NFL Week 14 Playoff Picture: Clinching Scenarios, Eliminated Teams, and Hunt for the Wild Card
The final stretch is here and with four weeks left of NFL football, we are sure for a wild ride as both the AFC and NFC Wild Card are bunched up as teams battle it out for those final two playoff spots. With the Jacksonville Jaguars losing on Thursday to the Tennessee Titans, they have officially been eliminated from playoff contention and will join the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, and New York Jets at home this January. But there are still plenty of teams in the hunt heading into Sunday's games so let us take a look at what the standings look like in each conference.
Side Note: The New York Jets were eliminated at the end of Week 13 which was not put into a previous MTV's Hot Takes blog from earlier in the week discussing teams who had been eliminated from the playoff race.
American Football Conference (AFC)
#1 Kansas City Chiefs (10-2)
The Chiefs came out of the bye week and took care of business against the Oakland Raiders. But the one area of concern this team should have moving forward is still on their defense which has been rather lackluster this season. Allowing a struggling Derek Carr to throw for three touchdown passes and the Raiders' offense which has been terrible for most of the season to put up 33 points is somewhat concerning. Moving forward these next few weeks, Kansas City has to tighten things up on defense if they want to win come January. You can only ride the offense for so long in the postseason before the defense needs to step up and take care of business. A matchup with the Baltimore Ravens should be a good test considering how poor Lamar Jackson has been throwing the football in his first three starts.
Scenario: Clinch a playoff berth w/ win or tie
#2 New England Patriots (9-3)
Guess who is back in position to earn a first-round bye? That is right, it is the New England Patriots. Despite a mediocre defense, the total collapse of the Steelers the last two weeks has allowed New England to sneak back into a familiar spot. However, Houston is riding a nine-game win streak and the only thing keeping them from taking the first-round bye away from the Patriots is the head-to-head tiebreaker from earlier in the season. New England must keep their foot on the gas moving forward, but with two road games upcoming they could struggle to produce wins. The Patriots are 3-3 on the road this season and none of those three losses have been particularly close games. December in Miami is always tough for Tom Brady which is exactly where they will be playing this weekend.
Scenario: Clinch AFC East title w/ win or tie
#3 Houston Texans (9-3)
Winners of nine straight games, the Texans have stormed through the AFC South and are now in a position where they are knocking on the door for a first-round bye. Barring a late-season collapse by the Chiefs, the one seed seems unlikely, but the two seed is well within reach as long as they can finish with a better record than the Patriots. With four games remaining against teams at or below the .500 mark, Houston could be poised to win the remainder of their schedule and snatch away a first-round bye from New England. The way they have played on both sides of the ball has made them beatable at times, but no team has found a way to do it yet.
#4 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1)
Just a few weeks ago it looked like we would be talking about how big the Week 15 matchup between the Patriots and Steelers would be for the first-round bye and home-field advantage. Well, Pittsburgh has fallen apart at the seams and a blown 16-point lead in the second half of their game against the Chargers on Monday Night Football could loom large. The Steelers are on the brink on becoming a wild card team if the Ravens continue to surge and unless the offense continues to roll once they get in front of teams, games like Monday could prove to be costly at the end of the season. Luckily for Pittsburgh, they have a date with the Oakland Raiders this weekend which should get them back on track. However, if they were to lose this very winnable game, they could very well find themselves at 7-7-1 following their meeting with the Patriots next weekend and looking up at teams in the AFC Wild Card.
#5 Los Angeles Chargers (9-3)
After a pretty easy schedule this season, the Chargers finally had their first real test against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football. It seemed like Los Angeles was proving to everyone why they were not a contender in the AFC after their first half performance, but came out in the second half to erase a 16-point deficit and get a huge statement win. Perhaps this is not the Chargers of old and the team is going to turn the corner this season with veteran quarterback Philip Rivers having another spectacular year. LA sits just one game behind Kansas City with four games remaining and if the Chargers can win out, they have a chance to win the AFC West as long as the Chiefs go 2-2 the rest of the way. That Week 15 matchup between the two teams could be a huge game and potentially decide who is the best in the West.
