Players and coaches need to focus strictly on the next game, but as fans we are afforded the luxury of looking further ahead. With that thought in mind I fooled around with one of the NFL playoff scenario generators that is available on the web to see what various outcomes to the three weeks worth of remaining regular season games would yield.
If all the top teams in the AFC win out then Baltimore would be the number one seed and the Pats would get the other bye. Ignore those ‘if the season ended today’ standings, because the fact that they instead show Houston as the number two seed shows them to be a bit misleading.
What happens if the Pats lose at Denver and the Texans lose to Carolina, both finishing the season at 12-4? In this case Houston gets the number two seed due to a better conference record, and the Pats would face the number six seed – quite possibly the New York Jets.
Another variation on both of those teams finishing 12-4 would be for the Pats to lose at Denver but for Houston to lose their final game to Tennessee. Now the conference record is the same … yet this time the Texans finish ahead of the Pats in the number two spot.
Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston are pretty much locked into the playoffs, and at least one team gets in from the AFC West. The next most interesting battle is for the final wild card in the AFC. The Jets are the frontrunner, but they are only one game ahead of three other teams. A loss either at Philadelphia this week or to the Giants the following week – both very legitimate possibilities – does not knock them out of the playoffs. Once again, losses to non-conference teams are not as crucial because conference records are one of the first tiebreakers. However, if they lose both of these games then they are most likely out of the playoffs, with that final spot up for grabs between the Titans, Bengals or the second place team in the AFC West.
Early in the season I was not buying into the Bengals at all mostly because of the way their schedule looked; it was filled with relatively easy games in the first half of the year, while all their games against teams like the Steelers and Ravens came later. I will admit that I under appreciated their talent on defense as well as their running game, but it is still going to be very difficult for them to get into the playoffs. Even if they win out – which would mean defeating the Ravens in week 17, who would probably be playing for a number one seed – they still lost out in most tiebreakers in the various scenarios that I set up. Their best shot is to win all their remaining games while the Jets lose their next two games to both the Eagles and Giants.
Over in the NFC things are becoming very interesting thanks to the Giants improbable win over the Cowboys last week. Green Bay, San Francisco and New orleans are in, leaving four teams – whoever finishes second in the NFC East, the Falcons, Lions, and Bears – battling for two wild card spots.
Perhaps the game with the most playoff implications this week is Detroit traveling to Oakland to play the Raiders; the loser of this game is going to have a real uphill battle to make the playoffs. In most of the scenarios I played out whichever team lost ended up missing the post-season.
Here are links to a couple of online playoff scenario generators that I found, if you want to try it out for yourself. You can select specific criteria, or get more detailed by changing the outcome of individual games to see what affect that has.
Also, for much more detailed information and playoff probabilities, check out PlayoffStatus.com.
As for tonight’s game …
4-9 Jaguars at 8-5 Falcons
Atlanta -12; under 43
Disregard what Jacksonville did last week. Tampa Bay gifted them with seven turnovers and twelve penalties, and the Bucs either gave up long ago or are simply lost, thanks to management’s absolute refusal to bring in anything remotely resembling veteran leadership. The Jaguars are not as good as last week’s score indicated; meanwhile Atlanta – who is much better at home in their dome than they are on the road – is battling for a playoff spot. On top of that the Jaguars are now due for a bit of an emotional letup; they’re playing on the road on a short week; and are playing their third game in eleven days.
Even though I normally shy away from double-digit favorites, I’m putting four units on the Falcons minus twelve.
Prediction: Falcons 31, Jaguars 10