Archive for December, 2016

NFL Playoff Picture at the Dawn of 2017

December 28, 2016

Last week did a lot to clarify things, as we went from having only 4 teams having clinched a playoff spot to 10, including all 6 in the AFC.  Let’s take a look at the parts of the picture that will be crystallized the 1st day of 2017, starting with the AFC standings:

  1. New England (13-2)
  2. Oakland (12-3)
  3. Pittsburgh (10-5)
  4. Houston (9-6)
  5. Kansas City (11-4)
  6. Miami (10-5)
  7. Baltimore (8-7) (conference record over Tennessee & Denver)
  8. Tennessee (head to head over Denver)
  9. Denver
  10. Indianapolis (strength of victory tiebreaker over Buffalo
  11. Buffalo
  12. Cincinnati (5-9-1)
  13. San Diego (5-10)
  14. New York (4-11)
  15. Jacksonville (3-12)
  16. Cleveland (1-14)

New England is guaranteed a bye seed and will get the #1 seed if they win (or tie) or Oakland loses (or ties).  However, a Patriots loss coupled with a Raiders win would make Oakland the #1 seed as they would have a 5-0 to 4-1 advantage vs common opponents (Patriots lost to Buffalo while Brady was suspended).  The flip side of the coin for the Raiders is if they lose and Kansas City wins the Chiefs snag the division title and the #2 seed because they swept the Raiders in the head to head matchup.  Kansas City is currently #5 but could slip to #6 if they lose and Miami wins because the Dolphins would have a 4-1 to 3-2 advantage on the Chiefs against common opponents.  Pittsburgh is locked into the #3 seed; even if they lose and Houston wins in Week 17, the Steelers have an apparently insurmountable lead in strength of victory.  By my math it is currently +3 on Houston, and if that can be no better than tied, the Steelers would have an advantage on strength of schedule.

To summarize, possible final seeds are as follows: New England = 1 or 2.  Oakland = 1, 2, or 5. Pittsburgh = 3. Houston = 4. Kansas City = 2, 5, or 6. Miami = 5 or 6.

And now for the NFC:

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

The most interesting team in this is Detroit.  The Lions currently sit in the #6 spot.  If they beat the Packers at home Sunday night they win the division.  They can move as high as the #2 seed and a first round bye that goes with it if they win and both Seattle and Atlanta lose (a tie suffices vis a vis the Seahawks) as they would have the record vs common opponents tiebreaker over the Falcons 4-1 vs 3-2.  However, if they lose and Washington wins, they miss the playoffs completely.

Green Bay cannot get the #2 seed because they lost head to head to Atlanta, but a win or a tie gives them the division title, and a Seahawks loss or tie would move them up to the #3 seed.  However, they also miss the playoffs completely if they lose and Washington wins.  Where it gets complicated is if Washington ties to finish at 8-6-2, which is considered the same as being 9-7.  The Lions would be fine with a Washington tie as they win that tiebreaker on conference record.  But if it is Green Bay that loses on Sunday night, Washington wins that tie on a head to head victory over the Packers unless Tampa is also 9-7.  This is where we get into the fun scenario.

Green Bay and Tampa would be 7-5 in the conference while Washington would be 6-5-1, so the Redskins would be out.  The tie between the Packers and Bucs then goes to strength of victory.  Currently the Packers hold the advantage but it is not insurmountable.  The Bucs can overtake the advantage if, beyond them winning, Green Bay losing, and Washington exactly tying (the Washington tie is necessary because, while they cannot have the Redskins win to be 9-6-1, a New York win over Washington would make Green Bay’s strength of victory prohibitively strong) the following four things happen.  Tennessee beats Houston (this denies Green Bay a boost to their strength of victory for having beat Houston).  Indianapolis beats Jacksonville (this denies Green Bay a boost to their strength of victory for having beat Jacksonville).  Dallas beats Philadelphia (this denies Green Bay the boost to their strength of victory for having beat Philadelphia).  And San Francisco beats Seattle (this boosts Tampa’s strength of victory as, while both them and Green Bay beat Seattle [so that is a wash], only Tampa played/beat San Francisco).  If all those things happen, Tampa wins the strength of victory.  And they must win this tie, as if this breaker is tied the Packers have clinched having the stronger schedule.

