We’re at the point in the NFL season where the playoff race is starting to take shape. We’re losing some chumps off the back end of the race, and we’re starting to see who’s got what it takes to hang around for the long term in January. Still only one team, the Philadelphia Eagles, has clinched a playoff berth … but that may well have come at a huge cost.
The day’s key matchup might have been the Seattle Seahawks-Jacksonville Jaguars throwdown, and if you’d picked that back in September, you’d be a wealthy fan. The game, which Jacksonville won, bounced the Seahawks, momentarily, from the final playoff spot in the NFC, and elevated the Jags to first place in their division. (Plus, the extracurricular mess at the end could end up costing Seattle some key players.) Combined with the Atlanta Falcons’ victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday and the Steelers’ late defeat of the Ravens, the back end of the playoffs got a bit of a makeover.
Sunday also marked the end of the line, competition-wise, for quite a few teams. The Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Washington Redskins got officially bounced from postseason consideration on Sunday, and now they’re just playing for pride. Well, and a paycheck. See you next year, fellas.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the playoff scenarios:
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2, next game: vs. New England)
2. New England Patriots (10-2, next game: at Miami, Monday)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4, next game: vs. Houston)
4. Kansas City Chiefs (7-6, next game: vs. Chargers)
5. Tennessee Titans (8-5, next game: at San Francisco)
6. Buffalo Bills (7-6, next game: vs. Miami)
7. Baltimore Ravens (7-6, next game: at Cleveland)
8. Los Angeles Chargers (7-6, next game: at Kansas City)
Breakdown: Game of the week — heck, game of the season — comes between Pittsburgh and New England. Winner effectively gets home-field advantage for the playoffs, and putting the Patriots on their heels is about the only way anyone can hope to outrun them in January. Meanwhile, Los Angeles and Kansas City match up with a playoff berth at stake; this isn’t quite win-or-go-home, but it’s getting close. Meanwhile, Tennessee is getting exposed, and could find itself bounced in favor of the Chargers. Buffalo didn’t seem to have a hope a couple weeks ago, but hey, who knows? A couple more snow games might change the equation.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-2, next game: at Giants)
2. Minnesota Vikings (10-3, next game: vs. Cincinnati)
3. Los Angeles Rams (9-4, next game: at Seattle)
4. New Orleans Saints (9-4, next game: vs. Jets)
5. Carolina Panthers (9-4, next game: vs. Green Bay)
6. Atlanta Falcons (8-5, next game: at Tampa Bay)
7. Seattle Seahawks (8-5, next game: vs. Rams)
8. Detroit Lions (7-6, next game: vs. Chicago)
9. Green Bay Packers (7-6, next game: at Carolina)
10. Dallas Cowboys (7-6, next game: at Oakland)
Breakdown: All eyes are on the NFC West matchup between the Rams and Seahawks. This will make or break Seattle’s season, as the Panthers and Falcons have winnable matchups. (So do the Saints, just to keep the NFC South interesting.) If the Lions, Packers, or Cowboys are going to make a Hail Mary stretch run, they can’t afford to give away a single game from here on out. If Carson Wentz is out for the Eagles, they’ve got three games to break in his replacement, and a scrimmage against the Giants will be a useful run-through.
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