Week 15: A look at the Playoff Race

With week 14 in the books and only three games left to play for each team in the NFL, the playoff picture has become more clear. Some teams are locked into a playoff spot, but are still fighting for homefield advantage; other teams are hanging on to a wild card spot by a limb, while those “in the hunt” are fighting to steal that spot from them. I want to take a look at the current picture, by each conference, and offer some of my thoughts regarding how it’s all going to play out in the next three weeks.

Current AFC Playoff Picture

First Round Bye

1 Seed: Patriots (11-2)

2 Seed: Chiefs (10-3)

Wild Card Round

6 Seed @ 3 Seed: Broncos (8-5) @ Steelers (8-5)

5 Seed @ 4 Seed: Raiders (10-3) @ Texans (7-6)

In The Hunt

Dolphins (8-5)

Ravens (7-6)

Titans (7-6)

My Thoughts on the AFC Playoff Picture

  • You could have penciled this one in months ago: The AFC playoff race to the Super Bowl will go through Gillette. The Patriots will likely win at least two of their last three games, and they will lock up the number 1 seed in the AFC.
  • The winner of the AFC West will likely lock up the number 2 seed (and the other first-round bye). That likely comes down to the Raiders and Chiefs, who are both pretty much guaranteed a playoff spot at 10-3. The Chiefs have the Titans and Broncos at home before finishing their season at San Diego in week 17. The Raiders travel to San Diego, play the Colts at home, and finish their season @ Denver. I chose the Raiders to win the division in the preseason, and I’m sticking with my guns. I’m a bit worried about them hitting a wall, but they’ve had a magical season and I expect them to close it out strong.
  • Now it gets interesting: the wild card race. First things first — I truly think the Texans can miss out on the playoffs, strictly relating to the play of quarterback and multi-millionaire Brock Osweiler. The odds are certainly in their favor to win it, but I think the Titans are playing legitimately good football. They run the football well, have a great offensive line, and pressure the opposing quarterback. That recipe wins games in December, and I’m pulling for them to close out the season strong and knock off the Texans in week 17 to steal the division.
  • The 8-5 Dolphins have made large strides this year, but with QB Ryan Tannehill out for at least a couple weeks, I don’t think they’ll be able to steal a wild card spot from the Broncos, Steelers or Ravens.
  • The Broncos, though, have the toughest remaining schedule in the league. They play the Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders, teams with a combined 31-8 record. I think they’re in danger of losing out (or at least two of their last three), which would open the door for a team like Baltimore or Miami to sneak in.

My Final Projections: #1 Patriots, #2 Raiders, #3 Steelers, #4 Titans, #5 Chiefs, #6 Broncos. Ultimately, I don’t see much changing in this conference. I went with the Titans as my one sneaky team to make it, but it’s likely the playoff picture will look the same in week 17 as it does now.

Current NFC Playoff Picture

First Round Bye

#1 Seed: Cowboys (11-2)

#2 Seed: Lions (9-4)

Wild Card Round

#6 Seed @ #3 Seed: Bucs (8-5) @ Seahawks (8-4-1)

#5 Seed @ #4 Seed: Giants (9-4) @ Falcons (8-5)

In The Hunt

Redskins (7-5-1)

Vikings (7-6)

Packers (7-6)

My Thoughts on the NFC Playoff Picture

  • Unlike the AFC, I think a lot can change in the NFC playoff hunt down the stretch. I think Dallas can win two of their last three to secure the #1 seed and first-round bye, and I think the Seahawks will win out to secure a first-round bye and some home field advantage. The last four remaining spots, though, is where things should get really interesting.
  • The Lions have been rolling, but history shows that you can’t really trust them this time of the year. I see them losing back-to-back games @ the Giants and Cowboys, which should set up a Packers vs. Lions week 17 matchup that will determine the division. I think the Packers will win the next two and steal the division from the Lions, or at least earn themselves a playoff spot.
  • The third team “in the hunt” from the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings, started the season on a five-game winning streak. Since then, they’ve only won two of their last eight games. I don’t see this team making the playoffs because they simply can’t run the football or protect the quarterback, two of the most important factors this late in the season.
  • That leaves us with the Redskins, who will likely fight to try and steal a playoff spot from the Falcons nor Bucs (nor even the Lions if they lose three straight). I like the direction the Redskins are headed toward; they run the football well, protect the quarterback, and have a ton of weapons on offense. But I’m not sold on this being their year, and I think a loss to the Giants in week 17 will keep them out of the playoffs.

Final Predictions: #1 Cowboys, #2 Seahawks, #3 Falcons, #4 Packers, #5 Giants, #6 Lions. Ultimately, I don’t think the Bucs nor Redskins are quite ready to make the playoffs yet.

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