By: Brady Gardner
With plenty of question marks across the NFL standings going into Week 15, this week’s results clarified some uncertainties, but also sparked some new complications. Just like last week, I will be providing you with everything you need to know in regards to the NFL’s playoff picture thus far.
Feel free to scroll to your favorite team, or read the entire article to get a sense of the landscape across the entire league! Without further ado, let’s take a look at how things are shaping up with two weeks to go in the 2018 NFL regular season.
First, let’s check out the AFC:
Los Angeles Chargers:
In one of the most highly-anticipated matchups of the week, the Chargers opened up Week 15 with a divisional win over the Chiefs. It was an impressive win for the visitors, pulling themselves even on record with Kansas City at 11-3. While a tiebreaker means that Los Angeles still sits in a wild card spot, the Chargers could give themselves a good shot at overtaking the Chiefs for the division title and AFC’s number one seed if they beat the Ravens and Broncos.
Kansas City Chiefs:
As for the Chiefs, their breathing room in the AFC West has completely disappeared following the defeat at the hands of the Chargers. A playoff berth may be sealed for Kansas City, but they will likely have to win out to guarantee the coveted number one seed for the playoffs. Overcoming the Raiders in the regular season’s final week shouldn’t be too difficult, but the Seahawks will pose a challenge as they battle for a wild card spot in the NFC.
The only game that could compete with Chiefs-Chargers for the NFL’s game of the week was the Patriots vs. Steelers contest, which was won by Pittsburgh. Following three straight losses, this was a crucial win for the 8-5-1 Steelers, who still barely hold their lead in the AFC North and their playoff spot altogether. Pittsburgh may have saved themselves for one week, but playoff berth is far from guaranteed as they will head to New Orleans for a challenging fixture with the Saints before finishing the season at home against the Bengals.
New England Patriots:
The loss to the Steelers saw things go from bad to worse for the 9-5 Patriots, who have recorded more than four losses for the first time since the 2009 season. This defeat dropped New England out of position for a first round bye and home-field advantage in the latter stages of the postseason, which seems especially crucial to this team given the road struggles we have seen from the Patriots this fall. While nothing seems like a guarantee with New England this year, the Pats should be able to get two wins from home meetings with the Bills and Jets.
Overtaking the Patriots in the number two seed were the Texans, who sneaked by the Jets to become 10-4 on the season. Houston has put together quite a season in a highly-contested AFC South, and are deserving of a high seed in the postseason. That being said, the Texans cannot afford to set their sights on the bye prematurely as they conclude their regular season with matchups against potential spoilers in the re-energized Eagles and underperforming Jaguars.
Houston may have the division wrapped up, but the 8-6 Colts are still on the verge of entering the playoff picture after a sound victory over the previously-streaking Cowboys. Indianapolis is quietly having a strong season driven by the return of quarterback Andrew Luck, and are only currently excluded from postseason football through a tiebreaker. After playing the Giants next week, the Colts could be playing with a playoff spot on the line when they travel to Tennessee.
The Titans took an easy victory away from their meeting with the Giants, improving to 8-6 and keeping them in serious contention for a wild card spot. Head coach Mike Vrabel has had his fair share of ups and downs in his first season at the helm with Tennessee, but his squad appear to be hitting their stride at just the right time. The Titans should be able to take care of business against the Redskins, but everything will be on the line against the Colts in Week 17.
The third and final 8-6 team in the AFC is the Ravens, who pulled out a win in the rain against the Buccaneers. It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but Baltimore will take anything at this point to remain within striking distance of the Steelers in the AFC North. The Ravens are still holding off the Colts and Titans for the sixth playoff spot through tiebreakers, and their results against the Chargers and Browns could see them win the division or miss the playoffs completely.
Still in the hunt at 7-7 are the Dolphins, who severely hurt their playoff chances by falling to the Vikings in Week 15. There is still a mathematical possibility for Miami to win the AFC East, but realistically, their only hope will be for the three teams above them in the wild card race to slip up. Of course, the first step for the Dolphins would be to win out against the Jaguars and Bills.
Believe it or not, there is still a possibility of the 6-7-1 Browns making the playoffs. Still, while they were able to defeat the Broncos in what was essentially an elimination game, it will certainly be an uphill battle for Cleveland to make the postseason with only two games to go. It wouldn’t be a shock for the Browns to beat the Bengals and Ravens, but getting all the other results that need to go Cleveland’s way would really require some kind of miracle.