For Washington, things are simple; win and they are in unless the Green Bay v Detroit game ends in a tie, in which case they lose the tiebreaker with Detroit on conference record.

So, to summarize, here are the possible seeds by team.  Dallas = 1.  Atlanta = 2, 3, or 4.  Seattle = 2, 3, or 4.  Green Bay = 3, 4, 6, or out.  New York = 5.  Detroit = 2, 3, 4, 6, or out.  Washington = 6 or out.  Tampa = 6 or out.

Games to watch: basically any game I mentioned above.  Buffalo v New York, Baltimore, v Cincinnati, Cleveland v Pittsburgh, Minnesota v Chicago, and Arizona v Los Angeles can be safely ignored.  The two AFC South games are only a factor for the Tampa scenario.

And finally a fun fact that may interest only me: Dallas is 13-2 with their only losses being getting swept by the Giants while San Francisco is 2-13 with their only wins being sweeping Los Angeles.  Happy New Year everyone!

NFL Playoff Picture at Christmastime

December 21, 2016

With two weeks to go we still only know for sure four of the 12 playoff participants; New England and Seattle have clinched division titles while Dallas and Oakland have clinched at least a playoff spot.  We are at the point now where some things are fairly clear, but there are still a number of scenarios, so let’s dive in, starting as usual in the AFC.

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

It continues to be the case that two teams control their destiny for winning both the North & South divisions.  In the North the Steelers would clinch the division by beating Baltimore Christmas evening.  However, the Ravens if they win would have a sweep of the head to head and so would definitely clinch by winning Sunday and their final game against Cincinnati.  That is also to say that, while currently listed as best team out, the Ravens really aren’t a serious factor in the wildcard race because at 10-6 they would win the division.  If the Steelers do lose to Baltimore but beat Cleveland and are failing to win the North at 10-6 however they would then be in the thick of the wildcard race.  Their main problem is they would need Miami to lose at least once and couldn’t be in a two way tie with the Dolphins because of head to head.  However, if Denver wins twice to make a 3-way tie (remember, 2nd place in the South cannot be 10-6 because Houston plays Tennessee in Week 17), conference record would drop Miami from the tie, then the Steelers edge Denver on record vs common opponents.  Alternately, if Kansas City loses twice they would stay ahead of Denver in the division standings; in a 3-way tie conference record again dismisses Miami and the Steelers get the #5 seed because of a head to head win over the Chiefs.  Or, even if Miami wins out to 11-5 if the Chiefs lose twice the Steelers win a head to head tie for the #6 seed.  If Baltimore loses once and is in the wildcard mix at 9-7 they would have a chance at the #6 seed if Miami loses twice and Denver at least once since they would have the superior conference record, or if Denver loses twice the Ravens have head to head over Miami.  The only complication here is if Houston is in the wildcard mix at 9-7 as they would also have a 7-5 conference record.  If applicable we’ll explore this scenario next week.

In the South division Houston can clinch this week if they win and Tennessee loses; the Texans would have tiebreakers on the Titans and/or the Colts.  Otherwise their Week 17 matchup can be for the division title.  For the Colts to win the division they need to win both remaining games, have both Houston & Tennessee lose in Week 16, then have the Titans beat the Texans.  This way, Houston is dropped to 8-8 and the Colts win a tie with the Titans on having swept them.  The Colts may have a shot at a wildcard if the Dolphins lose twice, neither Pittsburgh nor Baltimore is 2nd in the North at 9-7, Denver is no better than 9-7, and the Colts clinch strength of victory over Miami (and Denver if at 9-7).

In the East New England has clinched a bye seed and can clinch the #1 this weekend with a win and an Oakland loss.  Miami is in control of getting a wildcard; they would not be displeased if the Patriots do clinch the #1 this weekend and so are less worried about winning the Week 17 matchup.  If Miami ends up 10-6 because they lost to Buffalo but beat New England they should be fine if Pittsburgh is not involved in the tie because of record vs opponents common with Denver.  But if they’re 10-6 because they lose to the Patriots, their potential tie with the Broncos comes down to strength of victory.  Buffalo is still mathematically alive for the 2nd wildcard; they need two wins plus considerable help.

