NFL Playoff Picture

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

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