Heading into Week 16, there are some NFL playoff outsiders with a great shot to sneak into the postseason with a strong finish and a little bit of help.
With two games left to play, only four teams have secured playoff spots, while eight vacant spots are up for grabs. Only 12 teams have been eliminated from the playoffs, as pointed out by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:
That means there are still 16 teams contending for those eight spots, which means the final two weeks of the regular season will be full of drama.
Here's a look at the playoff standings for both conferences heading into Week 16, followed by a closer examination of the teams currently on the outside looking in with the best chance to get into the postseason.
|2||New Orleans Saints||10-4|
|6||San Francisco 49ers||10-4|
|8||Green Bay Packers||7-6-1|
|2||New England Patriots||10-4|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||11-3|
|8||San Diego Chargers||7-7|
|10||New York Jets||6-8|
Green Bay Packers (Currently No. 8 Seed in NFC)
The Packers are just a half-game behind the Chicago Bears for the NFC North title with two games left to play.
Which team will win the NFC North?
Chicago will be in Philadelphia in Week 16, and the running game of the Eagles could wreak havoc on the Bears' porous defense (the league's leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, goes up against the worst run defense in the NFL). It's a game Chicago could easily lose, which opens up the door for the Packers to claim first place with a win at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Then, Green Bay will hit the road to take on Chicago in Week 17. Even if both teams win in Week 16, Green Bay would win the division with a victory in Chicago.
After Aaron Rodgers went down with his collarbone injury, Green Bay languished for over a month, going 0-4-1 before finally winning its last two games. Thankfully, the rest of the NFC North also struggled, allowing the Packers to remain in the hunt.
Rodgers has yet to be cleared to play, but he's going to practice on Wednesday and hopes to experience no setbacks, per NFL: AroundTheLeague:
Aaron Rodgers said he plans to practice on Wednesday, hopes to experience no setbacks "mentally or physically."— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) December 17, 2013
It's hard to imagine he'll miss another game, especially now that the playoffs are realistically attainable.
Of course, a loss in Week 16 to the Steelers could be the final nail in this team's coffin, but it's hard to imagine Green Bay will lay an egg at home with the playoffs on the line.
Dallas Cowboys (Currently No. 10 Seed in NFC)
All the Cowboys have to do to give themselves an honest chance to get into the playoffs as the NFC East champion is win on the road in Washington in Week 16.
It's a game Dallas should win.
Which team will win the NFC East?
Washington is a complete mess on defense, and a solid game plan offensively should generate plenty of points for the Cowboys. Of course, Dallas' league-worst defense must find a way to shut down Kirk Cousins and Alfred Morris.
There's a lot on the line for Dallas. As Judy Battista details in a report for NFL.com, there are major question marks in Big D regardless of whether the team reaches the postseason:
The Cowboys, incredibly, still have a chance to win the division, owing to the weakness of the NFC East, but they can't allow that to delude them this offseason into thinking that they are among the league's best teams. They are far from that, and other than Romo -- whose massive contract has conferred untouchability on him -- nobody should feel safe.
Provided Dallas wins, Week 17's contest at home against Philadelphia will determine the winner of the division. If Dallas loses, then Philly must lose to Chicago to make the final game noteworthy, since the Eagles would have a two-game lead.
But if both teams arrive at AT&T Stadium in Week 17 for a chance to win the division, it'll be anyone's game to win. Throw all the stats and trends out the window. It's a complete toss-up.
Miami Dolphins (Currently No. 7 Seed in AFC)
Thanks to Baltimore's huge 18-16 win over Detroit on Monday Night Football in Week 15, the Miami Dolphins were denied a chance to enter Week 16 as the No. 6 seed in the AFC. With a record of 8-6, Miami is tied with Baltimore, but the Ravens would get in by virtue of head-to-head win percentage.
The Ravens have a brutal final two contests to close out the season, however, while Miami will take on a couple of losing teams to finish its 2013 campaign.
Which team will win the No. 6 seed in the AFC?
Baltimore will host the New England Patriots in Week 16 and then hit the road to take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17. Miami will be in upstate New York to face the Buffalo Bills in Week 16 and will finish the season back at home against the New York Jets.
Both teams are hot right now—the Ravens have won four straight and the Dolphins four of their last five—but Miami's easier schedule gives it a huge advantage to get in. The Dolphins lost to Buffalo but beat New York the first two times the teams played.
Two more wins would likely seal Miami's fate as the No. 6 seed in the AFC, because the Ravens will likely lose at least one of their final games.
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