NFL Playoff Picture

The current conference standings and a few quick thoughts, starting in the AFC:

  1. New England (9-2) (conference record tiebreaker on Oakland)
  2. Oakland
  3. Baltimore (6-5) ([head-to-head tiebreaker on Pittsburgh for division rank] conference record tiebreaker on Houston)
  4. Houston
  5. Kansas City (8-3)
  6. Miami (7-4) (conference record tiebreaker on Denver)
  7. Denver
  8. Pittsburgh (6-5) (conference record tiebreaker on Buffalo)
  9. Buffalo
  10. Tennessee (6-6)
  11. Indianapolis (5-6) (head-to-head tiebreaker on San Diego)
  12. San Diego
  13. Cincinnati (3-7-1)
  14. New York (3-8)
  15. Jacksonville (2-9)
  16. Cleveland (0-12)

Not much is settled at this point.  New England has a two game lead in their division, but they have one game remaining with Miami, so a loss in that game could tighten things.  Assuming the Patriots do win the East they should be good for a bye seed.  The winner of the West will almost certainly get the other bye.  Oakland and New England both have one conference loss, so at the end of the year a tie could very well come down to record vs common opponents or even strength of victory.  But of course the Raiders are in a fight for the division with Kansas City and Denver and have games remaining with both.  Both wildcards ultimately could come out of the West but right now the Dolphins are in wildcard position.  Them and Denver both have 3 conference losses, so this is not a commanding tiebreak lead.  Buffalo is also in the wildcard mix.

The South and North divisions figure to only send their winners to the playoffs, and in turn most likely as the 3 and 4 seeds that play at home wildcard weekend.  Houston is in decent shape in the South with only 5 losses to 6 for the Titans and Colts.  Also being 3-0 so far in division games means the Texans can lose a head to head game and still have tiebreaking advantage.  In the North both the Ravens and Steelers control their fate being tied with a Christmas evening contest in Pittsburgh looming.  If Pittsburgh wins the rematch but loses a different game the Ravens would likely hold the tiebreaker.  Both have tough games the next couple weeks; Baltimore hosts Miami then goes to New England while Pittsburgh hosts the Giants then goes to Buffalo.  With 7 losses and a tie the Bengals are probably done.  If they won out to 8-7-1 that would involve beating the Ravens and the Steelers along the way.  But they would need the Ravens v Steelers winner to lose at least two of their other three games (and even the loser at least one other game) to have a chance.

And now the NFC:

  1. Dallas (10-1)
  2. Seattle (7-3-1)
  3. Detroit (7-4) (conference record tiebreaker on Atlanta)
  4. Atlanta
  5. New York (8-3)
  6. Washington (6-4-1)
  7. Tampa Bay (6-5) (conference record tiebreaker on Minnesota)
  8. Minnesota
  9. New Orleans (5-6) (conference record tiebreaker on Green Bay & Philadelphia)
  10. Green Bay (head-to-head tiebreaker on Philadelphia)
  11. Philadelphia
  12. Arizona (4-6-1)
  13. Carolina (4-7) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Los Angeles)
  14. Los Angeles
  15. Chicago (2-9)
  16. San Francisco (1-10)

The closest competition for Dallas in getting the #1 seed is actually in merely winning their division, as New York has the 2nd best record in the conference at 8-3.  But of course non-division winners cannot be seeded in the top 4.  While the NFL has not published official clinching scenarios as of yet, the Cowboys would clinch a playoff spot this weekend if they beat Minnesota and either Washington or Tampa Bay lose.  Seattle is also in comfortable shape for making the playoffs given the fact they have a 3 game lead in their own division.  They presently hold the other bye seed.  However, a mediocre final month and the North and/or South winner could overtake them.

The North division is a legitimate three team race.  The Lions are obviously in the best shape having the best record.  And they completed a season sweep of the Vikings on Thanksgiving.  However, they did lose to the Packers, so if Green Bay can be in position entering the last two weeks of the season when they play Minnesota and Detroit they can yet win the division.  They have two fewer division losses than Minnesota, so winning the rematch would give them tiebreaker advantage, and sweeping the Lions would also give them that breaker.

The South is also still up for grabs.  Atlanta, like Detroit, is in the best position having a clear lead at the moment and a 3-1 record in division games.  They split with Tampa and currently have a 2 game lead in the loss column in opponents common to them and the Buccaneers, and that is the primary tiebreaker after division record.  The Saints are two games back with a game remaining with Atlanta and both games still remaining with Tampa.  The defending conference champions Carolina are 3 games back and even winning out to 9-7 their division record would only be 3-3 so they would need a lot of things to break their way.

The wildcards are currently both held by East division teams.  New York looks very good to make the playoffs.  Washington has a 1/2 game lead on Tampa and Minnesota for the 2nd wildcard.  In the Redskins favor is the fact that anyone in the North or South doing well enough to catch them could very well end up winning the division.  So long as they stay ahead of Philadelphia and ahead of 2nd place in the other divisions they are fine.  2nd place in the West is not likely to factor in the wildcard picture since Arizona can at best finish 9-6-1, Los Angeles 9-7.  That having been said, Arizona plays Washington this weekend.  If the Cardinals win that game, Washington loses at least one of their last 4, and 2nd place in both the North & South finish no better than 9-7, Arizona would sneak in.  It sounds like a lot, but with 5 weeks to go it wouldn’t take as much losing as it seems.

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