Before we get to sorting out the AFC playoff picture, I have an announcement: I am resigning from this blog. Actually its more like a leave of absence…on second thought I’m just going to keep going with it as scheduled. Glad we got that out of the way.
Also, just one quick thought on the biggest news story of the weekend: so this guy Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who allegedly tried to blow up a plane supposedly was on some kind of “watch list” but deemed “not dangerous enough to be on a no-fly list.” Can we all agree that if you’re on a watch list it’s a good idea to just go ahead and bump them to the no-fly list? I mean, he had to be doing something to get on the watch list so let’s just not take chances in this type of situation in the future. How does that sound to everybody?
Onto the hazy AFC Playoff picture. After a crazy Week 16 in which we saw a team concede perfection (Colts), a team who is so undisciplined they let their bitter division rivals keep breathing (Ravens), a team fight all the way back on the road only to lose control of its own destiny in the final 2 minutes (Broncos) and an emerging juggernaut (Chargers) blow out one of the hottest teams in football on the road, I think it’s a good time to sort out this mess as we head into the final weekend. We know four AFC teams are locked into the playoffs: Colts (1), Chargers (2), Patriots (3), and Bengals (4). The only shifting that can happen to these four teams this weekend would be if New England loses and Cincinnati wins; Cincinnati takes the 3 spot heading into the playoffs. The 5 and 6 seeds remain up for grabs, so let’s run down the teams in contention going ranging from win and in scenarios all the way through teams needs all kinds of help. Seven teams make the list: The Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Dolphins, Texans, Jaguars and Broncos.
*Note: if there is a tie in any of the below even more hell will break loose and also lead to some confusion from Donovan McNabb*
In Control of their own Destiny:
Baltimore Ravens (8-7): Despite being the team that has perpetually underachieved and committed idiotic penalties in key moments all season, if the Ravens win in Oakland on Sunday they will be in the Playoffs. At first glance one would think that this is an easy W for Baltimore but 4 of Oakland’s wins came against Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Denver. For whatever reason Oakland shows up against contenders but if Baltimore can beat the Raiders, the Ravens are in.
Playoff Outlook: Very Good
Rex's Jets may waddle into the playoffs depsite a shaky second half
New York Jets (8-7): Simple equation for the Jets: beat Cincinnati at home on Sunday Night Football and they are in the playoffs and will head to New England for the Wild Card Round. Cincinnati is in a position with little to gain, so much like their fraudulent win in Indianapolis on Sunday the Jets will benefit from playing second string players. If the Bengals beat the Jets there is no scenario in which they can get into the playoffs. The Jets have the same fate as Baltimore: Win and in, lose and the Jets’ season is over.
Playoff Outlook: Good
Teams that need a win and some help:
Denver Broncos (8-7): The Broncos were close to going all the way back in Philadelphia, and being in control of their own destiny as they prepare to host the horrendous Kansas City Chiefs at home to close out the season. The reality is that we are probably looking at one of the few teams ever to go 6-0 and the miss the playoffs. They are the only team that could potentially get in with a loss as well but if they lose at home to the Chiefs they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. To get in the Broncos need:
- A Win and a Jets and Ravens loss
- A Win and Jets and Steelers loss
- A win, a Texans win (vs New England) and a Jets loss
- A win and a Steelers and Ravens loss
- A win and a Texans win and Ravens loss
They can also get in if they lose and…
- The Steelers, Ravens, Texans and Jaguars all lose
- The Steelers, Ravens, Texans, and Jets all lose
- The Steelers, Ravens, Jaguars and Jets all lose
- The Steelers, Texans, Jaguars and Jets all lose
- The Dolphins, Ravens, Jaguars, Texans and Jets all lose
Playoff Outlook: They will be big Bengals fans on Sunday and given the Jets history of ripping their fans hearts out and stomping them into the ground there is a chance Denver avoids a complete collapse–not a good chance, but consider the Broncos’ Lloyd Christmas after a chat with Mary Swanson (“So you’re telling me there’s a chance!!!”)
Looks like it will be another disappointing title defense for Big Ben and the Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers: The defending champions need to win in Miami on Sunday to have a chance which is no easy task. On top of that they also need Houston to lose to New England (The Pats will be resting their starters) and a Jets loss vs Cincinnati (not likely but possible).
- Win at Miami, Houston loss to New England and Baltimore loss at Oakland (again not likely but possible)
- Win at Miami, Jets loss, Ravens loss, and Broncos Loss in Denver to Kansas City (more likely then a Ravens loss but not something to be counted on)
Playoff Outlook: Unlikely
Houston Texans (8-7): Let me be the first to offer the Texans a congratulations on another year that will have people thinking “Hey this team isn’t that far off, they finished strong down the stretch last year!!” late next summer. Houston needs to win at home over New England; the Patriots will treat this game like a preseason game, a series or two for Brady and the starters then the Brian Hoyer show will take over from there. Given that at full strength the Patriots secondary has been picked apart by elite offenses this year I would expect Andre Johnson to have a monster day vs the New England backups. On top of a win the Texans need a Jets and Ravens loss.