The Broncos and Bengals barely missed the cut at 6-8, and the 5-9 Bills seem to be on to something, but just a few weeks too late. The 4-10 Jaguars and Jets have been out of legitimate contention for a while now, and the 3-11 Raiders never had a chance. Well, maybe there’s a chance to be a spoiler?
Now for the NFC:
The Saints held on to the number one seed with a scrappy victory over the Panthers on Monday Night Football. The Saints currently hold a league-best 12-2 record, and have all but guaranteed themselves a first round bye. With wins over the Steelers and Panthers to conclude the regular season, the Saints could help themselves towards the goal of finishing as the first seed, and help other teams by potentially knocking Pittsburgh and Carolina out of the playoff picture.
New Orleans Saints:
On the losing side of that NFC South bout were the Panthers, whose defeat meant falling to 6-8. The Saints were nowhere near their best in this game, so the fact that Carolina could not take advantage of a New Orleans off-day may be indicative of this Panther squad just not deserving a playoff spot this year. There is still a chance for Carolina to sneak their way in, but a lot will have to go their way, including their final two contests against the Falcons and Saints.
Los Angeles Rams:
While the Saints were victorious, their lone competition for the number one seed in the Rams were not so fortunate. Los Angeles fell to the surging Eagles, becoming 11-3 and likely handing the Saints the first seed in the process. The Rams should be able to stay in position for a bye with fixtures against the struggling Cardinals and 49ers, but they do have to keep an eye out for the Bears should they end up on the wrong end of an upset.
The 7-7 Eagles are well and truly flying after their victory over to the Rams, putting them in great position for a wild card spot or even a divisional title should the Vikings or Cowboys stumble. With starting QB Carson Wentz injured again, Nick Foles is looking to replicate the magic he produced last season, and his performance against Los Angeles showed a glimmer of hope that lighting could strike twice. However, it will not be an easy road for the Eagles, who will face the Texans before finishing against a Redskins team that is also in contention at 7-7.
Despite being down to their fourth quarterback on the depth chart, the Redskins still won to keep pace with the Eagles in the hunt for playoff berth. It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win, especially for a Washington side that has been counted out through their misfortune at the quarterback position. As they fight for either a wild card spot or a division title, the Redskins will really be tested in their final two games, playing the Titans who are in a wild card race of their own, followed by the Eagles in a potential play-in game.
With the Eagles and Redskins in pursuit, the Vikings were able to hold off the NFC East challengers by defeating the Dolphins comfortably. 7-6-1 is barely enough to keep the Vikings in the sixth playoff position, but if they are able to put their difficult middle of the season behind them, they could still find their way into the playoffs. That being said, Minnesota will have to win out against the Lions and Bears to secure playoff berth, which will be no easy task.
Ahead of the Vikings at the five seed are Seahawks, who did themselves no favors by falling to the 4-10 49ers in Week 15. An 8-6 record thus far is still enough to keep Seattle in the playoffs, but with other playoff hopefuls closing in, their cushion for a wild card spot is shrinking. The Seahawks will have to prove themselves against the Chiefs this week before finishing off the season with a layup against the Cardinals.
Continuing up the NFC standings, the four seed Cowboys put up a dud against the Colts, matching the Seahawks both through their disappointing performance and also their 8-6 record. While holding the fourth seed may look convincing, Dallas is in real danger of losing their NFC East title to the 7-7 Eagles or Redskins. Still, with their remaining schedule consisting of the Buccaneers and Giants, the division is the Cowboys’ to lose.
Finishing the current playoff picture in the NFC are the Bears, who clinched postseason berth with a win over the Packers, simultaneously eliminating Green Bay from contention. At 10-4, the Bears have the division in hand, and are still on the prowl for a first round bye. Facing the 49ers should be a win for Chicago, but they will have their hands full with a trip to Minnesota to take on a Vikings team still fighting for their playoff lives.
Elimination at the hands of the Bears put the cherry on top of a disastrous season for the 5-8-1 Packers, and the 5-9 Falcons, Buccaneers, Giants and Lions will wish they could have played up to their expectations this season too. As for the 4-10 49ers and 3-11 Cardinals, their focus has been on the draft for a while now.
There’s still a lot that could change here in the last two weeks of the regular season, so we shall see how things end up after Week 16!