With three games left to be played, QB/WR Joe Webb and the Minnesota Vikings (7-6) are right in the middle of the NFC playoff picture
Playoff positions are becoming clearer weekly as the Texans (11-2), Falcons (11-2), Broncos (10-3) and Patriots (10-3) have already clinched playoff spots and/or division titles.
But beyond the leaders there is a mad scramble for the precious eight remaining other playoff spots in both conferences. Parity is definitely a big factor with the NFL going down to the wire as there are plenty of teams between 8-5 and 5-8 — Seahawks, Bears, Steelers, Bengals, Cowboys, Redskins, Bucs, Bills, Dolphins, Vikings, NY Jets, Chargers and Saints — with a chance to make or break their season in the next few weeks.
We always say around the NFL that “Every Game Matters” and this slogan always rings true in the month of December. As Colts former Super Bowl-winning head coach Tony Dungy once said of the crucial games this time of year, “Even though every game counts the same during a season, December games always are huge”. The Super Bowl XLI champion coach added, “Playoff standings can dramatically shift with one win or one loss. You always want your team playing its best as you head into the playoffs, so it’s not just winning in December that’s important, but continuing to improve as well.”
**1. Texans (11-2) — IND, MIN, @IND – Clinched playoff berth with chance to claim the division title and home field advantage soon. But they still have two games against Colts
**2. Patriots (10-3) — SF, @JAX, MIA – Clinched the AFC East and could be the AFC’s best team after beating HOU and DEN this season. Next-up could be a Super Bowl preview as they host the Niners.
**3. Broncos (10-3) — @BAL, CLE, KC — Peyton Manning and John Fox have 10 wins and still have a chance at the conference’s No.1 seed. Could still move-up with win against BAL and a NE loss to the Niners
4. Ravens (9-4) — DEN, NYG, @CIN – The AFC North division race is tight as CIN (8-6) and PIT (7-6) are getting close. Ravens got rid of former OC Cam Cameron looking for a spark, but there schedule is tough
5. Colts (8-4) — @HOU, @KC, HOU – We are going to see if Rookie of the Year contender QB Andrew Luck is ready for “Prime Time” as Indy plays Houston twice in their last 3 games.
6. Steelers (7-6) — @DAL, CIN, CLE – Pittsburgh is holding on to the last spot, but they don’t look good as they had a season-low moment in losing to the lowly Chargers in Week 13. Getting in the playoffs may come down to their Week 16 game vs. Bengals
In The Hunt:
Bengals (8-6) — already beat Eagles on Thursday … Next up @PIT, BAL
Dolphins (5-8) — JAX, BUF, @NE
Bills (5-8) — SEA, @MIA, NYJ
Chargers (5-8) — CAR, @NYJ, OAK
Browns (5-8) — WAS, @DEN, @PIT
Out: The Raiders (3-10), Jaguars (2-11), and Chiefs (2-11) 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 (11-2) — NYG, @DET (SAT), TB – Clinched the NFC South, but they maybe vulnerable – 0-3 in playoffs under Mike White and Matt Ryan – as shown by their Week 13 loss to the Panthers
2. Niners (9-3-1) — @NE, @SEA, ARI – As crazy as it sounds, their tie may help them in playoff seeding and clinching the NFC West earlier. Kaepernick has sparked this team – 3-1 as a starter – but they have a tough Week 14 test against the Patriots
3. Packers (9-4) — @CHI, TEN, @MIN – MVP Candidate QB Aaron Rodgers’ squad is back in front of the NFC North, but the division could come down to Week 15 vs. Chicago.
4. NY Giants (8-5) — @ATL, @BAL, PHI – The defending Super Bowl looked good against New Orleans, but they have to hold-off the Cowboys and Redskins (both 7-6).
5. Seahawks (8-5) — @BUF, SF, STL – After a 58-0 shellacking of the Cardinals, Seattle jumped into the 5th seed. And most importantly two of their last three games are at home, where the Seahawks are undefeated so far (6-0).
6. Bears (8-5) — GB, @ARI, @DET – Chicago is banged up — All-Pro LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring) – and appear to be limping to the finish. HC Lovie Smith better stay on top of things because the Vikings are right behind them.
In The Hunt:
Vikings (7-6) — @STL, @HOU, GB
Cowboys (7-6) — PIT, NO, @WAS
Redskins (7-6) — @CLE, @PHI, DAL
Rams (6-6-1) – MIN, @TB, @SEA
Bucs (6-7) — @NO, STL, @ATL
Saints (5-8) — TB, @DAL, CAR
Out: The Panthers (4-9), Cardinals (4-9) and Eagles (4-10) better start making plans for the NFL Draft and rebuilding their respective franchises.
Week15 Playoff Scenarios
- Houston clinches AFC South division with:
1) HOU win or tie vs. IND loss
- Houston clinches a first-round bye with:
1) HOU win or tie + NE loss or tie OR
2) HOU win or tie + DEN loss or tie
- Houston clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:
1) HOU win or tie + NE 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 (4-9), it is over 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)