So you're 2-10, 3-9, 4-8, even 5-7. You're seemingly out of playoff contention. Your locker room is in shambles as the players, other than the ones in contract years, seemingly have nothing to play for. So what can possibly amp your team up and get them playing with any sort of effort in the final four games? It's simple: playing spoiler for teams fighting for a playoff position.
Every year we see it. A team gets bumped from the playoffs because it drops a game(s) to a mediocre team at the end of the year. For this article, I will look at five teams who won't be going to the playoffs but have a serious chance to spoil someone's chances.
Taking into account schedule and personnel, I'll picks teams who can be the bad guys.
The Lions are coming off another close, heartbreaking loss. This week it was at the hands of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. 4-8 is 4-8 but this team could easily be 7-5. Out of their eight losses only one of them has come by more than eight points. Two losses have come in overtime, and on Thanksgiving they were straight up robbed by a blown call. They're not without their flaws, but this is by far the best four-win club in the league.
With games against division rivals Green Bay and Chicago—both 8-4 and battling for the division title—the NFC North could very well come down to the Lions. If they can beat one of those teams, it would take a lot for said team to still win the division. Keep in mind the Bears and Packers do meet again, though.
Prediction: Detroit will go 2-2 down the stretch, with those wins coming against Chicago and Arizona. This will allow the Packers to win the division even if they lose to Chicago head-to-head.
At 5-6-1, the Rams technically still have a shot a stealing a wild-card spot. But with so many teams a game or two ahead of them in the hunt, including the three teams they close the season with, they would need a miracle.
Sam Bradford seems to be developing chemistry with Chris Givens with support from his young defense. Led by the dynamic cornerback duo Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins, the Rams are a dangerous team capable of sneaking up on anyone, as we saw on Sunday as they shocked the San Francisco 49ers. Keep in mind the Rams match-up very well with Tampa Bay.
Prediction: Like Detroit, look for St. Louis to win two of these games. The Rams should be able to handle 5-7 Buffalo, effectively ending the Bills' slim playoff hopes. Also, I believe the Rams will pull the road upset at Tampa Bay, which along with recent losses to Atlanta and Denver would put a nail in Josh Freeman and Co.'s coffin.
Despite currently owning the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs showed resiliency and heart by beating Cam Newton and the Panthers, in wake of recent tragedy on Sunday. Outside of the quarterback position, this isn't by any means an awful football team. There are playmakers on defense, and Jamaal Charles continually dominates despite teams stacking eight men in the box against him.
If Brady Quinn can play anywhere near the level he played at this week, Kansas City can be dangerous, especially at home. The Colts are a team that struggles to stop the run or run the ball themselves consistently. That is a recipe for disaster going into Arrowhead.
Prediction: I have a feeling the Chiefs will beat the Colts. Indy is 8-4 and a game ahead of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the other two legitimate wild-card contenders in the AFC. A loss to Kansas City might not be enough to bump the Colts from the playoffs, but we'll see.
Remaining Games: at Pittsburgh, vs. Carolina, at New York (Jets), vs. Oakland
A lot like the Lions, the Chargers are a little better than their 4-8 record indicates. They've lost numerous close games because of Philip Rivers' inability to keep possession of the football in the fourth quarter. Also, the overtime loss to Baltimore was bogus. On the infamous 4th-and-29 play, not only was Ray Rice clearly short of the marker, but the refs missed a block in the back.
The defense is prone to give up big plays, but it is a physical unit. And while Rivers is not the elite QB some thought he would blossom into, he still has enough throwing ability to win games. Traveling to Heinz Field is no easy task, but San Diego has the personnel to upset a streaky Steelers team if the team can keep its composure.
Prediction: The final three games are meaningless. But the Chargers have a chance to deal a potentially fatal blow to a Pittsburgh team deadlocked with the Bengals for the last spot in the AFC. Unfortunately, Big Ben should be back, and I don't see it happening.
Is there a better sub-.500 team in the NFL than the New Orleans Saints? Drew Brees realistically though, not mathematically, ended their season by tossing five picks in a critical loss to Atlanta on Thursday night. But this team has battled adversity all year, and looking at their schedule they'll be the favorite against all of those opponents except the Giants.
The Saints have the third best passing attack in the league statistically. All those yards through the air need to amount to something, right?
Prediction: After losing a close one to the Giants, the Saints will be motivated to close the year out on a high note and will do so with three straight wins. Two of those will deal crucial losses to Tampa Bay and Dallas.
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