Going into Week 15, several teams' playoff dreams were on life support across the NFL. But after a weekend for the underdogs and a few miraculous comebacks, many of those teams still share that glimmer of hope for a postseason appearance.
With another game on Monday night left, there are two teams that will be contending for their playoff lives as well, which could muddy up the picture for a few teams. But after a Sunday—and Thursday—filled with teams pulling off the improbable, here are a few teams that improved their playoff hopes and how they can eventually get in.
San Diego Chargers (7-7): Currently No. 8 seed in AFC
Over its last eight games, San Diego has gone 4-4, including losses to the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins and wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. If the Dolphins are unpredictable, the Chargers are best described as erratic.
But what the Chargers did on Thursday night was apply pressure to both the Ravens and Dolphins and made the margin of error very slim for both teams. With just two weeks remaining in its schedule, San Diego is in a good position but still needs a lot of help.
If there was ever a good omen for the Chargers playoff hopes, it's Philip Rivers' record against teams .500 or better late in the season, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:
Philip Rivers: 10-3 against teams above .500 in December/January in last 8 seasons (best of any NFL QB in that span)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 13, 2013
The previously mentioned loss to the Dolphins essentially puts the Chargers two games back with Miami moving to 8-6 this week. In order for San Diego to overtake Miami, it would need to win two straight games, the Dolphins to lose their final two contests and the Ravens to lose two of their last three.
If it were to come down to a tiebreaker situation between the Chargers and Ravens, the Chargers would need to win their final two division games to finish 4-2 in their division and need the Ravens to lose to the Cincinnati Bengals to fall to 3-3 in their division.
Needless to say, the Chargers' hopes of making the playoffs are still very slim, but a huge win over the Broncos certainly opened up the possibility of three teams from the AFC West making it in.
Green Bay Packers (7-6-1): Currently No. 9 seed in NFC
Wait, a No. 9 seed could still make it into the playoffs with just two games left in the regular season? How can that happen? Well, the Packers certainly chose the road less traveled to get here, but they still have a shot at the postseason after one of the most unbelievable comebacks in NFL history.
Need proof as to how epic the comeback was? Here is a tweet from ESPN Stats & Info showing the two teams' win probabilities as the Packers came back from being down by 26-3 to win 37-36:
A look at the Cowboys and Packers respective win probabilities in their game today pic.twitter.com/uVHL5GrCsE— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 16, 2013
What the Packers have done now is created a world where—pending the outcome of Monday night's game between the Lions and Ravens—a team at 7-6-1 could possibly control its own destiny in the NFC North.
If the Lions fall to the Ravens, both the Packers and Bears would control their own destinies and would ultimately face one another for the NFC North crown in Week 17 with the No. 3 or 4 seed in the playoffs on the line.
While the Bears could have been chosen in this section as well, the fact that the Packers have won two in a row and are still in the playoff hunt without Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb or Jermichael Finley on the field is simply astonishing.
If Aaron Rodgers can return for a Week 16 showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Lions fall to the Ravens, the Packers could be a scary team that could put the NFC North into a stranglehold.
Miami Dolphins (8-6): Currently No. 6 seed in AFC
The Dolphins have been one of the most unpredictable teams all season, but when they are firing on all cylinders offensively they can be one of the toughest teams to beat. The New England Patriots found that out in Week 15 as the Dolphins pulled off the 24-20 upset by scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Mike Greenberg of ESPN summed the win over the Patriots up best on Sunday:
That was a "we're for real" win for #Dolphins. Both sides of the ball came up big in final five minutes.— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) December 15, 2013
While the Dolphins could still win the AFC East with two straight wins and two straight losses by the Patriots to close the season, the more likely scenario is to claim the sixth seed and earn a wild-card berth.
In order to earn that spot, the Dolphins need to finish with one more win than the Baltimore Ravens—who sit at 7-6 before their game against the Detroit Lions on Monday night—or tie with the Bengals. This is why Sunday was a two-fold victory for the Dolphins after the Bengals loss to the Steelers.
Baltimore owns the tiebreaker after taking the head-to-head matchup between the two teams in Week 5, but Miami owns the tiebreaker over Cincinnati thanks to a win in Week 9. If Baltimore defeats Detroit on Monday, it would be 8-6 and tied with Miami.
But with a meeting between the Ravens and Bengals in Week 17, the loser will win the AFC North and the loser could likely miss out on the playoffs if the Dolphins win out.
Which of these teams will make the playoffs?
Along with the Dolphins' controlling their own destiny, they have a favorable schedule remaining. With two games remaining against the cellar-dwellers of the AFC East, playing the Buffalo Bills then returning home for a season finale against the New York Jets, the outlook is bright for Miami.
But if the Dolphins slip up and the Ravens falter, the next team in line could be the Chargers. Needless to say, the AFC playoff picture is far from over even with three playoff spots already shored up.