Opinion Corner: NFL playoff push is onThree weeks have passed since we took a close look at the NFL playoff picture. A few teams have predictably fallen out of contention, and a few surprise teams have played their way into the mix. So, with three weeks left in the regular season, let’s take another look.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Three weeks have passed since we took a close look at the NFL playoff picture.
A few teams have predictably fallen out of contention, and a few surprise teams have played their way into the mix. So, with three weeks left in the regular season, let’s take another look.
We’ll start with the NFC this time. Atlanta and San Fran are still safe division leaders. There was some chatter by the Sunday Night Football crew about not counting Seattle out for the West division title. For the Seahawks to win their division, they’d have to win out while the 49ers lose two of their last three. It’s possible, but unlikely, so I’m sticking with San Fran to win the West.
New Orleans and Tampa Bay have succumbed to their tough schedules. We can toss them aside. The New York Giants and Green Bay are clinging to slim one-game leads in their respective divisions. The biggest surprise I’ve seen is Washington climbing back into contention, not only for a wild card, but for the division championship in the East.
I didn’t expect Dallas to lose that Thanksgiving Day game with the ‘Skins, and I didn’t expect the Vikes to beat Chicago this past weekend either. All this has resulted in quite a jumbled picture. Seattle and Chicago, both at 8-5, lead the wild card chase. Washington, Dallas, and Minnesota are next at 7-6, and St. Louis is still alive at 6-6-1.
But we also have two divisions still up in the air, which really complicates our wild card analysis. The Packers and Bears get together in Chicago Sunday. Even if the Bears win and tie Green Bay at 9-5, the Pack will have the advantage going into the final two weeks. Both teams finish the season with games they should win, and if both were to win out, Green Bay would win the division by virtue of the divisional record tie-breaker. Since Chicago was less than impressive last Sunday, I’m going to stick with Green Bay winning the division with 11 or 12 wins, and the Bears finishing up at 10-6. The Packers also have a decent shot at a first round bye, depending on how the 49ers handle New England and Seattle.
Things are even harder to predict in the East. The 8-5 Giants face Atlanta (11-2) and Baltimore (9-4) before finishing with a bad Philly team. Unless New York can muster up a huge performance against one of those division leaders, they could finish at 9-7. The Redskins, meanwhile, have two games they should win vs. Cleveland and Philly, and finish with Dallas. The Cowboys have a toss-up game with Pittsburgh, one they should win vs. the Saints, and the finale with Washington.
If the Redskins win the two games they should but lose to Dallas, they’d finish at 9-7. If the Cowboys fall to Pittsburgh, beat N.O. and beat the Redskins, they’d also be 9-7. So, one possible, maybe even likely, scenario in the East has the three teams deadlocked at 9-7, requiring tie-breaker procedures.
The Vikings, meanwhile, finish with St. Louis, Houston, and Green Bay. I have to figure the Vikes for an 8-8 finish. The Rams would need to win out to be a factor, and with Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Seattle on the agenda, I don’t see that happening.
Seattle has a tough game with San Fran sandwiched between two games they should win, vs. Buffalo and St. Louis, so I’ve still got the Seahawks finishing up at 10-6. Therefore, my most likely scenario in the NFC looks like this: Green Bay wins the North; New York, Washington, and Dallas will battle it out in the East with the Giants holding a slight advantage, while Chicago and Seattle still have the upper hand for the wild cards.
As it was three weeks ago, things are better defined in the AFC.
We have two division leaders, New England and Denver, running away with it, and two, Baltimore and Houston, with safe two-game leads.
We can focus in on the wild card situation, as well as a potential battle between Houston and Indy in the South. At 9-4, Indy is almost a lock for one wild card. Pittsburgh and Cincy cannot both get to 10 wins, since they still have to play each other.
Interestingly, Houston losing on MNF opens up the possibility of the Colts winning the South. I know it’s a long shot, but if Indy were to beat Houston twice and knock off KC as expected, Indy would win the South and Houston would get bumped down to a wild card.
Now let’s focus on the one remaining wild card.
Incredibly, the pathetic Jets have somehow worked their way into the mix at 6-7, along with the 7-6 Steelers and Bengals. I hesitate to even say this, but the Jets have three winnable games left, vs. Tennessee, San Diego, and Buffalo. It’s hard for me to imagine that pitiful team from New York closing out the season on a five-game winning streak to finish 9-7, but it can’t be ruled out.
The Steelers have Dallas, Cincinnati at home, and Cleveland remaining. The Bengals face Philly, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. In the battle for the last wild card, Pittsburgh, with the Cincy game being at home, has the best shot at getting to 10 wins.
The Steelers do control their own destiny. They’re guaranteed a spot if they win their last three. So, my best appraisal right now in the AFC has the Steelers holding a slight advantage for that last wild card, but clearly, a two or three team deadlock at 9-7, requiring tie-breakers, is a distinct possibility.
Will the Black and Gold banners once again adorn the neighborhoods, store fronts, and even the toll booths of the PA Turnpike? It wouldn’t be a bad thing, as Pittsburgh is a very special place during playoff time. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Mark Schuttenhelm is a frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner