It’s the final 3 weeks of the regular season in the NFL and for the most part, there’s plenty of playoff spots to go around. Realistically there’s only two teams who we can all but count on to make the playoffs, the Patriots who have clinched, and the Falcons, who have a 3 game lead on any Wildcard team with 3 weeks left so they’re all but in. Outside of that, there’s division races to be won and wildcard spots to be given out to those who aren’t fortunate enough to win their division. So what’s that mean? It’s prediction time here at TSHQ. And who else to give you the picks you crave for other than the man who has spent his time all year on here picking college games. That’s right, me, Bryan Doherty. Is this my preference? No, I wouldn’t have spent the last 3-4 months on CFB if I liked the NFL more. But god knows I’m one of the few with the cojones to put my neck out there. So here it is, your breakdown of all the division and wildcard races, god be damned if our NFL man, Brent Mullis, disagrees. He can make his own thread if he feels differently.
Contenders: Patriots (11-2), Jets (9-4)
The division that needs probably the least amount of explanation. The Pats have been playing out of their mind of late, dominating every team in sight. The Jets have slumped to two straight losses, a blowout loss at the hands of the Pats and a home loss to the Dolphins. The Pats have a pretty easy schedule left, at home vs. the Packers who might be down Aaron Rodgers, and even if they’re not, the Pats have won 26 straight at The Razor in the regular season, and then the Dolphins and Bills, with only Buffalo on the road. The Jets have to travel to Pittsburgh and Chicago in the next two weeks before ending the year at home against Buffalo. So the Pats only need to win 2 of the next 3 to wrap up the division or if the Jets lose again, they need just one win. Does anyone think the Pats won’t win the AFC East at this point? Look for the Pats to win the AFC East and have home-field throughout the AFC Playoffs, needing only 2 wins in their final 3 to attain that (own tie-breaker over Pittsburgh).
Verdict: New England wins the AFC East
Contenders: Steelers (10-3), Ravens (9-4)
Another two team race in a division, this one much closer. The Steelers stole a HUGE win over the Ravens in Baltimore 2 weeks ago that put them in the driver’s seat to claim the AFC North. This week’s game against the Jets will be huge for Pittsburgh. With their last two against Carolina and Cleveland, they should win out if they win this weekend which would give them the AFC North title. Baltimore in their own right has a winnable schedule if they escape the Saints at home this weekend. After that they have Cleveland and Cincinnati. In my mind the Ravens have the tougher overall road left on their schedule and the odds of them winning out and getting a Steelers loss (which it would likely take as I can’t see Pit losing twice) in order to finished tied would be unlikely. Even in that case, since they split the season series, the Steelers would have to lose to Cleveland in Week 17 for that to even go to the 3rd tie-breaker or else Pittsburgh wins the tiebreaker too. I know it’s the holiday season, but the Ravens won’t get that many gifts. The Steelers stand in a strong position to win the AFC North.
Verdict: Pittsburgh wins the AFC North
Contenders: Jaguars (8-5), Colts (7-6)
With Houston going down tonight against Baltimore (and really, does that not end the Kubiak era?) the Texans are done. So like the previous two divisions, this is a 2-team race. Interestingly enough, if the Jaguars win at Indy this weekend, they clinch the South, as they would hold a 2 game lead with 2 left and would own the tiebreaker. Do I think that’s going to happen? No, which is unfortunate becuase I hate Indianapolis. If the Colts win this weekend, the teams would be tied and both have a 3-2 division records with their remaining games being at home vs. Washington, and at Houston for Jacksonville, and at Oakland and home vs. Tennessee for Indianapolis. It’s honestly the biggest crapshoot in my mind for a division race in the AFC. If they finished the season tied, and finish tied in division record, then it goes to common games, which would likely favor Indy if they finish with the same records. So if thats not confusing enough for you then I’m sorry. But as you can see, if Jacksonville and Indy finished tied then there’s a good chance it will require multiple tie-breakers. Want simplicity? Root for Jacksonville to beat Indy this week. I’m not banking on it, and though I could see Oakland or Tennessee beating Indy in the last two weeks, if you put a gun to my head and told me to choose the team more likely to slip up in the final two weeks (if Indy ties the division this weekend), I’d say Jacksonville. Why? Well when was the last time Peyton missed the playoffs? I hate him but I gotta be honest.
