Following Week 15, three teams have clinched playoff berths: Matt Ryan’s Atlanta Falcons, Tom Brady’s New England Patriots and Ben Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Falcons have dominated the NFC, while the Patriots clinched after a surprisingly tough battle against the Aaron Rodgers-less, Matt Flynn-led, Green Bay Packers. The Steelers snuck in by strength of schedule despite a loss to fellow Super Bowl contenders New York Jets.
The playoff picture was murky heading into Week 15. For the most part, nothing changed. Division and playoff races are still very much alive heading into the final two weeks of the season.
Let’s attempt to make sense of the aftermath of the exciting Week 15 matchups.
How will the West be won, you ask?
Easily the worst division in football, no team seems to want to take this division lead. It feels like the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks have been tied atop this division the entire season. These two teams have been so bad in recent weeks that even the bottom-of-the-barrel Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers had opportunities to stay in the playoff race with wins in Week 15.
Of course, just like the rest of the season, they failed to win. Oddly enough, as the 49ers sit just one game behind St. Louis and Seattle, they aren’t even mathematically eliminated just yet.
The division should come down to the Rams and Seahawks. The Rams currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Seahawks after dominating them earlier in the season. The Rams battle the San Francisco 49ers this week. The 49ers have been even more inconsistent than the Rams this season.
The Rams do play better, for the most part, at home. While this isn’t a lock, the Rams should win the game. If the 49ers manage to pull out the victory, they would actually leapfrog the Rams because of a better division record.
Seattle should lose their contest to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Seahawks have been one of the most difficult teams to figure out this season. They’ll look good one week and then terrible for the next week or two. As they travel from the West to the East Coast for a 1 p.m. game, they don’t stand a chance against Josh Freeman’s tough “Young Bucs.”
Even though the division is lackluster, the tight division race makes Week 17 that much more exciting. St. Louis and Seattle duke it out in Week 17, possibly with the division on the line. San Francisco has a great matchup against an Arizona Cardinals team they dominated on Monday Night Football weeks earlier. If they beat St. Louis and Arizona and St. Louis beats Seattle, San Francisco would make the playoffs despite their tumultuous season.
Seattle would make the playoffs if they beat Tampa Bay and St. Louis in their next two games. They could also sneak in with just one win if the Rams and 49ers both lose one game.
This wild, wild, NFC West division has so many possibilities that it is quite possibly the most exciting division race to close the season.
The NFC North almost got sent for an even wilder ride Week 15 if Matt Flynn had been able to complete the improbable upset of Tom Brady’s New England Patriots.
The Packers aren’t out of it, unlike the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, just yet.
If Chicago loses this week, Green Bay would be just one game out of the division title. If that happens, Green Bay would be able to take the division Week 17 with a win over Chicago if they could beat the New York Giants in Week 16.
The safe bet is that Chicago beats Minnesota Week 15, clinches the division and essentially kills Green Bay’s Super Bowl hopes.
The South has been one of the best divisions in all of football this season.
Josh Freeman has done a great job in his sophomore season leading a very young and inexperienced Tampa Bay Buccaneers team to a surprising 8-6 record. Unfortunately, a tough, overtime loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 16 basically killed their playoff hopes.
While they aren’t eliminated just yet, they need a lot of help to get into the playoffs. They should beat Seattle at home Week 16, but a Week 17 matchup with the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints should put them away for good.
The Saints battle Atlanta in Week 16. Atlanta has already clinched a playoff berth, but will most likely still want to show up against their division rival. If New Orleans loses this game and then loses to the Bucs in Week 17, Tampa Bay would sneak in over the Saints.
It is difficult to believe Drew Brees’ Saints would stumble that mightily down the stretch after playing the Baltimore Ravens so tough on the road.
If New Orleans beats Atlanta in Week 16, they would be just one game out of the division lead. They would need Atlanta to stumble at home against Carolina in Week 17 and a win over Tampa Bay to take the NFC South division lead with a tied 12-4 record.
This tough division has a lot of exciting possibilities the final two weeks.
So, that happened.
DeSean Jackson completed the walk-off punt return touchdown to seal a miraculous Philadelphia Eagles 21-point comeback victory against the division rival New York Giants. The Giants collapse will be felt for a long time if they manage to miss out on the playoffs.
The Eagles should clinch the NFC East title with Minnesota and Dallas remaining on the schedule. Dallas almost beat Philadelphia in Week 14 but Michael Vick wouldn’t let that happen, just like he wouldn’t let his team lose to the Giants. Philadelphia will be looking to sweep the next two weeks in order to clinch the coveted first-round bye in the NFC.
Philadelphia could also clinch the division with a Giants loss.
The Giants should win out, although they travel to both Green Bay and Washington the next two weeks. The Green Bay game is no cakewalk, but the Giants should be extra motivated after blowing their NFC East division title chance. Beat Green Bay and they’re in.
