With four games left to be played, QB Robert Griffin III and the Washingtion Redskins (6-6) have a legitimate shot at winning the NFC East and/or clinching a playoff spot
This season has been filled with more highs and lows than I can remember in quite some time. But on the field teams are either moving forward toward the playoffs or getting ready for the April draft. Playoff positions are becoming clearer weekly as the Texans (11-1), Falcons (11-1), Broncos (9-3) and Patriots (9-3) clinched spots to the dance in Week 13 with it looking more than likely that Houston and Atlanta could be hosting the AFC and NFC championship games.
But beyond the two 1-loss behemoths there is a mad scramble for the precious eight remaining other playoff spots in both conferences. Currently in the NFC, ten teams are within one game of .500 or better entering the final four weeks of the season and conversely in the AFC there are 6 teams that still have a legitimate chance. Parity is definitely a big factor with the NFL going down to the wire as there are plenty of teams between 5-7 and 7-5 — Seahawks, Steelers, Bengals, Cowboys, Redskins, Bucs, Bills, Dolphins, Vikings, NY Jets and Saints — with a chance to make or break their season in the next few weeks.
“The biggest thing is we have to focus on what we can do to win these last four games,” said Seattle Seahawks rookie sensation quarterback Russell Wilson. The Rookie of the Year candidate added, “But the only thing you can focus on is winning one game at a time.”
**1. Texans (11-1) — @NE (MNF), IND, MIN, @IND – Clinched playoff berth with chance to claim the division title and home field advantage soon. But they still have mega-MNF match-up with Patriots and two games against Colts
**2. Patriots (9-3) — HOU (MNF), SF, @JAX, MIA – Clinched the AFC East, but Brady and Belichick want more. Next-up could be an AFC Championship game special as New England hosts the Texans.
3. Ravens (9-3) — @WAS, DEN, NYG, @CIN – Could their Week 13 loss to the Steelers be a bad sign? Anyway they are close to claiming a playoff spot in the AFC
**4. Broncos (10-3) — @BAL, CLE, KC — Were in No. 4 seed going into Week 14. 2012 AFC West champions won the Thursday Night game in Oakland to get to 10 wins and still have a chance at the conference’s No.1 seed. Could still move-up with BAL or NE loss
5. Colts (8-4) — TEN, @HOU, @KC, HOU – Have a good chance of going from worst-to-first as Rookie of the Year contender QB Andrew Luck’s squad still has two huge games with the Texans coming up.
6. Steelers (7-5) — SD, @DAL, CIN, CLE – Pittsburgh is holding on to the last spot, but they get Big Ben back at quarterback and they still have a chance to catch Baltimore in the AFC North race. Better watch-out for the Bengals though as they are right on their heels. Can’t wait for Bengals-Steelers in Week 16
In The Hunt:
Bengals (7-5) — DAL, @PHI (TNF), @PIT, BAL
Dolphins (5-7) — NE, @SF, JAX, BUF, @NE
Bills (5-7) — STL, SEA, @MIA, NYJ
Chargers (4-8) — @PIT, CAR, @NYJ, OAK
Titans (4-8) — @IND, NYJ (MNF), @GB, JAX
Browns (4-8) — KC, WAS, @DEN, @PIT
Out: The Raiders (3-10), Jaguars (2-10), and Chiefs (2-10) are all “officially” out and their respective head coaches may also be out the door soon too. Better start getting ready for 2013 NFL Draft
**1. Falcons (11-1) — @CAR, NYG, @DET (SAT), TB – Clinched the NFC South and head coach Mike Smith is looking to have the NFC’s road to Super Bowl go through the Georgia Dome.
2. 49ers (8-3-1) — MIA, @NE, @SEA, ARI – As crazy as it sounds, their tie may help them in playoff seeding and clinching the NFC West earlier. However could there be a quarterback controversy brewing by the Bay.
3. Packers (8-4) — DET, @CHI, TEN, @MIN – MVP Candidate QB Aaron Rodgers’ squad is back in front of the NFC North, but the division could come down to a Week 15 game at Soldiers’ Field in Chicago.
4. NY Giants (7-5) — NO, @ATL, @BAL, PHI – The defending Super Bowl Champions never make it easy on themselves (lost 2 out of last 3) and now the Cowboys and Redskins (both 6-6) are nipping on their heels.
5. Bears (8-4) — @MIN, GB, @ARI, @DET – Hopefully we are not seeing another end-of-season swoon as the Bears are in prim position to either win the NFC North or clinch a wildcard spot soon. HC Lovie Smith will need help down the stretch as he has several key players including All-Pro LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring) injured.
6. Seahawks (7-5) — ARI, @BUF, SF, STL – After their “statement” win in Chicago in Week 13, Seattle is looking good for a return trip to the playoffs. And most importantly three of their last four games are at home, where the Seahawks are undefeated so far (5-0).
In The Hunt:
Bucs (6-6) — PHI, @NO, STL, @ATL
Vikings (6-6) — CHI, @STL, @HOU, GB
Saints (5-7) — @NYG, TB, @DAL, CAR
Cowboys (6-6) — @CIN, PIT, NO, @WAS
Redskins (6-6) — BAL, @CLE, @PHI, DAL
Rams (5-6-1) –- @BUF, MIN, @TB, @SEA
Lions (4-8) –- @GB, @ARI, ATL (SAT), CHI
Cardinals (4-8) — @SEA, DET, CHI, @SF
Out: No teams are “officially” out, but only a matter of time before the Panthers (3-9) and Eagles (3-9) hit the 10-loss plateau.
Week14 Playoff Scenarios
- Houston clinches AFC South division with:
1) HOU win + IND loss or tie OR
2) HOU tie + IND loss
- Houston clinches a first-round bye with:
1) HOU win + IND loss or tie + BAL loss or tie OR
2) HOU win + IND loss or tie + DEN loss or tie
- Houston clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:
1) HOU win + IND loss or tie + BAL loss + DEN loss
- Baltimore clinches AFC North division with:
1) BAL win + PIT loss + CIN loss
- Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:
1) BAL win + PIT loss or tie OR
2) BAL win + CIN loss or tie OR
3) BAL tie + PIT loss + CIN loss
- Atlanta clinches a first-round bye with:
1) ATL win + CHI loss or tie + GB loss or tie OR
2) ATL win + SF loss OR
3) ATL tie + CHI loss + GB loss
- Atlanta clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
1) ATL win + CHI loss or tie + GB loss or tie + SF loss
- San Francisco clinches a playoff spot with:
1) SF win + DAL loss + MIN loss + TB loss + WAS loss + STL loss or tie
2) SF win + DAL loss + MIN loss + TB loss + WAS loss + SEA loss or tie
- The NFL’s 16-season trend of at least 5 new playoff teams looks to be in jeopardy as several of last season’s contenders (*HOU, *DEN, *NE, BAL, PIT, CIN, *ATL, SF, GB, NYG, and NO) have either clinched or are in strong contention for a 2012 playoff berth…. Sorry Lions (4-8), it would take a miracle for a return trip to the playoffs for you.
- Remember 11-5 (2008 New England Patriots) or 10-6 (Bucs and NY Giants in 2010) does not guarantee making the playoffs
- Right now I would not expect an 8-8 team (like the 2011 Denver Broncos) or a team with a losing record (like the 2010 Seattle Seahawks — 7-9) to make the playoffs
Lloyd Vance is the Editor for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Lloyd can be reached on Twitter (@lloydvance) or view email (Lloyd@takingit2thehouse.com)