Verdict: Indianapolis wins the AFC South
Contenders: Chiefs (8-5), Chargers (7-6), Raiders (6-7)
Are the Raiders a long shot? Yes. But if they win out and get to 9-7, they’d own tie-breakers over SD and KC, so they can’t be ignored. Lets start with this weekend. San Diego has San Francisco at home on Thursday. KC goes to St. Louis and Oakland hosts Denver. KC is most likely to lose but if Cassell is back I still think they win that game. Which means they would just have to beat Tennessee or Oakland at home in the last two weeks to eliminate Oakland. What’s that mean? Yep, I’m not giving Oakland more than a 5% chance to win this division. I can picture ONE Chiefs loss, not two. If they lose this Sunday in St. Louis, then maybe they lose to Oakland in Week 17. If they win this weekend, maybe Oakland beats them in Week 17. Either way I think they beat Tennessee so I have KC AT WORST at 10-6. Which means SD has to win out. I have no doubt they beat San Fran at home this week. Then they end the year at Cincinnati and at Denver. Could they slip up in one of those? Maybe Cincy, not Denver, that team quit. Since KC and SD spilt the season series, if KC slips up vs. Oakland, then a win over Denver in week 17 would give SD the division via tie-breaker. Still, KC controls its own destiny. I’m not sure what it is that’s making me do this, but I’ve been buying KC since Week 2 (check TSHQ archives if you don’t believe me) and I’m not going to cowardly jump off now. KC wins out and snags the AFC West. (If Cassell misses more games I don’t want to hear crap for that pick.)
Verdict: Kansas City wins the AFC West
Contenders: Jets (9-4), Ravens (9-4), Chargers (7-6), Jaguars (8-5), Dolphins (7-6), Oakland (6-7)
First off, lets get rid of Oakland. Mathematically they have a chance but they’re dead. Their only way in is the AFC West which I told you already isn’t happening so they’re out. Their chances died in Jacksonville. A team who is under the radar is the Dolphins. At 7-6 they have Buffalo and Detroit in the next 2, both at home where they’ve struggled. Yes, they end the year at New England but by that time New England probably has homefield throughout wrapped up. Which could mean reserves for most of the game. So Miami has a good chance to run it which puts them at 10 wins. San Diego as I’ve told you before, needs to win out as well to have a chance. Even one loss and they are certainly out of the Wildcard. I’m not convinced they win both at Cincy and Denver, regardless of how dumb that might read. So I’m calling San Diego dead if they don’t prove me wrong in the AFC West. Jacksonville as we touched on I don’t have winning this week at Indy which puts their ceiling at 10 wins, and Houston on the road the last week is still a toss-up to me. Biggest things are can the Jets and Baltimore scrape out two more wins? If the Jets and Ravens can win 2 of 3, that puts them at 11 wins which eliminates SD, OAK, and MIA from Wildcard contention. Baltimore in my opinion, even if they lose to NO this week will beat CLE on the road and Cincy at home putting them at 11. Can the Jets beat PIT or CHI on the road, two teams who have to win to stay in the driver’s seat in their divisions? That’s the question. I know I’m going with chalk right now, but I have to predict honestly on the wildcards even if it is the easy way out.
