It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Holiday cheer is spread, joy and laughter fill the air, all while the path the NFL playoff quickly heats up. It was just recently the Seattle Seahawks went up and captured sole possession of first place in the NFC West. Heading into Week 14 in the NFL, there is a lot that can change as teams fight as hard as possible for their position in the playoffs.
Painting the NFL Playoff Picture
The NFC, in particular, will be a heavyweight battle. It’s a tight conference right now, in fact about as close as it gets. The difference between the top-seeded New Orleans Saints and fifth-seeded San Francisco 49ers is absolutely nothing, record-wise at least. Both teams are at ten wins apiece. In the mix, I mentioned Seattle taking their division lead, and a 37-30 Monday night win over the Minnesota Vikings was a statement way to do it. Meanwhile, those very Vikings are just a game behind the Green Bay Packers in what should be a classic fight to take the North by years’ end.
As we head into and through December, the Saints are the only team so far to have sealed their playoff spot and they’ve done it by winning the NFC South. They were undoubtedly convincing during their Thanksgiving night win in Atlanta and will now host a game in the dome next month. You can already count four teams out of the postseason in the NFC. The Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants can look ahead to high(er) draft picks with the Atlanta Falcons most recently joining that group.
But it’s the NFC East that is the most puzzling. Someone has to win the division right? Well, it doesn’t seem like any team really wants to. The East is a combined 16-32, the worst combined record for any division in the league. Technically the Dallas Cowboys are in the lead at 6-6 right now, but they’re sliding nonetheless. The Philadelphia Eagles, a game behind at 5-7, show little signs of life but will meet Dallas at Lincoln Financial Field in just over two weeks. A game that will directly and effectively impact who gets that four seed. For the record, both teams have favorable schedules to finish 2019 so don’t be surprised when it comes down to the final week of the season.
For a while, it looked like AFC was going to be a top-heavy conference with the New England Patriots leading the way (as usual) but the tables are certainly turning. The Baltimore Ravens have the AFC North all but locked up. But the official clinching may not happen this week. The Ravens will travel to western New York to face the Buffalo Bills this week, who are perhaps equally as hot as Baltimore has been. The Ravens are one win and/or one Pittsburgh Steelers loss away from being crowned kings’ of the north.
The AFC still has eight teams alive with just two dead but the four 4-8 teams have their work cut out for them. They’ll also be looking for a handful of help. The Los Angeles Chargers are the biggest surprise of that bunch, although it seems they under-perform to their expectations every season. The Cleveland Browns (5-7) no longer control their own destiny after a 20-13 loss to the Steelers on Sunday.
It gets really interesting with the three teams who are just on the outside looking in. The Tennessee Titans are well afloat at 7-5 and right on Pittsburgh’s tail. The Oakland Raiders and Indianapolis Colts sit at .500 and winning out will not be enough for them. Ironically enough, things could shake up as quickly as this Sunday when Oakland has to travel to Tennessee.
There are division leaders in the South and West that play even better than their record. These teams also are candidates for deep postseason runs. The Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans are 8-4 but have somewhat favorable schedules to top off the final month. Houston especially, since it has meetings with Denver, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee twice in three weeks.
Wrapping Up the Year
Aside from January, there is no better month for football than December, and that goes for college and NFL. It’s the home stretch we’ve all been waiting for and a true test of a team’s resiliency. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Ravens are projected at a 30% chance to win the Super Bowl. Putting that in perspective, New England and New Orleans combine for that number with just 15% each. But we all know it takes just one game next month to change the narrative. Let’s see how it all plays out. The games leading up to the NFL playoff are some of the most intriguing every year.
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