NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Analyzing Teams on the Brink Entering Week 15

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2013

Dec 1, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller (26) reaches for the pylon during the first quarter of a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. The touchdown was negated on a penalty by the offense. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It is crunch time in the NFL with playoffs on the horizon.

For now, the outcome of Week 14 has given us a solid look at the top seeds in both the NFC and AFC. Division crowns are still up for grabs in some, but for the most part we have a good idea of which teams will be in the top four in each bracket.

The wild card is a different story. Two teams from each conference currently clutch the No. 5 and 6 spots, but what about the teams close behind with three weeks to go?

Suffice to say, the last few weeks will be chaotic. The teams currently on the outside looking in if the playoffs started today still have a legit shot to sneak in with a strong finish.

 

Playoff Standings Heading into Week 15
AFC
SEED TEAM RECORD
1 Denver Broncos 11-2
2 New England Patriots 10-3
3 Cincinnati Bengals 9-4
4 Indianapolis Colts 8-5
5 Kansas City Chiefs 10-3
6 Baltimore Ravens 7-6
NFC
SEED TEAM RECORD
1 Seattle Seahawks 11-2
2 New Orleans Saints 10-3
3 Philadelphia Eagles 8-5
4 Detroit Lions 7-6
5 Carolina Panthers 9-4
6 San Francisco 49ers 9-4
NFL.com

 

 

AFC & NFC Wild Card Outlook Before Week 15
AFC Wild Card W L
Kansas City Chiefs 10 3
Baltimore Ravens 7 6
Miami Dolphins 7 6
San Diego Chargers6 7
New York Jets 67
Tennessee Titans 5 8
Pittsburgh Steelers 5 8
NFC Wild Card
Carolina Panthers 9 4
San Francisco 49ers 9 4
Arizona Cardinals 8 5
Chicago Bears 7 6
Dallas Cowboys76
NFL.com

 

AFC

7. Miami Dolphins (7-6)

Dec 1, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline (82) and quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) celebrate after scoring a touchdown against the New York Jets during the third quarter of a game at MetLife Stadium. The Dolphins d
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Don't sleep on the Miami Dolphins.

Week 14 was a major 34-28 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers despite adverse weather conditions that a team from Florida is surely not accustomed to battling.

The Dolphins have won two in a row and return home in Week 15 for a date with New England. The Dolphins lost to the Patriots in Week 8, 27-17, but this time the Patriots will be without tight end Rob Gronkowski (who is out for the year, per ESPN). The Dolphins held Tom Brady to 116 yards with a touchdown and interception in Foxborough.

A three-point loss to Baltimore in Week 5 is all that currently holds the Dolphins back.

Remaining Schedule: vs. Patriots (10-3), at Bills (4-9), vs. Jets (6-7)

 

8. San Diego Chargers (6-7)

 

Dec 8, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) throws the ball during the second half against the New York Giants at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers won 37-14. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Watch out for San Diego, too. The Chargers have won two out of their last three, including a major Week 12 win at Arrowhead Stadium over Kansas City. 

Coincidentally enough, the Chiefs stand in the Chargers' way to close the season, but that dance will take place at Qualcomm Stadium.

Quarterback Philip Rivers (3,882 yards, 26 touchdowns) continues his return to prominence under coach Mike McCoy, which means San Diego has a better shot of gunning its way in than many think.

Remaining Schedule: at Broncos (11-2), vs. Raiders (4-9), vs. Chiefs (10-3)

 

9. New York Jets (6-7)

Dec 8, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) throws a pass against the Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rex Ryan's defense has been a mixed bag, and the overall ranks against the pass (No. 24) and run (No. 2) do well to demonstrate the strengths and struggles for New York this year.

The Jets would be in a much better position had they been able to win more games in the AFC, but the 3-7 mark in conference play holds the team back.

Two of the Jets' next three come against the conference, so it is now or never for rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who has seven interceptions to one touchdown in his last five games.

Remaining Schedule: at Panthers (9-4), vs. Browns (4-8), at Dolphins (7-6)

 

NFC

7. Arizona Cardinals (8-5)

Dec 8, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals punter returner Tyrann Mathieu in the third quarter against the St. Louis Rams at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Rams 30-10. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals continue to be a legitimate contender lost in the NFL's best division.

Arizona is propped up by an elite defense that allows an average of 19.8 points per game—only six teams allow fewer. From here on out, the unit will have to survive without starting rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu, who tore his ACL per ESPN's Adam Schefter:

The Cardinals have won five of their last six, but a brutal three-game stretch to close the season will sort the team into either the contender or pretender column.

Remaining Schedule: at Titans (5-8), at Seahawks (11-2), vs. 49ers (9-4)

 

8. Chicago Bears (7-6)

Dec 9, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown (12) gestures at the line of scrimmage during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Week 14 edition of Monday Night Football did much to help sort out the NFC picture.

Chicago embarrassed the Dallas Cowboys 45-28 thanks to another strong effort from backup quarterback Josh McCown.

While the win moved the Bears into a tie for first with Detroit in the NFC North, the Bears likely need to win out the rest of the way because McCown and Co. were swept by the Lions this season.

As friendly as the remaining schedule appears at face value, remember that Cleveland would love nothing more than to play spoiler, Philadelphia wants to remain in first in the NFC East and Green Bay has distant playoff hopes and a certain quarterback who may yet return this year.

Remaining Schedule: at Browns (4-9), at Eagles (8-5), vs. Packers (6-6-1)

 

9. Dallas Cowboys (7-6)

Dec 9, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) warms his hands on the heater during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys were on the wrong end of that blowout on Monday night.

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's unit simply cannot help itself when it comes to giving up points. It is a fantasy football spectacle every time the unit takes the field—Monday marked the third time the Cowboys surrendered at least 45 points this year.

The silver lining? The Cowboys have a favorable remaining schedule. Week 15 is Green Bay, a team that may or may not have its starting quarterback. The following weeks are games against Washington and Philadelphia, teams the Cowboys have already defeated this year.

If the Cowboys are going to overcome the schedule, it will take an impressive performance from the offense each week against mediocre defenses, because Kiffin's unit will not be doing anything to pitch in and help.

Remaining Schedule: vs. Packers (6-6-1), at Redskins (3-10), vs. Eagles (8-5)