Verdict: Baltimore and New York win the AFC WC spots
Projected AFC Playoff Seeds:
1. New England
3. Kansas City
6. New York Jets
Contenders: Eagles (9-4), Giants (9-4)
Much like the AFC South, this division is a brutal division to predict. If the Eagles win at the Giants this weekend, they all but wrap up the NFC East as they would possess a one-game lead and hold the tie-breaker meaning one win in their final two would give them the division title. Part of me likes the Giants this weekend though which makes this a tough pick. I’ve been higher on the Giants than most, picking them to represent the NFC in the SB at the midway point of the season during TSHQ’s Mid-season debate with our own Coley Michalik. Their injuries at WR (and tonight Bradshaw though I don’t know how serious) make me very uneasy about that pick and more inclined to pick my other NFCCG team, the Saints, but that doesn’t matter here. The Giants, if they win this weekend have Green Bay and Washington on the road to end the year. While Philadelphia gets Minnesota and Dallas at home to end the year. So the Giants probably have the easier schedule but as I said, the Eagles stand a good chance to win this weekend. Add in the 3rd tie-breaker, would favor Philadelphia, and much like Baltimore in the AFC North, the Giants pretty much have to win the division outright to win it. And though I think they could win this weekend at home, I just as easily could see them losing one before the season ends, probably vs. Green Bay. So I’m playing it conservative and taking the Eagles to win the division, but let the record show I like the Giants more come playoff time.
Verdict: Philadelphia wins the NFC East
Contenders: Bears (9-4), Packers (8-5)
Talk about a break and a half for both teams. Green Bay has every chance in the world to be tied after this week if they could just beat Detroit, a team who had lost something silly like 26 straight division games. So in that sense Chicago is lucky. Then GB 3 hours later is lucky to still be in the division race when Chicago, with a golden opportunity to put a stranglehold on the NFC North gets blown out at home vs. New England. Right now, the Bears hold a one game lead over GB plus the tie-breaker and have a week 17 matchup at Green Bay. Chicago has Minnesota on the road this week and then the Jets at home. Green Bay travels to New England and then gets the Giants at home. I’m going to be brutally honest, if the Bears lose this division it’s a choke. Whether he plays or not, Rodgers and the Pack will probably not win this weekend. The Pats have won 26 straight at home and still have homefield throughout to play for. If GB loses this weekend, then a Bears win at Minnesota clinches the NFC North. With a 2 game lead, the worst they could do is tie Green Bay, in which case, by splitting the season series it would go to division record which they would finish 5-1 compared to Green Bay’s 4-2. So in other words, as long as Chicago wins this weekend at Minnesota, then the only way they can not win the division is if they lose their last two games, to finish 10-6, and Green Bay wins out at 11-5, which would mean a win at New England this weekend, a win over the Giants who are in playoff contention, and would be battling Green Bay for a playoff spot, and then a win over Chicago in Week 17 at which point Chicago if they haven’t clinched the division yet, would know they have to win. You see all that happening? Either do I.
Verdict: Chicago wins the NFC North
Contenders: Atlanta (11-2), New Orleans (10-3)
No Tampa Bay you ask? I know, but I’ll get to that. Atlanta still has an easy schedule left. Seattle and Carolina on the schedule and New Orleans at home, a team they already beat. So if Atlanta wins one of these games, Tampa Bay can’t win the South. Now you see why Tampa Bay really isn’t a contender? Ok, good. Anyways, its simple for Atlanta. Beat New Orleans at home and your the South champ. You would at worst finished tied with them and would win the H2H tie-breaker. Think New Orleans might win that game? Ok, fine. Well if you think Baltimore beats New Orleans this week than Atlanta just needs to beat Seattle and Carolina. Sound do-able? Great. Exactly, this division really isn’t that complicated. I know how great the Falcons are at home with Ryan. I’m aware of the record. But I’m saying the same thing I said about the NFC East. The Falcons will win the division, but I like New Orleans more in the playoffs. I can’t see any scenairio where New Orleans wins out. They’ll lose to either Baltimore or Atlanta which basically gives Atlanta the division.