- A win, Jets loss and Broncos loss
- A Win, Ravens loss and Broncos loss
Playoff outlook: Not likely but not inconceivable (scenario 2 being the most likely way in)
Teams that need a ton of help:
Miami Dolphins (7-8): A valiant season put in by Miami this year that will ultimately leave them on the outside looking in. There is only one scenario that gets Miami in: a win over Pittsburgh and the Jets, Ravens, Texans and Jaguars to all lose (Jacksonville is at Cleveland, which is no gimmie: cold weather, improving team, Jags coming off an embarrassing loss in New England). Even if the Browns pulled an upset the likelihood of the Jets, Ravens and Texans all losing plus the need to beat Pittsburgh gives Miami as good of chance of getting in as Tiger had of not getting caught.
Playoff Outlook: Almost impossible
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8): The Jags travels to Cleveland in hopes of stopping a 3 game losing streak; meanwhile the Browns are on a 3 game winning streak and are looking to finish the season strong after playing flat out abysmal football for the first 13 weeks of the season. Any playoff scenario for the Jaguars starts with a win. If they do avoid an upset the Jags need the Steelers, Ravens, Texans and Broncos to all lose.
- A win and a Steelers, Ravens, Broncos and Jets Loss
- A win and a Steelers, Ravens, Texans and Jets Loss
- A win and a Steelers, Texans, Broncos and Jets Loss
- A Win and a Ravens, Texans, Broncos and Jets Loss
Playoff Outlook: Enjoy the offseason
I would say the most likely scenario is that the Jets and Ravens are in and will promptly lose to the Patriots and Bengals in Round 1. All season long I’ve read articles about how the parity era is ending with these decade-long dominating teams but given that we have no idea what is going to happen heading into Week 17 I think somewhere Pete Rozelle is smiling. Onto the top 12 as we sit on the doorstep of the playoffs:
1. Colts (14-1): They win that game if Jim Caldwell doesn’t rest his starters–a philosophy I disagree with as I wrote about a few weeks ago. He did put a stamp on his season though, so if the Colts lose in the playoffs the biggest piece of the blame cake is going to the rookie head coach.
2. Chargers (12-3): Now in possession of the league’s longest current winning streak at 10 games, the Chargers look like a juggernaut after dismantling the Titans on Christmas night. Interesting debate for you to have: if you’re a GM with the #1 pick in the 2004 draft who do you take? It’s between Rivers and Big Ben and it is very close.
3. Eagles (11-4): The return of Brian Westbrook is a welcome one and their offense looks as good as it has all decade. One concern would be the Eagles propensity to allow teams to hang around in the second half which could come back to bite them in the playoffs.
4. Saints (14-2): Its not just the two straight losses that should have New Orleans fans concerned; since crushing the Patriots on Monday Night the Saints barely beat Washington (Abysmal), Atlanta (without Matt Ryan) then lost to Dallas and Tampa Bay in the Superdome. That’s 4 straight below average performances for a team that may have already peaked.
5. Vikings (11-4): You can’t blame last night’s loss on Favre’s wheels falling off in December but for the third time in 4 games the Vikings secondary was shredded. Once in Arizona, once in Carolina and now in Chicago by a quarterback who may throw the most interceptions in a season for this decade by the end of next week. (First on the list: Brett Favre!)
6. Patriots (10-5): Outside of their one blowout loss in New Orleans the Patriots’ other 4 losses are by a combined 12 points. (7 at the Jets, 3 at Denver, 1 at Indianapolis, 1 at Miami). The Patriots are flawed but will be a tough out for any AFC team. (Thank you to my buddy James for that stat as he was trying to talk me into a Patriots’ playoff run when I was back home this weekend)
7. Packers (10-5): If not for a loss with no time on the clock in Pittsburgh a week ago, Green Bay would currently be riding a 7 game win streak. They still have issues on the offensive line but with Ryan Grant keeping defenses honest Aaron Rodgers continues to shine in his second full season as a starter.
8. Cardinals (10-5): They know how to win on the road in the playoffs as we learned last year and the equation remains the same: keep Warner protected and the Cardinals can beat anyone.
9. Cowboys (10-5): The Cowboys have won 2 meaningful games in December for the first time in the Tony Romo era but they need to win a playoff game for me to buy into any kind of “Look out for Dallas” talk. A playoff warm up in Jerryworld this weekend against the Eagles could end up being the spark to get the Cowboys rolling.
10. Bengals (10-5): Consider these guys a mega sleeper–nothing about them stands out but they will be able to keep high powered offenses such as San Diego or Indianapolis off the field with their stout running attack. It doesn’t appear that they have enough fire power to pull a monster upset this season though.
11. Ravens (8-7): Underachieving whiners for the majority of the season it will be interesting to see who they blame for their first round playoff exit.
12. Jets/Broncos/Steelers (8-7): Take your pick, whoever ends up in this spot will have a razor thin chance to win a road playoff game in New England.