunt NFC South Edition

11. Carolina (5-8-1)

12. Atlanta (5-9) (conference record on Chicago & New York)

Playing for 2015

13. Chicago (conference record on New York)

14. New York

15. Washington (3-11)

16. Tampa Bay (2-12)

Arizona is the only team in the conference that has clinched a playoff spot with two weeks to go.  They can clinch the West and the #1 seed by beating the Seahawks this Sunday night.  Of course, they will be starting their 3rd string quarterback against the defending champs.  If Seattle wins out they win the West as that will give them a season sweep of the Cardinals.

Detroit and Green Bay both control their destiny for winning the North as they play each other in Week 17 and both have scenarios where they can clinch a playoff spot this week.  The Lions, Packers, and Seahawks all make the playoffs at 11-5 if it is Dallas that wins the East as they are all in good tiebreaking shape vs Philadelphia, either on head to head or on conference record.  However, if Dallas goes 1-1 down the stretch and the Eagles win their last two games, the Eagles win the East and Dallas is in the wildcard mix at 11-5.  Dallas beat Seattle head to head.  Assuming the Cowboys are 11-5 because they lose to the Colts in Week 16 then beat Washington in Week 17, Detroit would still win a tie on conference record, but a Dallas v Green Bay tie would goto record vs common opponents wherein Dallas has a 4-1 vs 3-2 advantage.  So basically, for the Eagles to get in they probably need a Dallas loss so they can win the East.  Otherwise they need someone of the Packers, Lions, or Seahawks to lose twice for a wildcard.  Dallas’ best bet is to win twice and win the East, but they can be a wildcard over Seattle or over Green Bay (if the loss is the Colts game).  Dallas could also, if they win at Washington but lose to Indianapolis, be a team that posts an 8-0 road record but misses the playoffs!

And all of this shiftable math which applies to who would get the two wildcards also applies to who gets the bye seeds.  Dallas can be the #1 if they win out, Seattle wins out and the North is won at 11-5.  Seattle is the #1 seed if they win out and the North is won at 12-4 or the East is not won by Dallas at 12-4.  For the North winner to the be the #1 seed they would need the West winner to be 11-5, but they would be the #2 seed at 12-4 unless Dallas is the #1 seed and the West winner is Seattle at 12-4.  This chaotic math, of course, could end up applying to determining which wildcard is the #5 seed and gets to play the South winner and which wildcard is the #6 seed and has to play whichever division winner has the above mentioned math work against them into being the #3 seed.

As for the South division, a week after New Orleans and Atlanta became the first two 5-8 teams in NFL history to control their destiny for making the playoffs, Atlanta is now the first 5-9 team in NFL history to control their destiny.  They win the South at 7-9 as winning their last two games would be beating New Orleans and Carolina; they would post a 6-0 division record.  New Orleans of course wins the division if they win their last two games over Atlanta and Tampa and finishes 8-8.  Carolina can win the division at 7-8-1 if they win their last two games over Cleveland and Atlanta and New Orleans loses (or ties) one of its last two games.  The worst this division could be won at is by Carolina at 6-9-1.  For this to happen Carolina would have to lose to Cleveland but beat Atlanta, Atlanta beats New Orleans, and Tampa beats New Orleans.  In that case, the Panthers are 6-9-1 while the Saints and Falcons are 6-10.

And now for a projected playoffs schedule, based on current standings:

Saturday January 3rd:

Baltimore @ Indianapolis 4:30pm

Green Bay @ Dallas 8:15pm

Sunday January 4th

Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati 1pm

Seattle @ New Orleans 4:30pm

Saturday January 10th:

Higher AFC wildcard winner @ Denver 4:30pm

Lower NFC wildcard winner @ Arizona 8:15pm

Sunday January 11th:

Higher NFC wildcard winner @ Detroit 1pm

Lower AFC wildcard winner @ New England 4:3opm

Sunday January 18th:

AFC Championship Game 3pm

NFC Championship Game 6:30pm

And here are the official Week 16 clinching scenarios, copy/pasted from NFL.com:

NFC

ELIMINATED: New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers

The Cardinals clinch NFC West and home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with win over Seahawks.

The Lions clinch a playoff spot with:
1) a win
2) a tie plus an Eagles loss or tie
3) an Eagles loss

The Lions clinch the NFC North with: a win and a Packers loss.

The Lions clinch a first-round bye with a win, a Packers loss and a Cowboys loss.

The Cowboys clinch a playoff berth with: a win plus a Packers loss or tie plus a Lions loss or tie as long as both results don’t tie.

The Cowboys clinch the NFC East with:
1) a win plus an Eagles loss or tie
2) a tie plus an Eagles loss.

The Seahawks clinch a playoff spot with:
1) a win plus an Eagles loss or tie
2) a win plus a Lions loss or tie
3) a win plus a Packers loss or tie
4) a tie plus an Eagles loss
5) a tie plus a Lions loss and a Packers loss
6) or an Eagles loss and a Cowboys win or tie.

The Packers clinch a playoff spot with:
1) a win plus an Eagles loss or tie
2) a win plus a Cowboys loss or tie
3) a tie plus an Eagles loss
4) a tie plus an Eagles tie and a Cowboys win or tie
5) an Eagles loss plus a Cowboys win or tie.

The Saints clinch the NFC South with a win plus a Panthers loss.

AFC

ELIMINATED: Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, New York Jets

The Patriots can clinch a first-round bye with:
1) a win
2) a tie plus a Colts loss or tie
3) a Colts loss plus a Bengals loss or tie, a Steelers loss or tie and a Ravens loss or tie.

The Patriots clinch home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with a win plus a Broncos loss.

The Broncos clinch a first-round bye with:
1) a win
2) a tie plus a Colts loss or tie.

The Bengals clinch a playoff spot with:
1) a win
2) a tie plus a Ravens loss
3) a tie plus a Chiefs loss or tie and a Chargers loss or tie
4) a Chiefs loss plus a Chargers loss and a Bills loss or tie.

The Bengals clinch the AFC North with a win plus a Steelers loss and a Ravens loss or tie.

The Steelers clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Chiefs.

The Ravens clinch a playoff spot with:
1) a win plus a Steelers loss and a Bengals loss
2) a win plus a Chiefs loss or tie and a Chargers loss or tie
3) or a tie plus a Chiefs loss, a Chargers loss and a Bills loss or tie.

Enjoy!

 

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