#6 Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
Since Lamar Jackson started in place of an injured Joe Flacco, the Ravens are 3-0 and took control of the last playoff spot in the AFC. Jackson has changed this Baltimore offense by making it more assertive in the ground game. The rookie himself has carried the ball 54 times for 265 rushing yards in his first three games at starting quarterback. Whether this becomes a permanent part of his game in the long-term remains to be seen, but it certainly does not seem sustainable. With their remaining schedule, the Ravens look poised to finish 2-2 given tough matchups against the Chiefs and Chargers this week and in Week 16. Jackson has not proven he can be much of a threat in the air so if opponents can get in front early it could spell trouble for Baltimore's offense. Offensive juggernauts like the Chiefs and Chargers rely heavily on the passing game to score quick points and if the Ravens cannot match that with their rushing attack, Jackson will be forced to throw the ball. The other question with this team still is when Joe Flacco is healthy if he will be the starting quarterback again for them.
In The Hunt:
Tennessee Titans (7-6)
Miami Dolphins (6-6)
Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
Denver Broncos (6-6)
Still Alive But Unlikely Contenders:
Cincinnati Bengals (5-7)
Cleveland Browns (4-7-1)
Buffalo Bills (4-8)
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7)
New York Jets (3-7)
Oakland Raiders (2-8)
There is still a lot to decide all across the board in the AFC as the wild card race is incredibly bunched up. The season-ending injury to Andy Dalton has the Bengals with an outside chance to make the playoffs at 5-7 while Cleveland and Buffalo are on the brink of elimination heading into this week. The Titans already won this week against the Jaguars which puts them ahead of the other teams in the hunt. There are a lot of games with playoff implications this weekend and there is the potential for a five-way tie for the final AFC Wild Card spot depending on this weekend's results. Even if that does not become the case, we are in for a wild ride where tiebreakers could play a huge role into who gets into the playoffs in January.
National Football Conference (NFC)
#1 Los Angeles Rams (11-1)
The Rams control their own destiny in the NFC now after a win against Detroit last weekend coupled by an upset victory by the Cowboys over the Saints. If Los Angeles finishes with the same record as New Orleans, the Saints would take the higher seed due to head-to-head tiebreaker. It is up to the Rams to continue winning in order to stay ahead of New Orleans in the conference. A big matchup looms with the Chicago Bears this Sunday as a loss could very well put Chicago back in the mix for a first-round bye. The good news for Los Angeles is that if they can com away with a win on Sunday, they will clinch at least a first-round bye in the playoffs with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs still on the line.
Scenario: Clinch first-round bye w/ win
#2 New Orleans Saints (10-2)
Last Thursday's loss to the Cowboys could come back to haunt the Saints at the end of the season. The number one offense in the NFL was stifled by Dallas's defense last week and it resulted in an upset loss that gave the Rams control of their own destiny when it comes to earning a first-round bye. Of course, New Orleans owns the head-to-head tiebreaker so finishing with identical records would bump the Saints past Los Angeles, but now they do not have control of what happens. With three division matchups and a AFC matchup with the Steelers remaining, New Orleans has a strong chance to win out or at least finish 3-1 which even then may not be enough to catapult them into the top spot depending on what the Rams do. The good news is they can clinch the NFC South or a playoff berth depending on this weekend's results. Regardless, it may also be important for the Saints to keep an eye on the Bears as well, even if they are two games out at the moment.