Verdict: Atlanta wins the NFC South
Contenders: Rams (6-7), Seahawks (6-7) 49ers (5-8)
Yes folks. That’s not a misprint. One of these embarrassing teams will host a playoff game. How disgusting if your a Bucs, Packers, or Giants/Eagles fan. Nonetheless, there has to be a division champ so I’ll do my best to give you a pick. First off, lets start with the easiest pick. The Cardinals are 4-9. They’re out. I realized this when I was going through the steps of tie-breakers. Seattle and St. Louis still play, which means one of them will get to 7 wins. Arizona lost twice to Seattle so Seattle owns a tie-breaker over them. St. Louis by beating Seattle would get to 3 division wins, meaning they’d finish with a better division record than Arizona. On the chance there is a 3-way tie between the 3 of them, the first tie-breaker is record H2H between the 3 teams where Arizona would be 1-3 and Seattle by 2 wins over Arizona at worst would be 2-2 so Arizona CANNOT make the playoffs. If somehow someone can show me where I’m wrong, please do, but I’m 99% confident in that by looking at tie-breaker rules. So we move on. San Francisco has San Diego and St. Louis on the road followed by a home finale vs. Arizona. I have them losing to SD on Thus easily so the best record I’m giving them is 7-9. Which means the winner of the Seattle-St.Louis game in Week 17 would only have to win one of their other two to finish 7-9. Since I’m giving San Fran hypothetical credit for a 7-9 record that would mean a win over St. Louis meaning if St. Louis beat Seattle in Week 17, they’ve have to beat KC this week at home to get to 8. If Seattle wins in Week 17, they’d have to beat Atlanta or Tampa Bay. As you can see, its very possible that neither of those teams would win their games. Well, considering its the NFC West, what better way to pick your champ than by going through each of the last 3 weeks and predicting some W’s or L’s. So here’s my predictions:
San Fran: @ SD (L), @ St. Louis (W), Arizona (W)
St. Louis: KC (L), SF (L), @ Seattle (W)
Seattle: ATL (L), @TB (L), STL (L)
So as you can see I have St. Louis and San Fran at 7-9 and Seattle at 6-10 (fitting that the division champ will have a losing record). Since SF would have a 2-0 record vs. St. Louis, that would give them the division title. Do I expect SF to win the title? No. I think St. Louis will. They’ll probably beat SF at home but right now I have it at a loss. So while, I expect to be wrong, by my calculations, SF would be the West winner, if we can really call any team in this division a winner.
Verdict: San Francisco wins the NFC West
* K.M Venne correctly pointed out that Arizona could get in with 7 wins if St. Louis/Seattle tie in Week 17, so note that correction. I’m still not worried much about all that happening. So in essence, K.M…shove it. No, but seriously, good catch.
NFC Wild Card
Contenders: Saints (10-3), Giants (9-4), Packers (8-5), Buccaneers (8-5)
Lets be serious. No NFC West team is getting a wildcard so on the bright side thats a hell of a lot less teams I have to worry about. Know what else I love? I can do this very quick. First off New Orleans has a brutal schedule down the stretch, @Baltimore, home vs. Atlanta, home vs. Tampa Bay. They already beat TB though which means a win in Week 17 at home vs. TB means they guarantee themselves ahead of TB. Does anyone think TB will win that game if NO needs it? Neither do I. GB and the Giants play in Lambeau in Week 16. Again, I have the Packers losing to NE this weekend so if the Giants beat Philly, they need just one win in their last two games to clinch a playoff spot under the conditions I set with NO projected to beat TB. I’m going to make this simple. The Packers aren’t even sure Rodgers will play this Sunday and have NE, NYG, CHI left on the schedule. Even with a 100% healthy Rodgers, I’m not sure they win more than one of those. Now you toss in he’s coming off a concussion. Sorry Green Bay, but unless you win the North, your out. And that’s what I’m projecting. Even if TB loses to NO in week 17 they should be good enough to beat Detroit and Seattle which gets them to 10-6. Meaning the Giants need to win 2 of their last 3. I’ve given this weekend a toss-up, then they have at Green Bay before finishing with Washington. I think most would agree they’ll beat Washington if they need it which assuming I’m right on NO over TB in week 17 puts the G-Men AT WORST at 10 wins and tied with TB, 11 if they can win one of their next two. Those are odds I’ll take.
Verdict: New York and New Orleans win NFC WC
Projected NFC Seeds:
4) San Francisco
5) New Orleans
6) New York Giants
It’s a lot of chalk but looking at tie-breakers and schedules, I feel fairly confident the majority of the teams I gave you will be playing football into mid-January. Least confident picks being in San Fran, Kansas City, and Indianapolis, in that order. Thanks for reading.