Digging Into What Could be an Exciting Finish to the NFL Season

via WallPaperCave

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.

16460546595_1185c61fbc_bWe’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.

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariotta will look to lead the Titans to their first playoff appearance since 2008

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.

Tyrod Taylor will try to build off his performance in Seattle

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.

Can Eli Manning lead the Giants to another playoff run?

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

Twitter: @KyleNoStyle

The Fate of Super Bowl Losers in the 32-Team NFL Era

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By Jackson Baird

A season ago, the Carolina Panthers bulldozed their way to the best record in the NFL. Their 15-1 mark did not equate to a ring, however, as Ron Rivera’s crew was stopped dead in its tracks by a transcendent Denver Broncos defense. As a result of their 24-10 loss in Super Bowl 50, Carolina fell into the infamous category of Super Bowl losers.

Much has been said about how difficult it is to successfully defend a title in the NFL. Only eight squads have ever been able to repeat as champs, the most recent instance coming courtesy of the New England Patriots in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX. Well if the winner of the big game has a hard time scaling the mountain the following year, it stands to reason that the loser would find their road to glory even more perilous.

Indeed, only one team in the Super Bowl era lost the title game one year and ended up winning it the next: The Miami Dolphins. After the 1971 campaign, Miami lost Super Bowl VI to the Dallas Cowboys 24-3. Apparently they were so upset by their loss that they just decided to beat literally everyone they played the following year, completing the first (and only, at the time of this writing) perfect season by defeating the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII. So it’s clear the Panthers have their work cut out for them if history is any indication.

But the NFL has grown and evolved over the decades, with the current playoff format having only been around since 2002. That was the inaugural season for the Houston Texans, and thus the inaugural season of the eight division setup. So if we’re going to give a history lesson, that seems like a good place to start.

What sort of history is Carolina pitted against as we gear up for the 2016 NFL season? Let’s take a look at all the Super Bowl losers since the inception of the current playoff format to find out.

The Dark Times (2002-2007)


SB Loser (record that season)

Record Following Year

Made Playoffs Next Year?


Raiders (11-5)




Panthers (11-5)




Eagles (13-3)




Seahawks (13-3)




Bears (13-3)




Patriots (16-0)



Records via NFL.com

The early years of the revised NFL were quite harsh to the Super Bowl losers. Five of the first six teams who lost the Super Bowl under the new format missed the playoffs altogether the following season. The lone exception was the 2006 Seahawks, who took the NFC West by one game over the 8-8 Rams that year, and eventually edged the Cowboys 21-20 in the Wild Card round in the now infamous Tony Romo Botched-Field-Goal-Hold game. Their season ended at the hands of the eventual NFC champion Chicago Bears, who themselves would suffer a similar fate to most Super Bowl losers during this time frame.

As one might imagine, extenuating circumstances (namely injuries) played a big role in the decline of many of these teams. Rich Gannon won the MVP award for the Raiders in 2002, but suffered a season-ending injury in Week Seven of the following year against Kansas City (though Oakland was only 2-4 entering that game).

Donovan McNabb played most of the 2005 campaign for the Eagles injured until finally being put on the shelf for good after a Week 10 loss to Dallas. That season also featured the bizarre Terrell Owens saga which ended with the Eagles suspending the wideout for the final nine games of the year.

Chicago’s secondary was decimated by injuries the year after losing to the Colts in the Super Bowl, and they never really settled on a quarterback all season long, flipping between Rex Grossman and Brian Griese for much of the year.

The Patriots just got unlucky, managing to become the first team since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990 (different format, same number of playoff slots) to win 11 games and not qualify for the postseason. That was also the year Matt Cassel led the offense after New England lost Tom Brady to a torn ACL in Week One.

A Step in the Right Direction (2008-2014)


SB Loser (record that season)

Record Following Year

Made Playoffs Next Year?


Cardinals (9-7)




Colts (14-2)




Steelers (12-4)




Patriots (13-3)




49ers (11-4-1)




Broncos (13-3)




Seahawks (12-4)




Panthers (15-1)



Records via NFL.com

Now that’s more like it. Beginning with the Cardinals, every team coming off a season in which they came up short in the title game has made the playoffs the following year. In fact, no team since has finished with less than 10 wins.

But success can be relative though, and if we’re looking for a team who followed up a Super Bowl loss with a Super Bowl win, we still have yet to find one. The Patriots and the 49ers came the closest, both reaching their respective conference title games the year after falling in the Super Bowl.

Extenuating circumstances were kinder to the Super Bowl losers during this time frame, but that doesn’t mean they were nonexistent. A year after the Steelers went 12-4, won the AFC North and lost to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV, Pittsburgh notched another 12-4 mark, but this time had to settle for a Wild Card berth after Baltimore took the division. The Steelers then traveled to Denver in the Wild Card round and promptly got Tebowed in overtime.

The Patriots came close to returning to the Super Bowl in 2012, but an injury to Rob Gronkowski that forced him to miss Weeks 12 through 16 plus the AFC Championship game arguably cost the Patriots that return trip.

Seattle’s 2015 squad was without the services of Kam Chancellor for the first two games of the season due to the player’s holdout, and also had to deal with the newly imported Jimmy Graham’s season-ending injury during Week 12.

The Royals celebrate after winning the 2015 #WorldSeries.
via wikimedia

So this is what the 2016 Carolina Panthers are up against. Looking at the other three major North American sports leagues, you would think winning it all after a loss in the final round would be no sweat. The most recent champion crowned in both MLB (Kansas City Royals) and the NBA (Cleveland Cavaliers) were teams who failed in that same exact spot one year prior. In the NHL, one only has to go back to the 2008-09 season to find the last time a team (Pittsburgh Penguins) turned the trick. But for whatever reason, the 1972 Dolphins are alone in the NFL’s version of this category.

The Panthers have most of their key pieces back, and will even add wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin after losing him for all of 2015 to a torn ACL. The goal is obvious: The Vince Lombardi Trophy. But to reach it, they’ll have to navigate a grinding regular season and an intense postseason, evade the ever-present injury bug, and chase down the ghost of the only undefeated team the league has ever seen. Best of luck Carolina, we’ll be watching.

Jackson Baird is a contributing writer for YourSitch.com

Twitter: @jaxbaird124