Scenario: Clinch NFC South title w/ win or tie + CAR loss or tie
Clinch playoff berth w/ MIN loss + PHI loss + WAS loss or tie
#3 Chicago Bears (8-4)
After nearly pulling off a comeback win against the Giants, the Bears fell in overtime with Chase Daniel playing quarterback for an injured Mitchell Trubisky. While Chicago still has an outside chance at earning a first-round bye, it seems less likely they will be able to do so. Luckily, they will have Trubisky back for a huge matchup against the Rams this weekend which will pit one of the NFL's top offenses versus one of the best defenses in the league. This is a big statement game for a team likely to make the playoffs this season to show they can hang around with the other big dogs in the conference. Having Trubisky back should be a huge boost for their offense which is something they will need this weekend to match the high-powered offense of Los Angeles. The defense of Chicago has a chance to shut down a team that has been nearly impossible to stop, and they could meet again in the playoffs next month.
#4 Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
The Cowboys looked dead in the water a few weeks ago when they were sitting at 3-5. Now they are leading the NFC East by one game over the Eagles and Redskins with a big matchup against Philadelphia coming up. Since acquiring wide receiver Amari Cooper from the Raiders in early November, Dallas has gone 4-1 in their last five games, including an upset victory over the Saints that nobody expected last Thursday. Down the stretch, the remaining schedule for the Cowboys consists of teams at or below .500 at this current moment. With the Redskins reeling due to injuries, a win against the Eagles this Sunday could go a long way in deciding who takes the NFC East during the final month of the season. This Cowboys team is starting to look like the real deal on defense even if Dak Prescott is not producing consistently enough on offense.
#5 Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
This was supposed to be a transition year or the beginning of a rebuild considering the Legion of Boom was all but blown up before the year started. Instead, the Seahawks find themselves in control of their own destiny over the final four weeks of the season when it comes to making the playoffs. Right now, Seattle sits half a game up on the Vikings who hold the six seed and one full game up on the rest of the teams in the hunt. Simply put, as long as the Seahawks continue to win games they will undoubtedly make the playoffs. With a big matchup against Minnesota on Monday Night Football, Seattle has a chance to put even more space between them and the field with a win. After this weekend, the Seahawks have games against the two worst teams in the NFC that hail from their division and a date with the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs. Lucky for them, a 3-1 stretch to end the season would more than likely put them in the playoffs this January.
#6 Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1)
Ever since their three-game win streak the Vikings have played Jekyll and Hyde for the majority of the second half thus far. One week they show up, the next week they come out flat and are forced to try playing catch up later on which causes them to fall short. You simply never know what you are going to get from this Minnesota team which is why they are dangling dangerously on the edge of the playoff picture. As mentioned earlier, this matchup with the Seahawks on Monday Night Football is pivotal in the playoff race for both teams, but especially important for the Vikings. Sitting only half a game up on a very tight field vying for that final wild card spot puts them in a territory where they have to continue to win games down the stretch. Following the matchup with Seattle, the Vikings play the Dolphins then end their season against two division opponents in the Lions and Bears. If Minnesota continues to following this win one game, lose one game trend then they will find themselves likely sitting at home after Week 17 because 8-7-1 is probably not going to cut it in the NFC Wild Card and certainly not in their division.
In The Hunt:
Carolina Panthers (6-6)
Philadelphia Eagles (6-6)
Washington Redskins (6-6)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
Still Alive But Unlikely Contenders:
Green Bay Packers (4-7-1)
Atlanta Falcons (4-8)
New York Giants (4-8)
Detroit Lions (4-8)
Arizona Cardinals (3-9)
San Francisco 49ers (2-10)
The huge difference between the AFC and NFC Wild Card races is that two of the four teams considered in the hunt are free-falling in the standings. Those two teams are the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers who are on extended losing streaks. Even though the Bucs are considered in the hunt, they are on a two-game win streak after beating two poor teams and have a tough schedule down the stretch. The only team that could remotely make any noise in the playoff hunt at the moment seems to be the Philadelphia Eagles who have gotten back-to-back division wins and will look for three in a row on Sunday against the Cowboys in a pivotal matchup. The fairly competitive balance we see in the AFC with teams jockeying with one another by producing win after win just does not seem to be the case in the NFC at the moment.
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