In the West Oakland is now back in the driver’s seat for winning the division and a bye seed; two wins and they have it.  However, if they lose to either Indianapolis or Denver it would let the Chiefs get back to the top given that Kansas City swept them in the head to head.  Short of winning the division, the Chiefs can clinch a playoff spot this weekend by winning or if Baltimore does not win (clinches that Pittsburgh would not be in the wildcard mix at 10-6).  Denver is still alive; it’s not as hopeless as it may look right now being listed 9th in the conference because at 10-6 they would jump 2nd place in the South and potentially 2nd place in the North.  But since they cannot end up ahead of Kansas City (division record tiebreaker at 10-6) they can only get the #6 seed and only if Miami loses the New England game and the Broncos have strength of victory tiebreaker (and Pittsburgh is not 2nd in the North at 10-6) or if Miami loses twice (and Pittsburgh is not 2nd in the North at 10-6).  This could be a year that a team, perhaps even two, in the AFC go 10-6 but miss the playoffs; a +3 over the NFC in cross-conference games plus teams padding records with wins over Cleveland and Jacksonville being among the culprits.

And now for the NFC:

  1. Dallas (12-2)
  2. Seattle (9-4-1)
  3. Atlanta (9-5) (strength of victory on Detroit)
  4. Detroit
  5. New York (10-4)
  6. Green Bay (8-6) (strength of victory on Tampa)
  7. Tampa
  8. Washington (7-6-1)
  9. Minnesota (7-7)
  10. New Orleans (6-8) (record vs opponents common with Carolina)
  11. Carolina
  12. Arizona (5-8-1)
  13. Philadelphia (5-9)
  14. Los Angeles (4-10)
  15. Chicago (3-11)
  16. San Francisco (1-13)

Green Bay is currently listed in a wildcard spot, but they will almost certainly not end up as a wildcard.  If they win their two remaining games they would win the North division title.  So Tampa with two wins is still likely to end up in the playoffs; the only thing that could block them is if Detroit beats Dallas but loses to Green Bay (after the Packers beat Minnesota) as Detroit would have a superior record vs opponents common with Tampa.  This is why the scenarios that have Tampa clinch a playoff spot this weekend all involve both the Lions and Packers losing this weekend so that 2nd in the North would then be 9-7.  It can also be noted that Tampa could survive Detroit being 2nd in the North at 10-6 if New York loses both remaining games.  Washington still has a chance at the wildcard if they win out to 9-6-1; they need Tampa to lose once (or Atlanta twice) and for Detroit to not be 2nd in the North at 10-6.

Dallas will clinch the East division and the #1 seed once they win once more or New York loses once more.  New York clinches a playoff spot with one more win or if someone of Detroit, Green Bay, Atlanta, or Tampa loses this weekend to ensure at least one of those divisions won’t have its 2nd place team be 10-6.

Atlanta, to use a baseball term, has a Magic Number of 2 to win the South division.  However, if they lose once more than Tampa down the stretch the Buccaneers would win a tie on division record.  If you watched Monday Night Football the infinitesimal scenario for Carolina to make the playoff was outlined.  If they’re still alive in a week we’ll explore it then.

Minnesota can still make the playoffs, but they need two wins plus Tampa losing twice and Washington losing once.  New Orleans needs two wins plus what Minnesota needs plus the Vikings losing to the Bears after beating the Packers and the Packers losing to the Lions.

Seattle should be able to lock up the #2 seed with games with Arizona and San Francisco remaining.  However, if they do lose it could open the door for Atlanta or Detroit.  Two losses could even open the door for Green Bay or Tampa Bay to jump all the way up to the #2 seed.

And now for Games to Watch in the coming dozen days:

Thursday December 22nd: Giants @ Eagles.  New York can clinch a playoff spot.  A loss clinches the #1 seed for Dallas, which could be great news for Detroit and bad news for anyone hoping Detroit loses to Dallas.

Saturday December 24th: Miami @ Buffalo.  Minnesota @ Green Bay. Tampa @ New Orleans. Indianapolis @ Oakland.

