By Kyle Boris
Sure, there’s been some sloppy football played this season and yes, games are being scrutinized and debated because of poor officiating. However, the NFL may be able to save its image thanks in part to an exciting second half.
As it stands, it looks like the New England Patriots are the only team in the NFL guaranteed a playoff spot. The Raiders and Cowboys are in good positions, but they also play in the two best divisions. A couple of losses and they could find themselves looking up at another team.
The Browns, Jaguars, Bears and 49ers are probably already eliminated because their poor performances in the first half of the season will be too much to overcome. Then, we come to everyone else.
The Broncos, Chiefs and Falcons lead the pack with six wins each. The remaining 22 teams all have either 3, 4, or 5 wins to their name. With all of these teams fighting for division titles and wildcard berths, every game should be important. We could be in store for a crazy end of the season with tiebreaker scenarios a plenty. Millions of fans will still be watching because their team still has a chance to play deep into January. The playoff push in the NFL is just beginning and not even poor officiating or sloppy play can change that.
We’ll start off with the defending NFC champs. At 3-5, the Carolina Panthers are currently 13th in the NFC and are only ahead of the Bears and the 49ers. Don’t give up Panthers fans. The Panthers are one game behind the Redskins(who currently hold the second wild card spot) in the win column. The only problem is that there are 7 teams between Carolina and Washington.
Would you be surprised if the Panthers snuck into the playoffs as the 6 seed? You shouldn’t be seeing as though they were able to rattle off 15 wins last season. They also have the luxury of playing the Saints, Seahawks, Redskins, Falcons and Buccaneers in the second half of the season so they’ll be in prime position to make up ground.
As for the AFC, three of their divisions will be flat-out bananas going down to the wire. We know the AFC West has the best chance to send three teams to the playoffs thanks to the Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs. Even if the AFC North and South only send one team each, the races will be still exciting.
With a win against the Ravens, the Steelers could have given themselves some serious space between them and the rest of the division. Unfortunately for them, their offense didn’t show up until the 4th quarter against Baltimore. Now, the Steelers and Ravens have identical 4-4 records with the Bengals only one game back in the win column. Cincinnati still has two games remaining with the Ravens including a game at home on the final day of the season. The Bengals could play average football the rest of the way and still pull out an AFC North Division title with two wins against the Ravens.
As for the AFC South, well that crazy train is just about ready to board. The Texans have looked great one week(see wins against the Lions and Chiefs) and then have looked terrible other weeks(see blowout losses to the Patriots, Vikings and Broncos). With that being said, they still sit two games up in the loss column ahead of the Titans and Colts. However, Houston still has road games at Indianapolis Week 14 and at Tennessee Week 17.
The AFC South has been and will seemingly always be tough to predict. The Titans have games against the Packers, Colts and Bears before heading into their late bye week. If they’re still in the race heading into the bye, they’ll be able to come out of it fresh with four games remaining. Of their final four games , three will be against teams ahead of them in the Broncos, Chiefs and Texans with a match-up in Jacksonville as well.
The Colts may be 4-5, but Andrew Luck and Co shouldn’t be counted out just yet. Of their five losses, four have come by four points or less. They’re heading into their bye after a big win in Green Bay and coming out of the break they’ll have to keep their foot on the gas as they have remaining games with the Titans, Steelers, Jets, Texans and Raiders.
The AFC then has its share of dark horses. The Chargers, Bills and Dolphins will have a tough time winning their divisions, but they still have the opportunity to sneak up and snatch one of the wild-card spots. All three teams have four wins and are coming off good performances in Week 9. Even though the Bills were the only ones who lost, they might have looked the best in a close game in Seattle on national television.
The Bills will have time to get over the officiating in their MNF loss as they head into their bye week. They’ll have to move on eventually though as they still have a chance down the stretch. Buffalo has home games remaining against the Jaguars and Browns in what should be winnable games if they’re to be considered a playoff contender. Their remaining five games are all against teams still in the race as they have the Bengals, Raiders, Steelers, Dolphins and Jets on the schedule.
The Dolphins are an interesting team because they have some key wins and some key losses. They’ve lost to the Bengals and Titans which could hurt them in tiebreakers, but they also have wins over better wild card teams in the Steelers and the Bills. The Dolphins have a Week 10 match up against San Diego and have the opportunity to add to their tiebreaker advantages. They also have the Ravens and the Bills again remaining on the schedule and their second game against the Patriots comes during Week 17 when the Patriots might be lucky enough to rest some players.
The most intriguing of the bunch is of course the Chargers. We all know that the Chargers blew a few leads early in the season, but they seem to have gotten over the hump recently with wins over the Broncos, Falcons and Titans. They have crucial games against the Dolphins and Texans coming up that could dictate whether they have a legit shot at the postseason this year. A meeting with the Chiefs on the final day of the season could also be of importance.
The NFC wild card scenario is even more jam packed as the Giants and Redskins are currently the proud owners of the 5th and 6th seeds with 5-3 and 4-3-1 records respectively. They shouldn’t get comfortable, though, because the Lions, Saints, Packers, Eagles and Cardinals are all right behind them with just four losses. The Rams, Buccaneers and Panthers are just two games back with five losses.
The Cardinals were in the NFC Championship game last season, but haven’t looked the same so far this year. They don’t have any wins over teams in the mix and that’ll need to change for them to have a shot. They have games against the Vikings, Falcons, Redskins, Saints, Seahawks and Rams so there is room for them to move up.
As for the team that everyone is chasing, the Giants, they’ll have to continue to put together wins. New York is the only team who has beaten the Cowboys this year and could still make a run at the NFC East title with another win against Dallas. The Giants also have wins over the Saints and Eagles which could help in tiebreaker situations, but they have losses against the Redskins, Vikings and Packers which could hurt them. Their last four games of the season against the Cowboys, Lions, Eagles and Redskins could play a big part in whether or not they keep playing throughout January.
The Packers are a team that when hot could be a huge threat, but for most of the season they’ve been cold. Even with just a 4-4 record, Aaron Rodgers has a chance to lead his team to another playoff appearance. The Packers still have games at Washington and Philadelphia as well home games against the Seahawks and Vikings. Their last game of the season could have huge implications as they travel to Detroit.
The Redskins seemed to have flown under the radar so far. A loss to the Lions and a tie in London against the Benglas over their last two games are probably the reasoning behind that. Washington should be taken more seriously though because they already have wins over the Giants and Eagles. That doesn’t mean things will be any easier because Washington finishes its season with a handful of games against teams surrounding them. They have the Vikings, Packers, Panthers and Giants at home, but they still have to travel to Dallas, Arizona and Philadelphia. They truly control their own destiny the rest of the way.
Will all of these teams still be alive after a few weeks? Probably not. But, that just means we’re getting important football in Week 10 of the NFL. A couple wins for one of these teams and suddenly they’re in the driver’s seat. Back-to-back losses? Well, they might just be out of it. The NFL is not used to these poor ratings, but with all of these teams still in contention, fans around the country might just stick around to see how this thing plays out.
Kyle Boris is the co-founder of YourSitch.com