NFL Playoff Scenarios: Predicting Chances for Every Bubble Team in Week 17
There are seven teams in the running for just three remaining spots in this year's NFL playoffs, and it all comes down to their final games to determine which three reach the postseason.
In the following slides, I examine the chances each of these seven teams have to win their games, and with the help of a little luck, nab themselves one of the remaining playoff berths.
New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys
Lumped together in this first slide are the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, as they are facing off against each other in Week 17, with the winner claiming the NFC East title and a postseason berth and the loser forced to watch the playoffs from home.
Both the Cowboys and Giants have been nothing more than consistently inconsistent this season, which also sums up the NFC East division. With the lead changing hands a number of times, it seemed likely the ultimate winner wouldn't be decided until Week 17.
The Giants have a much better chance to win this game for a number of reasons. First, the game is at home, which is always helpful in games with stakes as high as these.
Second, the Dallas defense is only effective at stopping the run, but the Giants have the 32nd-ranked rushing offense, averaging just 88.1 yards per game headed into this week.
The Giants are strongest when passing the ball, and the Cowboys' secondary is their biggest Achilles' heel, giving up an average of 238 yards per game.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Giants just look like a playoff team, despite their down second half of the season. The Cowboys still have much to iron out and they won't do so even for just one week in a game as important as this.
Though the Giants aren't the toughest team in the NFC this year, they'll go from on the bubble to in the playoffs this week.
Denver Broncos (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
The Denver Broncos are one win away from making the playoffs as AFC West champions. Should they lose, however, they have no chance of making the postseason aside from the Oakland Raiders also losing their Week 17 contest.
One glance at the Broncos' opponent—the Kansas City Chiefs—and it seems almost guaranteed that Denver would win out and thus reach the playoffs. However, it's not as simple as it first appears.
The Broncos, with quarterback Tim Tebow as starter, have had more than their fair share of improbable success this season. They've managed comeback win after comeback win thanks to Tebow's flashes of late-game brilliance.
The key to the Broncos' success has been their defense's ability to keep games close until the waning moments, while their offense has managed to do just enough to be competitive in time for Tebow to work his strange, last-second magic.
That magic has run out in the last two weeks, however, with the Broncos being blown out first by the New England Patriots in Week 15 and then the Buffalo Bills last Saturday afternoon.
At the same time, the Kansas City Chiefs have toughened up since divesting themselves of head coach Todd Haley and appointing Kyle Orton their starting quarterback.
Kansas City has an excellent pass rush that has held teams to an average of 211.4 passing yards per game, but it's yet to be seen if that will have any effect on the pass-wary Tebow.
The Chiefs have little to play for, to be sure, but I see them doing so with enough focus and intensity to bring the Broncos their third loss in as many weeks, putting their postseason chances in serious jeopardy.
Oakland Raiders (vs. San Diego Chargers)
With a win this Sunday over the San Diego Chargers and a loss by the Denver Broncos, the Oakland Raiders can clinch the AFC West title and with it a playoff berth.
They can also nab a wild-card spot if they defeat the Chargers, the Cincinnati Bengals lose and either the Tennessee Titans lose or New York Jets win.
However, they'd much rather get in as divisional champions then run the risk of yet again facing the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow for the third time this year.
The Chargers pose a test for the Raiders, but it's one they can certainly pass.
The Chargers seemed to return to the form with which we had all become familiar in their Weeks 13 through 15 wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens that saw them outscore their opponents 109 to 38.
However, in Week 16, they fell 38-10 to the Detroit Lions and looked more like the team that lost every game they played in Weeks 7 through 12.
With San Diego eliminated from playoff contention and head coach Norv Turner likely out the door after this week's game, the Chargers have little to play for and little morale with which to back up their efforts.
The Raiders, in contrast, have their entire postseason hopes on the line. Though not the most consistent team this season, Oakland has been able to get wins when they needed them most.
They need a win this week more than any other time this season, and I see them getting it and with it a playoff berth, more likely as AFC West champion than the No. 6 seed.
Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Baltimore Ravens)
If the Cincinnati Bengals defeat the Baltimore Ravens this week, they lock up the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs, and if there's any team on the AFC playoff bubble worthy of earning that spot, it's the Bengals.
Cincinnati was projected to win five or fewer games before the 2011 regular season began, with the fact that they were starting both a rookie quarterback and rookie wide receivers the No. 1 reason for the prediction.
Instead, they've managed a nine-win season and have fallen only to some of the best teams in the NFL.
One of those teams, the Ravens, comes to town this week, and though they've got their playoff spot locked down, they still have much to play for.
A Ravens loss this week in concert with a Pittsburgh Steelers win gives the Steelers the AFC North title and with it the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. If the Patriots lose, the Steelers win and the Ravens lose, then the Steelers are the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
What the Ravens really want is that home-field advantage. They've yet to lose a game at home, with all four of their losses this year coming on the road.
That fact bodes well for the Bengals' chances this week, as does the fact that they're fighting for quite a bit more than the Ravens.
Win or lose, Baltimore sees the postseason, but the Bengals are in a must-win situation and will be playing as hard as they are capable to defeat Baltimore and overcome their league-leading defense.
Out of all the teams still in the hunt in the AFC, the Bengals have the best chances to win this week and make the postseason.
Tennessee Titans (at Houston Texans)
Despite their 8-7 record, the Tennessee Titans still have a chance to make the playoffs as the sixth seed in the AFC. However, it will take more than just a win over the Houston Texans this Sunday to get them there.
Should the Titans defeat Houston, they still need the following to happen to make the playoffs: a New York Jets win and an Oakland Raiders loss, a Jets win and a Denver Broncos loss or a Jets loss, a Raiders win and a Broncos win.
A team so completely out of control of their own postseason destiny never has much of a chance to reach the playoffs, and the Titans are no different.
Further, with the season they've had, with their inability to string together more than three wins before losing again, they don't have the type of consistent talent that makes them a viable playoff contender.
The Texans have little to play for, but they're not likely to rest their starters this week, lest the Titans enter the playoffs and have to come to town for two consecutive weeks.
Tennessee has done little to prove they're worthy of a postseason berth and they aren't favorites to win this week. It's "better luck next year" time for the Titans after Sunday.
New York Jets (at Miami Dolphins)
With a loss last week against the New York Giants, the New York Jets have the most outside chance of any AFC team to clinch the No. 6 seed in this year's playoffs.
To make it in, they'll have to defeat the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, while both the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans would have to lose and either the Denver Broncos or Oakland Raiders would also have to fall.
While the Jets have been a powerhouse team in seasons past, making it to the AFC championship game in the last two years, this year's Jets squad is an entirely different animal. Weaker on defense, struggling to run the ball and failing to further develop quarterback Mark Sanchez into a more viable passer, the team has fallen to 8-7.
After this weekend, the Jets are likely to end their year at 8-8. The Dolphins started their season 0-7 but have since gone 5-3, and held their own against the likes of the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots though they ultimately lost.
The Jets embarrassed the Dolphins in Week 6, beating them 24-6, but the Dolphins team of Week 17 is almost an entirely different squad. They've found their rhythm on both offense and defense and should win out over the Jets this week.
Even if New York does win, they need so many other teams to fall for them to reach the postseason, and I just don't see any of those scenarios playing out this week.