Before the weekend’s games, I predicted that Houston would clinch their division and have a one-game lead on the Patriots for the number 1 seed in the AFC. I got half of that right. I also predicted that the Ravens would be number 3, but the Broncos proved me wrong there. I did get the current 5 and 6 seeds correct, as Indy has a one game lead on the Bengals. Miami is technically still alive for the playoffs (if they win out, the Steelers beat the Bengals and then they both drop their week 17 games), but Pittsburgh is really the only team that can get in on the AFC side that isn’t there already. Let’s do the scenarios and the NFC below.
Pittsburgh has to beat the Bengals next week if they want in. If the lose, the best they can do is 8-8 but all of their competition will already have 9 wins. If they win both their games and the Ravens lose both of theirs, the Steelers can even take the division. But the Ravens are definitely in, so at least they have that going for them. That isn’t quite so for the Colts. If they lose both of their games, they’ll finish at 9-7. They could get bumped from the playoffs if each of the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals get in, which involves the Steelers winning both of their games and the Bengals beating the Ravens in week 17. Then all four teams would be 9-7 and some crazy tiebreaking procedure would be necessary; I believe the Bengals would beat the Colts on point differential, but I could be wrong.
What’s the most likely outcome? The Colts should beat the Chiefs next week to render that all moot and guarantee a playoff spot. I then have Pittsburgh as slight favorites to beat the Bengals, which would give them the tiebreaker and an easy way in during week 17; all they would have to do is match against the Browns whatever the Bengals do against the Ravens (if the Bengals win, they have to win; if the Bengals lose, they could lose too and still get in).
The Texans are sitting pretty for the number one seed. They have a game and the head-to-head tiebreaker on the Broncos and two games on the Patriots. So they can only lose the one seed if they lose both games while either the Broncos or Patriots win both of theirs. If that all happened, the Texans would wind up in the three seed. Since the Broncos play Cleveland and Kansas City to finish up, they will very likely end up at 13-3 if they want to (and I see no reason they shouldn’t). The Patriots also have two pretty winnable games with Jacksonville and Miami, so they should be 12-4. Thus as long as the Texans win one of their remaining games, the top three will be Houston-Denver-New England. It’s unlikely given their schedules, but the Ravens could sneak into the top three if the Patriots falter, since Baltimore won the head-to-head game.
Putting it all together: the likely top three in the AFC is Houston-Denver-New England. After that it’s the winner of the AFC North. This is pretty murky; I have the Steelers and Giants as slight favorites over the Bengals and Ravens. Pittsburgh beating Cleveland in week 17 is more certain, and I would like the Bengals at home over the Ravens in week 17. If that all comes to pass, Pittsburgh would actually win the division and the Bengals would miss the playoffs. The Colts would be the 5 seed and the Ravens would get the 6 spot. If the Ravens beat the Bengals in week 17, they would swap with the Steelers. If the Bengals win both games and the Ravens beat the Giants, Baltimore would take the division and the Bengals would be the 6 seed (unless the Colts lose both of their games, then they would be 6 and the Bengals 5). And if the Bengals win both their games and the Ravens lose to the Giants, the Bengals would win the division and the Ravens would be the 6 seed (unless the Colts lose both their games). With my numbers, the most likely outcome is the Ravens getting the division title (while slight underdogs in both games, both games should be close) and the Bengals getting the 6 seed.
Alright, let’s try the NFC. Atlanta is in roughly the same position as the Texans in that they can drop as far as third if they lose both their remaining games and the 49ers and Packers win out, but they have two pretty winnable games against Detroit and Tampa left on the schedule. A win against either gives them the 1 seed. The Packers have locked up the NFC North, but can still end up between 2 and 4 depending on what the 49ers, Seahawks, and NFC East do. I have them probably ending up at the 3 spot.
Let’s do the NFC West next. It’s easier to think about this by starting in week 17. Both the 49ers and Seahawks have (what should be) easy games against the Cardinals and Rams. If they both win, they would be 11-3-1 and 10-5. In that case, it doesn’t matter what happens this weekend, because even if Seattle beats the 49ers they would be a half game behind. In other words, Seattle can only win the division if they win both games and the 49ers also lose to Arizona. If Seattle wins out and the Packers only win one game, Seattle could actually get the 2 seed and a bye. Most likely, the 49ers get at least a split and end up in the 2 spot though.
The NFC East is a complete mess. The Cowboys, Redskins, and Giants are all 8-6. The Giants are behind on tiebreakers to both teams and the Cowboys are behind the Redskins right now, but I don’t know what would happen if they win in week 17. The Giants should be able to beat Philly in week 17, but then the Redskins should be able to beat Philly this weekend, so it really comes down to if Dallas can beat New Orleans this weekend (should be close), if the Giants can beat the Ravens this weekend (should be close), and if the Redskins can beat Dallas in week 17 (I think so). I think the Cowboys fall behind and the Redskins take the division, personally. Seattle has a very good shot at the 5 seed, so that means the non-division winner is aiming for the 6 seed.
The only teams left to talk about that are still alive are the Bears and Vikings. Both are 8-6 and neither can take the division from the Packers, but they could get to 10-6 and a wild card. Minnesota would need to beat the Texans and Green Bay, which is a tall order. The Bears would need to beat the Cardinals and the Lions, which is a bit easier. However, at least as far as the ESPN playoff machine is concerned, the Giants have the tiebreaker over both at 10-6. And they get in each other’s way; if the Giants bow out but both North teams are 10-6, the Vikings get in over the Bears. They could both make it if the Seahawks lose both their games and they each win out, however.
My most likely NFC outcome is a top four of Atlanta-San Fran-Green Bay-Washington with a wild card accompaniment of Seattle and, just barely, Chicago. However, if the most likely outcomes all pop out, the Giants would get 6 seed over Chicago. The problem for the Giants, obviously, is their game against the Ravens. The Bears are also interesting in that while they have the highest individual chance of getting the 6 seed, they are behind the Giants and Cowboys in terms of overall playoff probability. They will definitely want to win this weekend to keep pace with the teams in the NFC East, who are all favorites.
So there you go. It should be a good weekend of meaningful games. In fact, here are the ones that don’t matter at all: Miami-Buffalo, Jets-Chargers, Bucs-Rams, and Panthers-Raiders. I can’t promise the rest of the games will be good, but they’ll count for something important!
And just to keep up with the usual weekly stuff, here are the power rankings and season predictions, followed by the SuperContest record for the week. I’ll update the other pick numbers at the end of the season.
Luigi’s Hilton SuperContest picks went 3-2, Yoshi 1’s went 1-4, and Yoshi 2’s went 2-3. I’m giving Luigi the benefit of the doubt on Buffalo since it wouldn’t have been as strong a pick if the Bills weren’t listed as being at home when they were actually in Toronto, and there was a different game close in strength. Yoshi 2 wasn’t so fortunate, as it still would have had Buffalo covering fairly safely and had no clear alternative pick.