NFL Season Finale

There’s only one week left in the regular season and most of the playoff field is set.  Since there are only a few questions, I’ll do something a little different this week and mention each game in Sunday’s slate.  As always, we’ll start with the power rankings and the season predictions.

Here are the games:

Carolina at Atlanta: Carolina was both the worst team in the league this year and unlucky, a potent combination.  Atlanta hasn’t played like a great team, but they’ve benefited from luck and a weak schedule.  If Atlanta wins they get the number 1 seed.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland: The Steelers have the number 1 defense in football again.  Cleveland is a bit below average, but has home field advantage.  If Pittsburgh wins, they lock the number 2 seed in the AFC.

Minnesota at Detroit: This game changes nothing but the draft order.  But, if the Lions win, they’ll have a four-game win streak for the first time since 1999 (if my research was correct).

Oakland at Kansas City: Oakland was surprisingly frisky in the back half of the season and turned out above-average.  The Chiefs are number one in the league in terms of quality-strength of schedule combo (my expected wins measure).

Miami at New England: The Pats are the number two team in the league, and with the Chargers staying home they will be the best team in the playoffs and have home field advantage the whole way.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans: Tampa is actually a bit below average, but has had a weak schedule.  Tampa has to win to have a shot at the playoffs, but I don’t like their odds.  They would also need Green Bay and the Giants to lose to get the six seed.

Buffalo at Jets: The Jets have fallen back down to earth a bit recently, but will still make the playoffs.  They can get the 5 seed, but will probably get the 6th.

Cincy at Baltimore: The Ravens have been pretty lucky this year, but they’re still better than the Bengals.  If the Steelers lose, a Ravens win would give them the two seed and home field (the Jets winning would actually bump the Steelers down to the six seed in this case).

San Diego at Denver: The Chargers have had the stats of the best team in the league, but will be sitting home for the playoffs.  Denver is the third-worst team in the league despite having an average offense; their defense is that bad.  Sadly, this game doesn’t mean much besides giving Tebow another game of experience.

Chicago at Green Bay: The Packers have to win to ensure they make the playoffs.  If they win they make it; if they lose along with the Giants and Bucs they make it.  It’s fortunate this game is at Lambeau.

Tennessee at Indianapolis: Despite their struggles this year, Indy still had the 5th best offense.  The Titans have been unlucky and the Colts a bit lucky, but the Colts are still the better team.  If the Colts win they make the playoffs; if they lose and the Jaguars win, Jacksonville will go.

Dallas at Philadelphia: Philly should win, but they should have won last night too.  Dallas was actually average this year, but had a tough schedule.  I believe the Eagles are locked into the 3 seed, so they might take this game off.

Arizona at San Francisco: The Cardinals have the pleasure of being the second-worst team in the league.  This game is completely irrelevant.

Giants at Washington: As described above, the Giants have to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.  If they win and Green Bay loses, they’re in.  The Giants score as the fourth best team in the league, so if they make it the playoffs would be much more interesting.

Jacksonville at Houston: As mentioned above, the Jags need to win and have a Colts loss to make the playoffs.  Indy is the better team, but Jacksonville managed an easier schedule.

St. Louis at Seattle: The NFC West comes down to this!  If Seattle wins, they take the playoffs at 7-9.  If the Rams win, they salvage a bit of respect by getting to 8-8.  Either way, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the winner will hold out a 10 win team.

So that’s it.  I think the most likely result is NFC seeding order: Atlanta, Chicago, Philly, Seattle, New Orleans, Green Bay.  The Saints and Eagles should move on, although Packers-Eagles should be a good one.  Atlanta would get the Packers if they win or else the Saints; those teams are about even and might be able to make up Atlanta’s home field advantage.  Chicago would get Philly if they win or New Orleans if the Packers win; they might be favored with home field against either.  Basically, the top two seeds aren’t as good as 3 through 5, but they have home field.  I think I give the edge, sadly, to Chicago for combination of home field and team quality.

The most likely AFC order is New England, Pittsburgh, KC, Indy, Baltimore, the Jets.  As opposed to the NFC, the ordering here is closer to team quality.  So the Chiefs and Colts should move on, then lose to the Pats and Steelers.  The Patriots should beat the Steelers.  It probably won’t end up being that clean, but it strikes me as most likely.  Since the Super Bowl is played on a neutral field and the Pats are the best team in the playoffs, they’ll be the favorite if they get there regardless of who the NFC sends.  The best game in terms of having the top-ranked teams would be Patriots-Saints; Steelers-Saints would be more even and also pretty good.  Check in Sunday for the game predictions!

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