NFL Week 14 Playoff Predictions

I missed my weekly recap, but suffice it say that things went poorly for Luigi (although well enough for Yoshi 1).  It’ll be harder for me to catch up with the Hilton Supercontest picks in the future, so I’ll put that record here so I can find it: Luigi went 1-3-1, Yoshi 1 went 1-4, and Yoshi 2 went 1-3-1.  So let’s put that behind us and move on to more important things, like figuring out who’s going to make it to the playoffs.

We’ll start as usual with the power rankings and season predictions, before getting to NFL-Forecast.com.  These numbers shouldn’t be changing much from week to week anymore since single games have relatively little effect on a season-long average at this point.  I will note, though, that’s it becoming pretty hard to go against the Patriots as the best team in the league.  They’ve now beaten both the Broncos and Texans by double digits, and a win against the 49ers this weekend would be another strong statement.

NFL 2012 week 14 power rankingNFL 2012 week 14 season predOk, on to the good stuff.  Let’s start again with what we already know.  In the NFC, only Atlanta is guaranteed a playoff spot, as they’ve clinched their division.  So there’s a top-four seed but everything else is up for grabs.  In the AFC, New England and Denver have clinched their divisions and a top-four seed while Houston has a guaranteed playoff spot but still hasn’t quite clinched the division over Indy yet (a win this weekend should do that).

Assuming that everyone keeps trying their hardest, I have the AFC shaking out as (1 seed to 6 seed) Houston, New England, Denver, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh (just barely over Cincy).  The NFC is far less clear, but could be Atlanta, San Fran, Green Bay, Giants, Seattle, and Chicago.  Washington, Dallas, and to a lesser extent Minnesota are still alive though.  As far as the talk about the Jets resurgence goes, they have about as much of a chance of making the playoffs as the Rams do according to these projections.

Instead of going that route, let’s try looking at what should happen this weekend and seeing what effect it might have downstream.  The Bengals should beat the Eagles while I have Dallas beating Pittsburgh, which would give the Bengals a one game lead going into the big game (Bengals-Steelers) in week 16.  I have Ravens/Broncos as a toss-up, but if the Ravens lose they would only be a game ahead of the Bengals.  That would make things interesting, but either way the Ravens would still be fighting for playoff position in week 16 because if the Bengals win, they would keep things awfully close.

Dallas needs that win over Pittsburgh to stay alive, particularly since the Giants could falter against the Falcons and RGIII is banged up on the road against Cleveland.  If the Giants lose and the Redskins and Cowboys both win the Redskins would take the division lead and the Giants would fall to third even though they’d all be 8-6.  If the opposite occurred the Giants could rest a little bit since they’d have a two-game lead with two games to go, but not completely because they lose the tiebreakers to both Dallas and Washington.  They’ll need at least one more win to salt things away.

Green Bay at Chicago is a big game, particularly for Chicago.  They already lost to Green Bay earlier in the year and also lost to Seattle, which means they need this win to try and avoid tiebreaker badness, although that might be next to impossible.  Minnesota has to win on the road to stay one game back of the leaders, and they also currently fall behind Washington and Dallas on tiebreakers, so they need as many wins as possible.  If the Vikings lose they won’t be mathematically eliminated, but they’ll be pretty close.

As mentioned before, the Texans should beat the Colts this weekend and lock up their division.  Combined with a Ravens victory over the Broncos and perhaps a 49ers win over the Patriots, it would also give the Texans a virtual lock on the number 1 seed.  The Colts would still be in good position for a wild card spot though, since they’ll still have at least a game on Pittsburgh and Cincy and one of them is guaranteed a loss when they play each other next week.

The last games with any real playoff importance are Seattle at Buffalo and San Fran at New England.  Seattle should have a good chance to win, and even if they don’t they have head-to-head wins over some of their competition (Chicago, Green Bay, Dallas, Minnesota) if need be.  The Pats-49ers game is more interesting.  New England is only playing for position, since they have the division locked up, but I bet they’d rather be at home than on the road in the playoffs.  If we assume Houston will take out Indy, the Patriots will need a win to stay a game behind, and they just gave themselves the tiebreaker by winning on Monday.  If they lose, they would be tied with Baltimore and Denver (assuming Baltimore beats Denver) and actually behind the Ravens thanks to that loss earlier in the season (they did beat Denver to get that tiebreaker).  If Denver beats Baltimore and the Pats lose, they would still fall to third and be a game behind the Broncos.

The game is more critical for the 49ers though.  If Seattle wins and the 49ers lose, San Fran would only be in first on the strength of their tie against the Rams.  The 49ers then have to go on the road against the Seahawks the following week.  That could be bad news.  If San Fran wins, they would have a game and a half in hand and could at least look forward to what should be an easy week 17 game at home against the Cardinals.

The good news for this weekend’s slate of games is that every game involving a potential playoff team matters.  If the games turn out as the model predicts (giving the win to every team with 50% or better of the win probability), then we will formally eliminate the Rams, Bucs, and Saints and give the Redskins a boost over the Giants in the playoff hunt.  In the AFC, Houston will formally become a top-four seed but the Colts will still become a virtual lock for a wild card spot while the Jets will be formally eliminated and the Dolphins nearly so (.38% is still a chance!), and the Bengals will temporarily take the wild card lead over Pittsburgh.  It’s always hard to say what teams will do once they’ve been eliminated, but I think traditionally they keep trying.  So the other piece of good news should be that whatever happens this weekend, we should have another good bunch of games in week 16.  Formal picks will be up later in the week, except for Philly-Cincy which will go up tomorrow.

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