Sunday December 25th: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh.  Either the Steelers clinch the North or Baltimore retains control of its destiny (and teams that don’t want Pittsburgh 2nd in the North at 10-6 get nervous).  Denver @ Kansas City.  Either the Chiefs clinch a wildcard and keep hope alive to win the West and Denver is eliminated or the Broncos keep hopes alive while perhaps handing the West to the Raiders.

Monday December 26th: Detroit @ Dallas.  Cowboys perhaps trying to lock down the #1 seed.  Lions can clinch the North if Green Bay lost, or can be trying to preserve their 10-6 wildcard scenarios.

Sunday January 1st: Green Bay @ Detroit. New England @ Miami. Houston @ Tennessee. Perhaps other games as well, but the Green Bay and the Houston games seem at this time to be the two candidates for being flexed into Sunday Night Football.

And finally the official clinching scenarios for Week 16 copy/pasted from nfl.com:

NFC

DALLAS COWBOYS
Dallas clinches division title and home field advantage throughout playoffs:
1) DAL win or tie
2) NYG loss or tie

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Seattle clinches a first-round bye:
1) SEA win + DET loss + ATL loss or tie

NEW YORK GIANTS
NY Giants clinch a playoff berth:
1) NYG win or tie
2) DET loss or tie
3) GB loss or tie
4) TB loss or tie
5) ATL loss

DETROIT LIONS
Detroit clinches division title:
1) DET win + GB loss or tie
2) DET tie + GB loss

Detroit clinches a playoff berth:
1) DET win + TB loss or tie
2) DET tie + TB loss
3) DET tie + TB tie + ATL win
4) WAS loss or tie + TB loss + ATL win or tie

ATLANTA FALCONS
Atlanta clinches division title:
1) ATL win + TB loss or tie
2) ATL tie + TB loss

Atlanta clinches a playoff berth:
1) ATL win + ATL clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over DET
2) ATL win or tie + GB loss or tie
3) ATL win + DET loss or tie
4) ATL tie + DET tie
5) WAS loss or tie + GB loss
6) WAS loss or tie + GB tie + DET loss

GREEN BAY PACKERS
Green Bay clinches a playoff berth:
1) GB win + WAS loss or tie + TB loss + ATL win or tie + GB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over TB

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Tampa Bay clinches playoff berth:
1) TB win + GB loss + DET loss + WAS loss
2) TB win + GB loss + DET loss + WAS tie + TB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over DET

AFC

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
New England clinches home field advantage throughout AFC playoffs:
1) NE win + OAK loss or tie
2) NE tie + OAK loss

OAKLAND RAIDERS
Oakland clinches division title and a first-round bye:
1) OAK win + KC loss or tie
2) OAK tie + KC loss

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Pittsburgh clinches division title:
1) PIT win

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Kansas City clinches a playoff berth:
1) KC win or tie
2) BAL loss or tie

HOUSTON TEXANS
Houston clinches a division title:
1) HOU win + TEN loss

MIAMI DOLPHINS
Miami clinches a playoff berth:
1) MIA win + DEN loss or tie
2) MIA tie + BAL loss + DEN loss + HOU loss or tie
3) MIA tie + BAL loss + DEN loss + TEN loss or tie

NFL Playoff Picture

December 13, 2016

The standings and playoff picture with three weeks to go, starting in the AFC:

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

Remarkably with only 3 weeks to go no one in the conference has clinched a playoff spot, although New England can clinch the division, even a bye seed, this week while Oakland and Kansas City can both clinch playoff spots.  Barring something unforeseen we can bank on the Patriots getting a bye seed eventually along with the winner of the West with 2nd in the West being the #5 seed.

Pittsburgh can win the North division by beating Baltimore Christmas evening and winning either against Cincinnati this Sunday or against Cleveland the last day of the season.  Baltimore’s other games are against Philadelphia this Sunday and finishing with the Bengals, and the Ravens do still control their destiny for winning the North because a win at Heinz Field would complete a season sweep of the Steelers.  The Cincinnati 8-7-1 scenario survived thanks to the Ravens losing to the Patriots last night.  The Bengals need exactly the following to happen: win all 3 remaining games, the Ravens lose to Philadelphia but beat the Steelers, and the Steelers lose Week 17 to the Browns.

