The 2012 NFL Playoff Picture is becoming clearer each week. But as we enter Week 15, several teams remain in contention, and even the unlikeliest of postseason contenders cannot be eliminated just yet.
With just three weeks left to play, only the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have clinched a spot in the playoffs. The 49ers, Packers, Giants, Bears, Seahawks, Ravens, Colts (what?!) and Steelers would all be guaranteed January football if the season end today.
Teams like the Redskins, Vikings, Cowboys and Bengals are on the outside looking in, but remain right in the thick of the race.
But what about the long shots? I'm talking the 6-6-1 Rams, who sit a game and a half back of the NFC's No. 6 seed and finished 2-14 a year ago, yet are mathematically (and maybe even realistically) still alive. Or even the Jets, for as disastrous of a season as they've had, are 6-7 and just a game out of a playoff spot with a cakewalk of a schedule the rest of the way.
Could either of those two teams actually qualify for the postseason?
That's what we're here to find out. And the answer for both may be closer to a yes than their current standing leads one to believe.
Making a Case for the St. Louis Rams
Remaining Schedule: Home vs. Minnesota (7-6), Away at Tampa Bay (6-7), Away at Seattle (8-5).
St. Louis is riding a three-game winning streak that has pulled it back to .500 for the first time since Week 6. The Rams sandwiched an unlikely home win over San Francisco in Week 13 with relatively easy road victories over the Cardinals and Bills.
As you can see, each of the team's remaining opponents are in the playoff hunt as well. While the Bucs are further back than St. Louis, the Vikings and Seahawks are right there in it.
With a tie tainting their record, the Rams shouldn't encounter a situation where a tiebreaker is required to determine their playoff hopes. A win at home against Minnesota would clear the Vikings out of their path, and defeating the Seahawks would give them a sweep over a division rival that has a date with the 9-3-1 49ers in Week 16.
Let's not forget that the Bears, at 8-5, are in the midst of another second-half collapse and draw the red-hot Packers in Week 15. A 9-7 finish is not out of the question for Chicago.
Obviously, St. Louis would likely be eliminated with a loss in any of its final three games. But Minnesota is 1-5 on the road in 2012, and the Bucs have lost three straight. The only true challenge comes Week 17 at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks are 6-0 this year.
Even so, Seattle just lost one of its top defenders, Pro Bowl CB Brandon Browner, for the remainder of the regular season due to violating the NFL's performance enhancing drug policy. Pending appeal (to be heard Dec. 14), the Seahawks could lose their other top CB, Richard Sherman, for the same reason and same length of time.
Additionally, the Rams' top receiver, Danny Amendola, is on the mend from a lingering foot injury. Should he return soon, St. Louis' chances of making a playoff run possible will receive a significant boost.
The Cowboys and Redskins, who are a half-game ahead at 7-6, face one another in Week 17. So, barring a tie, one will fall behind the Rams should they win out.
Now are you starting to believe, St. Louis?
Making a Case for the New York Jets
Remaining Schedule: Away at Tennessee (4-9), Home vs. San Diego (5-8), Away at Buffalo (5-8)
This is a little tougher of a case to make. Not just because the Jets have a woeful QB situation, but Pittsburgh, who is 7-6 and a game ahead of New York, holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
But look at the Jets' remaining schedule and convince me they can't win them all. Believe me, I had a difficult time convincing myself, but it happened.
Of the Jets' seven losses in 2012, six have come against teams with a winning record—including the 49ers, Texans and Patriots. Conversely, they are 5-1 against teams under .500 this year.
Again, try and convince me, even without Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes in the mix, that these Jets can't win their final three games. If there was ever a man who doubted the potential of the Gang Green, it's the one who wrote this article.
But the Jets are finally playing sound defense, albeit against some of the NFL's most pathetic offenses. They've won three of four, including low-scoring victories over the Cardinals and Jaguars.
But it matters not how you've gone about reaching the playoffs, just getting there is hard enough.
Tennessee and Buffalo are each allowing over 27 points per game, and San Diego is giving up 21.6 PPG. If there was ever a time for New York to get its offense going, it's during this three-week stretch.
What's even better for the Jets is that the two teams ahead of them, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (also 7-6), square off in Week 16. The Bengals draw Baltimore (9-4) to close out the season as well. If the Jets finished 9-7 and Cincy managed to beat the Steelers but lose to the Ravens, NYJ would hold a tiebreaker over the Bengals by virtue of a better conference record.
Pittsburgh gets Dallas on the road in Week 15 having lost three of four. The Steelers fell to the lowly Chargers in Week 14 despite getting Ben Roethlisberger back from injury.
Pitt would have to finish 8-8 and the Bengals 9-7 or worse, but the important factor for Jets' fans is that there is still a chance.
What the Rams and Jets would do with a spot in the playoffs is anybody's guess, but believing they can still reach the postseason isn't so crazy, now is it?