Posted November 27, 2012

NFL Playoff Picture, Week 13: Four division races could come to an end

Uncategorized

A.J. Green and the Bengals need a win this week to keep pace in the AFC North and wild card chases. (John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Not that long ago, it appeared that 10-6 would be the cutoff point for wild-card spots in both the AFC and NFC. Now? Not so much.

The current No. 6 seeds in each conference already have five losses with five weeks left — meaning that 9-7 or (gasp!) even 8-8 could sneak someone into the postseason. As far as parity around the league goes, that’s an ideal scenario for the NFL, because it keeps just about everyone (sorry, Chiefs) on a path to the playoffs, however convoluted it may be.

Four division winners could be crowned by late Sunday afternoon, before the NFC East takes center stage on Sunday night and Monday.

Here’s where things stand heading into Week 12:

AFC

Texans No. 1 seed: Houston Texans (10-1)Remaining games: at Titans (4-7), at Patriots (8-3), vs. Colts (7-4), vs. Vikings (6-5), at Colts (7-4)

The Texans cannot clinch the AFC South in Week 13, because they somehow have not played the Colts yet, but Houston can wrap up a playoff berth with a win over the Titans or losses by two of these three teams: Miami, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Barring a total collapse, Houston will be in the postseason. The big question is if the Texans can hold onto that No. 1 seed. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 10

Ravens No. 2 seed: Baltimore Ravens (9-2)Remaining games: vs. Steelers (6-5), at Redskins (5-6), vs. Broncos (8-3), vs. Giants (7-4), at Bengals (6-5)

Oddly enough, while the current top seed in the AFC has to wait until at least Week 14 to celebrate a division crown, the other three first-place teams in the conference can all secure their spots this week. A Baltimore win over Pittsburgh — completing a season sweep — plus a Cincinnati loss in San Diego would sew up the AFC North. At the very least, a win plus a Miami loss would clinch a playoff berth for the Ravens, no matter what happens elsewhere. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 10

Patriots No. 3 seed: New England Patriots (8-3)Remaining games: at Dolphins (5-6), vs. Texans (10-1), vs. 49ers (8-2-1), at Jaguars (2-9), vs. Dolphins (5-6)

Miami is the only team that can catch the Patriots in the AFC East, so a New England win over the Dolphins Sunday would nail down that division — New England already swept 4-7 Buffalo and the 4-7 Jets. The Patriots would not be able to secure a playoff spot this week with a loss, and they’d prefer to take care of business since Houston and San Francisco await in the next two weeks. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 9.5

Broncos No. 4 seed: Denver Broncos (8-3)Remaining games: vs. Buccaneers (6-5), at Raiders (3-8), at Ravens (9-2), vs. Browns (3-8), vs. Chiefs (1-10)

A Denver win over Tampa Bay or losses by San Diego and Oakland would end the AFC West race. The Chargers are the only team still threatening the Broncos. The Broncos swept the season series from the Chargers, so San Diego must finish with a better record than Denver — with Philip Rivers’ bunch at 4-7, that’s highly unlikely. Denver’s manageable closing schedule keeps this team in contention for the AFC’s top spot and/or a first-round bye. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 9.5

Colts No. 5 seed: Indianapolis Colts (7-4)Remaining games: at Lions (4-7), vs. Titans (4-7), at Texans (10-1), at Chiefs (1-10), vs. Texans (10-1)

The Colts have the inside track to an AFC wild-card berth, but with a tricky game Sunday in Detroit and a pair of games against Houston left, this is far from a sure thing. The Colts’ current 5-3 mark within the conference has them in solid shape should tiebreakers be needed down the line. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 7.5

Steelers No. 6 seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)Remaining games: at Ravens (9-2), vs. Chargers (4-7), at Cowboys (5-6), vs. Bengals (6-5), vs. Browns (3-8)

The Steelers’ dwindling AFC North hopes hinge on Sunday’s game in Baltimore — lose and they’re eliminated from the division race. They’d also be 6-6 and in a world of trouble heading down the stretch, though the Steelers finish with three at home plus that trip to Dallas. Simply by holding serve at home, Pittsburgh would get to 9-7. Is that going to be enough in the AFC or do the Steelers need to steal one on the road? Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 7

Bengals Cincinnati Bengals (6-5)Remaining games: at Chargers (4-7), vs. Cowboys (5-6), at Eagles (3-7), at Steelers (6-5), vs. Ravens (9-2)

Cincinnati’s season, as it mostly appeared all along, could come down to that Week 16 trip to Pittsburgh (and, if the Bengals heat up while the Ravens stumble, a Week 17 matchup with Baltimore). You have to figure it will take a minimum of three more wins for the Bengals to have a shot, making Sunday’s trip to San Diego hugely important. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 5

DolphinsMiami Dolphins (5-6)Remaining games: vs. Patriots (8-3), at 49ers (8-2-1), vs. Jaguars (2-9), vs. Bills (4-7), at Patriots (8-3)

The Dolphins kept themselves in the conversation with a come-from-behind win over Seattle last week. And they could make the AFC East at least a tad more interesting by upsetting New England on Sunday. But the reality is that Miami will be hard-pressed to secure four wins from its remaining foes, let alone five, should the AFC wild-card line fall at 10-6. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 2

Still alive: Chargers (4-7), Titans (4-7), Jets (4-7), Bills (4-7), Browns (3-8), Raiders (3-8), Jaguars (2-9)

Eliminated from contention: Chiefs (1-10)


NFC

Falcons No. 1 seed: Atlanta Falcons (10-1)Remaining games: vs. Saints (5-6), at Panthers (2-8), vs. Giants (7-4), at Lions (4-7), vs. Buccaneers (6-5)