In the South Houston has the inside track because of a 4-0 division record.  Tennessee also now controls their destiny because winning out would include Week 17 against Houston (they needed the Colts to lose a game and got it last week).  However, if the Titans lose one more game in the next two than does Houston, the Texans would still have tiebreaker on division record.  The Colts are still alive but need a considerable amount of help seeing as how they are one game back and were swept by the Texans.

A race that could prove fascinating down the stretch in the AFC will be the one for the 2nd wildcard.  Right now Denver holds it by virtue of a better record vs opponents common with Miami.  However, the Broncos finishing schedule is brutal (New England, Kansas City, and Oakland).  Miami also has a game remaining with the Patriots, but also against the Jets and Bills which is seemingly easier.  However, the Dolphins will have to play with their backup quarterback for at least the next couple games.  If both lose once it could open the door for Pittsburgh if they are 10-6 but not winning the division.  The Steelers lost to Miami but if Denver is also in the tie Pittsburgh could win it on conference record.  Baltimore won’t be in the wildcard pool at 10-6, and 2nd place in the South can’t be as good as 10-6.  So while it seemed inconceivable really all season, given Denver’s schedule and Miami’s health, the 2nd wildcard slipping to a 9-7 team looks more plausible now.  If true a team that could favor is a Baltimore team that loses once down the stretch and has an 8-4 or 7-5 conference record.

And now for the NFC, which also remarkably only has one playoff spot clinched (Dallas) with three weeks to go:

  1. Dallas (11-2)
  2. Detroit (9-4)
  3. Seattle (8-4-1)
  4. Atlanta (8-5) (record vs opponents common with Tampa tiebreaker)
  5. New York (9-4)
  6. Tampa (8-5)
  7. Washington (7-5-1)
  8. Minnesota (7-6) (head to head over Green Bay)
  9. Green Bay
  10. Arizona (5-7-1)
  11. New Orleans (5-8) ([record vs opponents common with Carolina for division rank] conference record over Philadelphia)
  12. Carolina (conference record over Philadelphia)
  13. Philadelphia
  14. Los Angeles (4-9)
  15. Chicago (3-10)
  16. San Francisco (1-12)

Despite being swept by the Giants, Dallas seems likely to win the East division and the #1 seed.  Seattle can clinch the West division this weekend.  The Giants can clinch a playoff spot this weekend, and seem likely to sooner or later.

The race for the 2nd bye seed is wide open.  Detroit currently holds the advantage, but they have a tough finishing schedule with the Giants, Cowboys, and Packers.  One Lions loss puts the ball back in Seattle’s court.  Losses by both the Lions and Seahawks could put the ball in the court of the winner of the South.  Any tie with the Lions and either the Falcons or Bucs would come down to common games (or beyond).

In the North the Lions continue to hold a definite advantage and could clinch their first division title since I was in high school as soon as this weekend.  However, as I have written in previous weeks, one slip up and suddenly their Week 17 game against the Packers could be for the division title.  Minnesota, because of their poor division record, needs more considerable help.

The South division is pretty straightforward.  Atlanta has the tiebreaker and that won’t change if them and Tampa both win out.  If both lose once but the Falcons lose a division game while Tampa wins their remaining division games but loses to Dallas this Sunday night, that swings tiebreaking in the Bucs favor.

Assuming 2nd place in the East (New York) is a wildcard, that leaves a race for the 2nd wildcard spot.  Right now Tampa is guaranteed a playoff spot if they win out.  But losing once by them or Atlanta could let Washington back in; their finishing schedule of Carolina, Chicago, and then New York Week 17 when they could be locked into the #5 seed and coasting gives them a solid chance to end up 10-5-1.  One loss by both Tampa/Atlanta and Washington could also let 2nd place in the North back in the picture; Green Bay at 10-6 would have an 8-4 conference record.  Minnesota would need a couple losses by Atlanta or Tampa most likely because of a weaker conference record.

