We’ve passed the halfway point, and Thanksgiving football is just days away. The also-rans have started to fall by the wayside (though, amazingly, the 0-10 Browns haven’t officially been eliminated yet because of the mediocre AFC North), and races are solidifying. Here’s a rundown of the playoff outlook heading into week 11.
DID THE AFC WEST SECURE BOTH WILDCARD SPOTS IN THE AFC?
The top of the AFC West is going to be a battle over the last seven weeks. Stakes are high, as the division winner could get the top seed, and will almost certainly get a bye. The other two will have to go on the road.
But, it looks like after Sunday’s twin crazy finishes on the road in the NFC South, the AFC West will almost certainly get both wildcard spots. Denver, Kansas City, and Oakland all sit on 7 wins. If they just get to 10-6, that should be enough, and 9-7 may be good enough with tiebreakers.
The chances of two 10-6 teams emerging from the AFC North or South are slim to none. Miami, who won at San Diego to win their 4th straight game, is the one potential monkey wrench. But that would require a 5-2 finish. Miami has three road games to the Northeast in December, around home games with Arizona and New England.
NEW ENGLAND’S LOSS PROVIDES A LITTLE INTRIGUE, BUT JUST A LITTLE
New England is the presumptive #1 seed in the AFC. That hit a slight bump with the home loss to Seattle, as they are now tied with the Chiefs and Raiders at 7-2. The Patriots (who do play the Broncos but not either of those teams) are still the favorites.
They’ll be favored by more than a touchdown for the next four weeks. If they take a loss at the 1-8 49ers or the 3-7 Jets, or at home against the offensively-challenged Rams, then we’ll talk, because they do have the road games at Denver and Miami in December.
PITTSBURGH IS STILL THE FAVORITE IN THE AFC NORTH
Yes, the Steelers lost a fourth straight game, and things seem to be in a bit of turmoil in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are a game behind Baltimore now, and lost to the Ravens. That said, Pittsburgh still projects as the most likely champion.
Baltimore has played Cleveland twice, and has yet to play New England and Dallas (this week). Pittsburgh has lost to both those teams, and has yet to play Cleveland. Now if Pittsburgh loses to Cleveland this week? Nah, let’s not even go there for the sanity of some of the less stable fans.
CAN TENNESSEE (OR INDIANAPOLIS) CATCH HOUSTON?
The Tennessee Titans are starting to surge, and are coming off a 47-25 win over the Packers to get to 5-5. Houston is the least impressive 6-3 team in awhile. They’ve been outscored by 27 points on the year.
But they still have what is in effect a two game lead, thanks to wins over Tennessee and Indianapolis this year. It’s probably going to take a 4-2 close for Tennessee (5-2 for Indy) to put pressure on the Texans.
This week’s Indianapolis-Tennessee game is, for all intents, an elimination game in the division. The loser will still trail Houston by at least 1.5 games (even if Houston loses to Oakland), and be in tiebreaker trouble based on division record. If it’s Tennessee, they will already have 3 losses in division while Houston has none.
DALLAS AND SEATTLE FOR THE TOP SEED
Dallas has passed every test so far, since the opening week loss to the Giants. The Seahawks, meanwhile, had a potential season-defining win at New England, where Russell Wilson looked to be getting healthy and the offense looked better.
Dallas has a 1.5 game lead, but the battle for the top seed could go deep into December. Seattle has four home games remaining, and the road games are at Tampa Bay, at the suddenly faltering Packers, and at San Francisco. They are likely to be favored in all remaining games.
Dallas has a tougher road slate (at Vikings, Giants, and Eagles) and plays three teams with winning records at home. A 12-4 record might get them the top seed; 13-3 should almost certainly get it done.
THE NFC NORTH IS OFFICIALLY A MESS
Green Bay and Minnesota both lost, again, while Detroit was on a bye. That puts Minnesota and Detroit in a tie at 5-4, with the Packers at 4-5. This one likely won’t be decided until the end, because all of these teams have shown flaws. Detroit hosts Minnesota on Thanksgiving, but then we have the Packers playing both the Vikings and Lions in weeks 16 and 17. I’m not counting out Rodgers if he has a chance entering those games.
ATLANTA IS A HEAVY FAVORITE IN THE NFC SOUTH
Atlanta has this week off, but if Carolina beats the Saints at home (and Tampa Bay loses at Kansas City), the Falcons will have a two-game lead with six to play, over everyone else. Atlanta also plays 4 of the last 6 at home, including getting one against the 49ers.
Tampa Bay’s schedule is brutal down the stretch, Carolina lost yet another gut punch game, and you have to wonder if they can put together a streak now. The Saints with Drew Brees seem the likeliest challenger, and they go to Atlanta in week 17. But they have to get close enough to make that one matter.
THE NFC WILDCARD IS ABOUT THE (OLD) NFC EAST
The two wildcard spots will most likely go to members of the old NFC East. You remember back when the St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals would play in the East, right?
The NFC North runner-up could be in the mix, but right now, it looks like those teams will beat on each other and leave one standing.
Currently, we have:
Arizona seems a long shot with the schedule, and they must begin the run this week at Minnesota, followed by at Atlanta and against Washington.
I’d have to favor New York and Washington right now (the Giants should win the next two), and those teams meet in Week 17. If Philadelphia or Arizona can still be in the mix entering the final Sunday, that could become a very important game.