How Each Team on the NFL Playoff Bubble Can Earn a Berth
Five NFL teams with an outside view of the playoffs still have a chance to get into the tournament. The Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings would all miss the postseason if the season ended today.
But it doesn’t.
Each team’s potential approach to the playoffs is different. The Giants simply have to win their remaining games to play in January. Other teams will need a little help from their friends (or rivals, as the case may be).
NFC playoff hopefuls will likely need 10 wins—and tiebreakers to favor them—to make it into their side of the bracket. The Vikings, Bears and Cowboys still have the potential to top out at 10 regular-season victories, but the NFC North squads’ only hope of getting into the postseason is to grab the final wild-card spot, as the Green Bay Packers clinched their division.
The AFC is less crowded and playoff hopefuls will need at least eight wins to get in.
A recent three-game slide has sent the Chicago Bears tumbling out of the playoff picture. They still have the ability to get back in with a 10-6 record by beating the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions on the road, but they will need some help.
Chicago will need the Minnesota Vikings to lose to the Houston Texans on the road or to the Green Bay Packers at home for the Bears to leapfrog them. They will also need the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants, who each have identical 8-6 records but currently hold the tiebreaker over Chicago, to drop a game.
New York is on the road against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16 and home against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17. Washington is at Philadelphia in Week 16 and home against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17. The Bears would then maintain a postseason berth even if the Cowboys storm to 10-6 by virtue of a 34-18 win in Dallas in Week 4.
If the Giants and the Cowboys reach 10-6 and the Redskins lose a game, the Bears would be out of luck. Dallas would win the NFC East, and New York has a far better 4-1 record against common opponents (Packers, Cowboys, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers) than the Bears’ 2-3.
The Dallas Cowboys have the inside track to the NFC East divisional crown. All they have to do is defeat the New Orleans Saints at home in Week 16 prior to knocking off the Washington Redskins on the road in Week 17.
If Dallas wins out, Washington’s record would be no better than 9-7. Even if the New York Giants finish 10-6, the Cowboys would take the division because of a better divisional record.
New York Jets
For the New York Jets to even entertain the idea of making the playoffs, they have to handle their Week 15 business on Monday Night Football—so let’s assume that happens. They’ll still need somebody to lose.
New York will have to win out and needs whoever wins the Pittsburgh Steelers/Cincinnati Bengals clash in Week 16 to lose their Week 17 matchup. Pittsburgh plays the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 at home. Cincinnati draws the Buffalo Bills on the road.
The Pittsburgh Steelers get into the postseason if they can beat the Cincinnati Bengals (Week 16) and Cleveland Browns (Week 17) at home.
Beating the Bengals is a must, but if Pittsburgh loses to the Browns, it will also require the New York Jets to finish worse than 8-8 and the Baltimore Ravens to beat the Bengals on the road in Week 17.
Adrian Peterson can run the Minnesota Vikings right into the NFL playoffs if they win out and the New York Giants don’t—simple as that. Minnesota would sneak into the postseason as an NFC wild card.
New York plays the Baltimore Ravens on the road in Week 16, followed by the Philadelphia Eagles at home in Week 17.
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