Far less can be settled officially in the NFC than the AFC, but the Falcons are one team that can finish its business this week. If the Falcons beat (or tie) the Saints on Thursday night and the Bucs fall in Denver, the NFC South crown would head to Atlanta. A Falcons win plus a Seahawks loss would send Atlanta to the playoffs, should clinching the division have to wait another week. Atlanta also has, in essence, a two-game lead on San Francisco for the top seed because of the 49ers’ tie. The best San Francisco can do is 13-2-1, so a 4-1 close from the Falcons would guarantee them home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 10

49ers No. 2 seed: San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1)Remaining games: at Rams (4-6-1), vs. Dolphins (5-6), at Patriots (8-3), at Seahawks (6-5), vs. Cardinals (4-7)

The 49ers cannot wrap up the division this week — Seattle still has life, while the Rams and Cardinals technically could stay alive with wins and a 49ers loss. But they’re inching ever closer to securing a postseason berth. Seattle’s loss in Miami, plus the suspensions of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, may have turned a 49ers’ division title into a foregone conclusion. Getting to 10-2-1 heading into that cross-conference showdown with New England might be enough. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 9.5

Bears No. 3 seed: Chicago Bears (8-3)  — Remaining games: vs. Seahawks (6-5), at Vikings (6-5), vs. Packers (7-4), at Cardinals (4-7), at Lions (4-7)

Chicago is back atop the NFC North by itself, thanks to Green Bay’s loss to the Giants. Staying there will be tough, with three road games plus visits from Seattle and the Packers to close the season. The Bears should be able to get to at least 10 wins, but the division race likely will hinge on that Week 15 showdown with Green Bay. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 8

Giants No. 4 seed: New York Giants (7-4)Remaining games: at Redskins (5-6), vs. Saints (5-6), at Falcons (10-1), at Ravens (9-2), vs. Eagles (3-7)

This week’s matchup with Washington is a monster. A win would give the Giants a season sweep of the Redskins and more or less eliminate RGIII’s team from the NFC East chase. Both Washington and Dallas are two back of the Giants, so New York will control its fate no matter what happens in Week 13 — games with New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore are looming, so it’d be best to make a stand right now. A Redskins win and the entire NFC playoff picture may change. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 7

Packers No. 5 seed: Green Bay Packers (7-4)Remaining games: vs. Vikings (6-5), vs. Lions (4-7), at Bears (8-3), vs. Titans (4-7), at Vikings (6-5)

Everyone continues talking like it’s a done deal that the Packers will be in the playoffs, but … is it? It’s not unfathomable that Green Bay slips to 9-7, which likely would put the Pack right on the bubble in the NFC. Of course, heading in the other direction, Green Bay still has every shot in the world to catch Chicago for the NFC North. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 7

Seahawks No. 6 seed: Seattle Seahawks (6-5)Remaining games: at Bears (8-3), vs. Cardinals (4-7), at Bills (4-7), vs. 49ers (8-2-1), vs. Rams (4-6-1)

The losses of Browner and Sherman (pending suspension) could change completely what Seattle is able to do on defense. Home games with Arizona and St. Louis still should fall in the win column (those two suspended CBs should be back for the Week 17 matchup with the Rams), but where is win No. 9? Seattle might need at least one win, and possibly two, from that Buffalo-San Francisco back-to-back. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 5

Buccaneers Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5)Remaining games: at Broncos (8-3), vs. Eagles (3-7), at Saints (5-6), vs. Rams (4-6-1), at Falcons (10-1)

The Bucs missed a glorious chance last week against Atlanta, both to grab control of a wild-card spot and to make the NFC South more interesting. Now, Tampa Bay probably has to win at least one of its remaining road games to even have a shot at the postseason. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 4

VikingsMinnesota Vikings (6-5)Remaining games: at Packers (7-4), vs. Bears (8-3), at Rams (4-6-1), at Texans (10-1), vs. Packers (7-4)

Again, are there three wins here, let alone four? Minnesota probably needs at least a split against Green Bay, a home win over Chicago and a road victory in St. Louis (or, less likely, Houston) to have a shot. An 8-8 mark almost certainly will not be enough. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 3

Redskins Washington Redskins (5-6)Remaining games: vs. Giants (7-4), vs. Ravens (9-2), at Browns (3-8), at Eagles (3-7), vs. Cowboys (5-6)

The situations for Washington and Dallas are slightly different than the other wild-card contenders, namely because 8-8 or 9-7 still might wind up taking the NFC East. The Redskins’ three toughest remaining games are all at home, and a win this week would really make things interesting. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 3.5

Cowboys Dallas Cowboys (5-6)Remaining games: vs. Eagles (3-7), at Bengals (6-5), vs. Steelers (6-5), vs. Saints (5-6), at Redskins (5-6)

The Cowboys’ biggest issue is that they don’t have any games left with the Giants, against whom they split the season series. A Week 17 game in D.C. could be for all the marbles in the NFC … or it could be a matchup of two teams playing out the final week. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 3

Saints New Orleans Saints (5-6) — Remaining games: at Falcons (10-1), at Giants (7-4), vs. Buccaneers (6-5), at Cowboys (5-6), vs. Panthers (2-8)

The Saints didn’t leave themselves much wiggle room with an 0-4 start, so last week’s loss to San Francisco might be a killer. The season basically comes down to these next two — at Atlanta on Thursday, then in New York. New Orleans might need to go 5-0 to get to the dance, but a 4-1 close definitely could keep some options on the table. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 1.5

Still alive: Rams (4-6-1), Lions (4-7), Cardinals (4-7), Panthers (3-8), Eagles (3-8)

1 comments