In conclusion, at the suggestion of a loyal reader, here is a list of “games to watch” the final 3 weeks of the season:

Week 15:

Tampa @ Dallas (Sunday Night)

Tennessee @ Kansas City (Titans push derailed or Raiders back in driver’s seat for #2 seed)

Indianapolis @ Minnesota (someone’s weak playoff chances end)

Detroit @ Giants

New England @ Denver

Week 16:

Minnesota @ Green Bay

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (NFL Network Christmas 4:30pm. Likely decides the North)

Denver @ Kansas City (Christmas night)

Detroit @ Dallas (Monday Night)

Week 17:

Green Bay @ Detroit

New England @ Miami

Houston @ Tennessee (could decide South)

Oakland @ Denver

NFL Playoff Picture

December 6, 2016

The NFL is now at the 3/4 pole with every team having 4 games remaining.  Dallas has clinched a playoff spot and remarkably can clinch the #1 seed with 3 weeks to go.  In the AFC, New England and Oakland have scenarios where they can clinch playoff spots this week.  Still, there is much that is as of yet still be determined.  Lets take a look at the picture, starting in the AFC:

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

Oakland plays a pivotal game this Thursday against Kansas City in Arrowhead.  If the Raiders win they will have a two game lead in their division with 3 games remaining; once they clinch the division they should also at least clinch a bye seed.  The tiebreaker with New England for the #1 seed could come down to the wire.  However, a Kansas City win would move the Chiefs into first place in the West with a sweep of the Raiders giving them the tiebreaker advantage and the inside track on a bye seed.

New England can clinch the division this weekend; doing so sooner or later seems to be a given at this point.

In the North both Pittsburgh and Baltimore control their destiny for winning the division given that they play each other Christmas evening.  The Ravens can afford to lose one game if they beat the Steelers since they would have the head to head sweep; this fact could come in handy considering they play the Patriots this coming Monday Night.  If both teams win out other than the matchup, the loser would have a theoretical shot at a wildcard at 10-6; again Baltimore is in better shape since they beat Miami this past Sunday whereas the Steelers lost to the Dolphins earlier in the season.  This scenario also requires Denver to go no better than 2-2 down the stretch, or for Kansas City or Oakland to really fall flat to end the season.  The Bengals do still have a chance at the division by winning out to 8-7-1, but they would need the winner of the Steelers/Ravens game to lose both of their remaining non-Bengals games (Pittsburgh finishes with Cleveland) and even the loser to lose at least one other game.

The South division is a legit 3 way race with Houston, Indianapolis, and Tennessee all sitting at 6-6.  The Texans control their destiny as they have a game remaining with both of the other clubs.  The Colts also control their destiny as they have a game left with Houston and already swept the Titans.  Tennessee needs the Colts to lose at least once more than they do down the stretch to win the division.  The Titans theoretically could get a wildcard at 10-6 with a 7-5 conference record but that is asking for a lot.

Right now both wildcards come out of the West division.  Miami is one game behind Denver and would probably have a similar conference record than the Broncos.  Buffalo is at 6-6 and could factor if they win out and get some help.

And now for the NFC:

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

Dallas can clinch the division by beating New York Sunday night.  Furthermore, they can clinch a bye seed if they win and either Detroit or Seattle lose (both losing clinches the #1 seed).  Seattle can clinch their division also this weekend if they win and Arizona loses.  Detroit has a two game lead in their division and they swept Minnesota.  However, they did lose their first game with Green Bay, so a stumble down the stretch could leave them vulnerable to the Packers.  In the South Atlanta and Tampa are tied and they split the head to head; both are currently undefeated in other division games.  If both win their last 4, Atlanta would have the edge via a one game lead in record vs common opponents.

Despite losing last Sunday New York is currently in good shape to get a wildcard spot; they have a 1.5 game lead on the outside.  Washington losing to Arizona did tighten the race for the 2nd wildcard.  As I wrote last week, the Cardinals have a viable scenario now that they beat Washington.  However, they do need either Atlanta or Tampa to go at best 2-2 down the stretch, along with having Washington and 2nd/3rd in the North lose at least once more.  2nd place in the North is also very much in the mix.  Especially Green Bay could be a real factor here; if they would get to 10-6 but fail to catch the Lions they would have an 8-4 conference record.  If the Lions are 10-6 but not winning the North they also would be 8-4 in conference games.  Detroit could be catching a break in the timing of the schedule; they have to play Dallas but the game is not until the Monday Night of Week 16 at which point the Cowboys will quite probably have the #1 seed clinched and be coasting.

There are several key games this coming weekend; enjoy the action!