The NFL closes out this weekend, with everything leading toward the NFC North Sunday Night game between the Packers and Lions. Outside of that game, the AFC field is set, with teams jostling for positioning, with the biggest swing coming in who wins the AFC West and gets the bye. In the NFC, the final slot is up for grabs between Washington and the runner-up of the NFC North, along with a little drama on whether Atlanta can close out and get the bye.
But what if we looked back at all the comebacks to see what the standings would look like if teams could have held a lead when they were winning with two minutes remaining? Those games happened. Those finishes are part of what makes the NFL a must-watch. They also have a big impact on our perceptions, and the realities for teams entering week 17. They make up a very small percentage of all the plays this year.
Including the two ties, there have been exactly 32 games where a team has come from behind with 2 minutes or less remaining to change the result. That’s an average of two games per team.
Here’s what the NFL standings would look like entering Week 17 if those comebacks did not happen.
The most obvious change is Detroit. We know how many close games the Lions have been involved in, but it’s still pretty amazing. They have won 5 games while still trailing with two minutes left (and lost one–the Titans game). Without those rallies, there is no Sunday Night Football in Detroit, Jim Caldwell is probably on the chopping block, and Calvin Johnson is sorely missed as Detroit prepares for their top 10 pick in the NFL Draft.
In the NFC, Dallas would still have the #1 seed. Green Bay, meanwhile, would be in the driver’s seat for the bye (remember, they had a lead against the Falcons late) with a win, but could still lose the NFC North to the Vikings on the tiebreaker (remember, the Vikings swept the Lions).
Atlanta would be in a similar boat. They could win the division, potentially still get a bye, but could also still realistically lose a tiebreaker at 10-6 to Tampa Bay (it would come down to strength of victory, tied at the moment).
In the NFC West, it’s further illustration of just how close Seattle’s season is to being seen in a much worse light. They would need to win at lowly San Francisco, or risk falling out of the playoffs entirely.
The wildcard situation would be wide open. The Gia
nts would have the edge, but a three-way mess of a tiebreaker could lurk. The Vikings and Bucs could both win the division at 10-6, or force a tiebreaker. If they faced off directly, it could also come down to an undecided Strength of Victory. The Eagles (and not Washington or Detroit) would have an outside shot, if they could beat Dallas.
In the AFC, New England would have wrapped up the top spot. Pittsburgh would actually be in the best position at 10-5, for the bye, but would still be at risk of losing the North to Baltimore (since they just got swept when Antonio Brown came up just short of the goal line), and it would also depend on whether Kansas City or Oakland won the West.
Meanwhile, nothing we could do in the AFC South could keep Houston from resting starters while trying to finish at 8-8. Them’s the breaks.
The wildcard race would be a glorious mess, instead of a foregone conclusion. Kansas City, Oakland, Denver, Baltimore, and Miami would all be in the mix entering the last week. Sunday Night Football would probably be Raiders and Broncos, Matt McGloin versus Trevor Siemian. Baltimore would have the tiebreaker advantage if they could get to 10-6, on conference record, and Oakland would be in good shape there, otherwise it would be a huge cluster.