Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NFL week 16: what's left?

Here's a quick rundown of the playoff standings and possibilities:
  • Green Bay has locked up the #1 seed in the NFC. (It's not "homefield advantage throughout the playoffs", as announcers like to say, because the Super Bowl is at a neutral site.)
  • San Francisco leads New Orleans for the #2 seed by virtue of a better conference record. To hold on, they just need the same result at St. Louis that the Saints get against Carolina: a win clinches it, a tie will do it if New Orleans does not win, and the 49ers can get it even with a loss if the Panthers beat the Saints. These are both 1:00 games, so Sean Payton can't rest Brees (now that he has the record) and his starters as he could if the 49ers played first.
    Prediction: The 49ers will beat the Rams and finish with the #2 seed. 
  • The 8-7 Cowboys and 8-7 Giants meet on Sunday night for the NFC East title and #4 seed. A Dallas win puts the Cowboys in; a tie or a Giants win puts New York in the playoffs.
    Prediction: New York sweeps the Cowboys and makes the playoffs. Tony Romo is blamed for not winning the game from the bench.
  • Detroit holds the #5 seed at 10-5, while Atlanta is #6 at 9-6. Both teams have clinched playoff spots with the next-best team at 8-7 (see above) but no better than 8-7-1. Detroit visits Green Bay and Atlanta hosts Tampa Bay. Atlanta holds the tiebreaker thanks to a head-to-head win over Detroit, but the Falcons have to beat Tampa Bay and hope the Packers play their starters against the Lions to take the #5 seed back. The NFC North game is early and the NFC South game is late, so Mike Smith could rest his starters for a third game against New Orleans if the Lions don't lose to Green Bay at 1:00.
    Prediction: Mike McCarthy will rest his starters; the Lions will take advantage and win at Green Bay, finishing with the #5 seed. 
  • New England has a one-game lead over Baltimore and Pittsburgh for the #1 seed in the AFC, but would lose a tiebreaker to either team. To hold on, the Patriots need either a tie or a win over Buffalo, or losses by both AFC North teams. Baltimore has a head-to-head sweep of Pittsburgh and thus has the divisional tiebreaker: if Buffalo wins, a Baltimore win gives the Ravens the #1 seed. A win by Buffalo plus a loss or tie by Baltimore means a Pittsburgh win over Cleveland puts the Steelers #1. The team that finishes second in the AFC North gets the #5 seed.
    Prediction: New England crushes the Bills and gets the #1 seed. Baltimore loses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh beats Cleveland, giving the Steelers the division and the #2 seed. Baltimore is #5.
  • The Texans are locked into the #3 seed; their loss to the Ravens plus the Baltimore advantage over Pittsburgh means that the only way the AFC North champ finishes with the same record as Houston is if it's Baltimore.
  • Like in the NFC, the weakest division is up for grabs: the winner gets the #4 seed. Unlike in the NFC, the second-place team in the AFC West could still get a wild-card spot. Denver holds the tiebreaker over both Oakland and San Diego based on record in common games, so only the Raiders and Broncos have playoff possibilities. If Denver matches Oakland, they win the division, and if Oakland has a better result, they win.
    Prediction: TEBOW fails to deliver again as Kyle Orton knocks the Broncos out of the playoffs. (There's a lesson in there somewhere. Too bad Josh McDaniels isn't around to learn it.) 
  • Denver can't get a wild-card spot: either they win the division or they're out. That leaves Oakland, Cincinnati, and the Jets with chances to finish as the #6 seed. Cincinnati is 9-6 and controls its destiny: anything but a loss puts them in. They also get in with a loss plus not-wins by Oakland and New York. The Raiders need a win plus a Cincinnati loss (a win over the Jets gives them the tiebreaker there); the Jets need a win plus losses by both the Bengals and Raiders.
    Prediction: Cincinnati's win over Baltimore gives them the #6 seed. 
That would mean that the wild-card round would be Detroit at New York, Atlanta at New Orleans, Baltimore at Oakland, and Cincinnati at Houston.

In non-playoff news:
  • Great job by the Colts to pull out two wins from a disappointing season. That makes a huge difference, especially for the fans. Yes, there are fools who believe that Andrew Luck will make the Colts Super Bowl contenders "just like Peyton did", and yes, having a marquee QB makes it a lot easier to succeed in the playoffs, but Luck is no sure thing, and I don't know that you could even get players to tank. Indianapolis still has a slight advantage in strength of schedule over the Rams, so they might get the #1 pick even if they win one more game.
  • Raheem Morris says he isn't going to fire himself. Funny, that's what Matt Millen said too, and he actually could have done it. Sure, maybe last year's Bucs weren't as good as 10-6, but that was their record, and that's a lot better than 4-12. Carolina has a terrible defense and is going to finish with 6 wins. What does that say about the future for Tampa Bay? 
  • Non-playoff draft position will be fun to figure out. There are four NFC teams at 7-8 and four AFC teams at 8-7. Expect tiebreakers to have an impact outside the playoff chase as well as within it. (And note that a 4-12 team could pick sixth this year!)
  • Minnesota catches a huge break, playing bad Chicago next week. A win there would make them 4-12, which would be two games worse than last season, but understandable given the Lions' resurgence. Still, Leslie Frazier has to be feeling heat. With Adrian Peterson out indefinitely (maybe he'll be healthy for Week 1 in 2012, maybe not), suddenly the Vikings have to determine whether or not they'll have a competent passing attack next season. Joe Webb apparently wasn't the answer, but continues to look good as long as he's not the starter. Christian Ponder is young and shows promise, but he's going to have to play better to help Frazier keep his job. Minnesota is certainly doing nothing to encourage the construction of a new stadium (at taxpayers' expense, naturally), and it's hard to picture a city wanting this NFL team. 
  • The two teams with the best strength of victory are Indianapolis (Houston and Tennessee) and St. Louis (New Orleans and Cleveland).

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