After several weeks of big upsets and topsy turvy results, we finally had a weekend that really separated a lot of playoff wheat from chaff. A few surprising results ensued, as always, yet the biggest factor is the number of teams taken out of the race.
Cowboys beat Raiders—With the Eagles taking a victory against the Redskins, Dallas used the victory to maintain a one game advantage with five games remaining. If Dallas can go 3—2, they should hang onto the NFC East.
Outlook: The division is now Dallas’ to lose, but one game is not enough to breathe easy. Injuries keep Philly just behind and Dallas hangs onto the division.
Packers top Lions- After questions surrounding every facet of the organization when they fell to Tampa Bay, they have risen to 7—2 against all non-purple teams and are a frontrunner for one of the two wildcard berths. At this point only two teams hold 7—4 records, while two more trail one game behind. A very unfriendly remaining schedule with four strong teams makes this a tough run, making Thursday's win all the more crucial.
Outlook: Assuming a win against faltering Chicago, the 4—2 divisonal record should guarantee a tie-breaking advantage against Atlanta, against the Giants the outlook is still in the air. I think one of the 6—5 teams catches Green Bay, who takes the wildcard on a tiebreaker.
Broncos defeat Giants—The trouncing here serves several purposes. Denver puts itself in a wildcard driver’s seat if they can maintain it, while keeping pace to potentially catch San Diego. More importantly, they ended a four—game losing streak in dramatic fashion to stay in the divisional hunt. The Giants on the other hand, fall a game back of the wildcard and two back in the divisional race. An overtime win last week proved to be an aberration, not the beginning of a turnaround with the sizeable defeat.
The Giants have a tough remaining schedule including three consecutive divisional games, followed by the Panthers and Vikings. They will need to run the divisional games in order to take a tie—breaker advantage over Green Bay or Philadelphia.
Outlook—Denver will have a hard time overcoming San Diego, but if they can perform like they did on Thanksgiving, they should hang onto a wildcard, thanks to the Steelers faltering. The Giants are now outsiders, and a team still on the skids. I don’t think they have what is necessary to overcome the hole they are putting themselves in. The best I see for this team is 9-7.
Colts come back to take Texans—Indianapolis has the AFC nearly wrapped up with a three game advantage over any opposition. It would take something drastic just to lose home—field throughout the AFC championship. This game was far more important to Houston though. Dropping to 5-6 they are not eliminated, but have drastically reduced their odds. Nothing short of running the table will put them in the wildcard.
Outlook—Indianapolis will maintain its home-field advantage, Cincinnati’s loss against Oakland means this should not be particularly difficult. Houston has a somewhat favorable schedule, but I don’t see them pushing past 9-7, more likely they will lose to Jacksonville and end the year at 8-8… again.
Bengals top Browns—Defeating Cleveland by 9 points does not impress, but a Steelers loss coupled with this victory nearly ensures the division (due to the tie-breaker they hold a three game lead with five contests remaining). They also maintain pace for the number two seed and its accompanying bye. Should New England win both they and San Diego will remain behind Cincinnati despite all three reaching 8-3 because of a divisional loss each.
Outlook: The Pats schedule is tough enough to put them a game back of the Chargers and Bengals. This means the head—to—head in San Diego should be for the BYE. The Bengals physicality matches up well against San Diego, but if both teams play as they have been the last two weeks then San Diego with its home field advantage should win.
Eagles defeat Redskins—The Eagles maintain the edge in the wildcard race while staying one game behind the Cowboys. The loss to Dallas will be important both for the game behind it puts them, and for the tie breaking advantage it gives Dallas (thanks to the earlier Redskins loss.
Outlook: The final game against Dallas might end them with the same record if they can win, but the tiebreaker will favor Dallas and give them the division while Eagles head into the playoffs with the #5 slot.
Bills beat up on Dolphins—Miami was already an outsider to the playoff picture. The Steelers and Jaguars losses keep Miami on the outskirts, but without Ronny Brown and the with the number of games dwindling, Miami will need a highly favorable chain of events to edge in.
Outlook: There are too many teams ahead and too many players on the sidelines keeps Miami out of the playoffs.
Jets pound Panthers—Like Miami, the New York Jets are still playoff longshots. The win does serve to assuage some of the monster skid, but after all the fuss over the 3-0 start another 9-7 will disappoint.
Outlook: Jets put another nice win or two coupled with more big losses to go 8-8.
Falcons edge Buccaneers—Atlanta keeps itself in the playoff race by staying a game behind the Eagles and Packers. Should Ryan and Turner heal quickly they should go 10-6 or 9-7 depending on next week against Philadelphia. Even at 10-6 they will need to fight tiebreaking procedure against the Packers and Eagles who should both be able to land at 10-6 as well. They should end up 3-3 divisionally whereas the Pack should end 4—2, putting the Eagles again as the question mark.
Outlook: Philly wins and takes a wildcard while Atlanta comes up just short.
Jaguars fall to 49ers—A win would have given Jacksonville a great advantage in the wildcard race after the Steelers/Ravens outcome. Now they share 6—5 records with the Steelers and Ravens, making the final wildcard a tossup at this point with any of the three a possible argument for the wildcard, and a Denver collapse still a possibility that could put two of the three in.
Outlook: The Jags have made their living defeating lesser teams this year. They don’t have the firepower to get into the playoffs. The winner of week the 16 Ravens/Steelers matchup gets the wildcard.
Titans top Cardinals—The Titans continue their improbable Rebirth while the Cardinals fail in an opportunity to put away the division fully. At 5-6 the Titans have ascended from the absolute cellar to the ranks of playoff outsider alongside Miami and New York.
Outlook: The Cards lost by three without Warner, not much real note of concern. They hang onto the division and benefit from the NFC East race to grab the #3 seed. Tennessee has impressed, but I still feel they get at least one loss and end up eliminated from the playoffs, 8-8 most likely.
Vikings trample Chicago—With the Packers continuing to win, there was still a small measure of need to maintain a lead. Now they have a four game advantage (tiebreaker) with five games remaining. This is essentially the clincher. Chicago, while not mathematically eliminated is now all but finished, and will now be looking to salvage dignity.
Outlook: Chicago now will work to stay out of the top ten draft board while Minnesota keeps ahold of the #2 seed. The battle for number one will shape up better after Monday.
Chargers capitalize on Chiefs mistakes—San Diego maintains its lead over a victorious Denver by putting up a thirty-point advantage over Kansas City (fresh off an upset over Pittsburgh). They now are not only looking toward the fight for the AFC west, but eyeballing a second seed and the first round BYE it gives, keeping pace with the Bengals with an 8—3 record.
Outlook: San Diego hangs onto the division, the head—to—head with Cinci determines the #2 seed.
Ravens defeat Steelers—This game simultaneously put a struggling Ravens team back into the front of the playoff picture, while the Steelers plummet down to fighting tooth and nail for a spot in the playoffs. They now share a 6-5 record with the Jaguars, but the Steelers divisional record will not help them in this race.
Outlook: One of these two will overtake Jacksonville for the final playoff spot. Pittsburgh’s health will decide which one of these two.