The Giants need to be careful, though; they could potentially miss out on the playoffs with two losses.
Like the NFC West, the AFC West is shaping up for a similar wild finish with three teams—Kansas City, San Diego and Oakland—vying for the division title.
Kansas City still leads the race after defeating St. Louis to bring them to 9-5. Despite stumbling in San Diego with Matt Cassel (appendectomy) out, they control their own playoff fate if they can hang on and beat Tennessee and division rival Oakland at home in their final two games.
Oakland sits .500 after a nice win over division rival Denver. The Raiders need to beat the Colts next week and have Kansas City lose to Tennessee. They also need the Chargers to lose one of their next two games.
The Week 17 matchup between the Raiders and Chiefs would then have division title implications. If the Raiders won, they would leapfrog Kansas City with an undefeated division record.
San Diego, despite its early-season woes, is still in the division race. If only they didn’t stumble to Oakland, they would actually be leading the AFC West after beating Kansas City in Week 14 and San Francisco this week. They now need the Chiefs to lose one of their two remaining home games, where they are undefeated this season.
The Chargers should win out, battling the Terrell Owens-less Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16 and division rival Denver Broncos in Week 17. It may just be too little, too late, but their division title hopes are very much alive with some help from Tennessee and Oakland.
Despite suffering a loss to the New York Jets with superstar Troy Polamalu out of the lineup, Ben Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers clinched a playoff berth.
Baltimore held on to a win against the New Orleans Saints to keep them alive in the division race. Although the Steelers and Ravens are tied with 10-4 records, the Steelers hold a better division record to give them the division lead.
The Steelers are lucky enough to finish against the Panthers and Browns, two wins they should be able to seal even if Troy Polamalu doesn’t play. The Browns played the Steelers tough in Colt McCoy’s first career start, but it is hard to believe the Steelers would fumble heading into the postseason.
The Ravens finished against two division opponents, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Peyton Hillis ran through the Ravens earlier in the season but the Ravens are clicking on both sides of the ball and will be looking out for Hillis this time around.
The Bengals beat the Ravens earlier in the season as well, but the Bengals are in such disarray, the Ravens should manhandle them easily to close out the year. The Ravens also hold a tiebreaker over the New York Jets, so a playoff berth is in their destiny. The Ravens can also clinch a playoff berth Week 15 with a Chiefs loss and Chargers win or tie, or if either Jacksonville or Indianapolis loses or ties.
The Ravens would need to win and have the Steelers lose a game to capture the NFC North division, though it is highly unlikely. They could also hold home-field advantage in the playoffs if the Steelers and Patriots were to lose both of their next two games while the Ravens and Jets swept theirs.
If the Ravens lose and the Steelers win, they could clinch a first-round bye.
Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts took the AFC South division from the Jacksonville Jaguars with their season-saving win Week 15. Now the Colts control their own playoff destiny the rest of the way.
The Colts have a tough matchup against Darren McFadden’s Oakland Raiders this week and then finish off against the Titans, who gave Manning’s defense a run for its money Week 14. Still, these are opponents the Colts should beat to make it to the playoffs, where they are generally a mainstay each year.
The Jaguars let a great opportunity to send the Colts packing slip through their fingertips. Costly errors and Peyton Manning simply being Peyton Manning did them in. Now, they need help from Oakland or Tennessee to beat the Colts while still winning their remaining two games against the Redskins and Texans.
The Jaguars should sweep these two mediocre opponents but the Jaguars have proven in recent years to be a rather fickle team. If the Colts managed to lose to the Titans in Week 17, though, the Jaguars would win the AFC South with a Week 17 win over Houston because of their division record.
After surprising the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Jets are still in the division race with the New England Patriots.
The Patriots came back to beat the Packers in Week 15 to clinch a playoff berth with a 12-2 record.
If New England managed to slip up against division rivals Buffalo and Miami, the Jets could win the East if they won out. The Jets would even manage to clinch home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs if the Ravens lost and Steelers won out, now that New York holds the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh. The Jets finish up with the Bears, who the Patriots obliterated Week 14, and Buffalo, who the Jets obliterated earlier in the season.
The Jets can clinch a playoff berth within several scenarios. The simplest is to beat Chicago in Week 15. Otherwise, they could also clinch with an Indianapolis or Jacksonville loss or tie. Also, if the Chiefs lose and San Diego wins or ties.
Needless to say, the Jets should clinch a playoff berth at some point after a huge win in Pittsburgh.
The scenario where New England loses out to Buffalo and Miami is rather laughable at this point. Tom Brady has been on fire over the past two months. They will clinch a first-round bye, division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over Buffalo or a New York loss to Chicago in Week 16.
With Tom Brady seemingly unbeatable at home, the road to the Super Bowl should run through New England.