Its been a weird NFL season. The Texans are currently in the playoffs. The Lions are the best team in their division. Tampa Bay is making noise. But all these surprises are results of something that isn’t great: There’s not enough good teams!
So, with Week 14 wrapped up, and the playoffs coming fast, I thought we’d take a dive into the standings rather than write about games, and figure out who really deserves to make the playoffs, record aside.
We’ll start in the NFC…
- New York Giants
- Tampa Bay
- Green Bay
Realistically, here are the NFC teams in the playoff hunt. Arizona, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Carolina and New Orleans are all in it mathematically, but are all at least two games behind Green Bay with three weeks left. Yeah, talk about a long shot.
The Lions sitting in the two-seed is still kinda weird, but its making a little more sense now. Matthew Stafford is getting some MVP buzz by completing 66.7% of his passes. His success can largely be attributed to the addition of Marvin Jones, who has 797 receiving yards this season. Golden Tate’s having another great year, and Anquan Boldin has become their biggest red zone target.
Detroit can move the ball well offensively by short passes and Stafford making good decisions, but their defense isn’t very good. The reason they’ve gotten away with it? Well, its not like anyone else in the division has a better defense. The Vikings’ defense is extremely flukey right now; it seems like Harrison Smith’s injury is having a huge impact on them as a whole. The Packers defense has been atrocious most of the year; they got helped out majorly Sunday by Russell Wilson laying an egg.
So yeah, when you look at it as a whole, it does make some sense that Detroit is the No.2 seed. They’re in, but have a tough schedule the rest of the year. The Packers play the NFC North in their last three games, so its very possible Detroit falls to a Wild Card if Green Bay runs the table.
This where the scenario of the NFC North getting three teams vs. the NFC East getting three teams comes into play. I think Minnesota is probably the worst team out of Detroit, Green Bay, Dallas, Washington, and the Giants. Thats a statement most, even Vikings fans, can agree with.
The Vikings beat Jacksonville Sunday. Congratulations, I guess. It wasn’t pretty either. That game was competitive. The Vikings secondary got torched by Marquis Lee, and they couldn’t even get Blake Bortles to turn the ball over! Minnesota’s offense is still their biggest issue. Matt Asiata only ran for 37 yards, and Jerick McKinnon was stuffed by Jacksonville’s front seven.
The question that we have to answer regarding Minnesota’s playoff chances (in the scenario that NFC North gets three teams) is… Are they better than Tampa Bay?
The Buccaneers are probably the most confusing team in the league. I had them making the playoffs at beginning of the season, but Tampa Bay is kind of a roller coast right now. Though they are the hottest team in the league on a five game win streak, they’ve sustained bad losses to Arizona, St. Louis, and Denver.
The biggest difference between them and Minnesota? They can actually throw the ball. They have targets. Minnesota’s offense is hindered by Sam Bradford and a lack of explosive weapons. Jameis Winston can throw it, and while he has an occasional bad game, the maturity he has gained over this season will eliminate the possibility of a meltdown. This isn’t Eli Manning we’re talking about.
So what do I think happens? Well, to make it easier, here’s my ranking of the Wild Card-hopeful.
- Green Bay
- Tampa Bay
- New York
Yeah, records don’t agree. But I think Eli Manning is too susceptible to having a bad game at any time, and Tampa Bay lacks the playoff experience. Washington is slightly ahead of Green Bay because I trust their defense more. And Minnesota, well, sorry guys. Sam Bradford is not someone I’d want starting in a playoff game.
On to the AFC, where more teams are alive than in the NFC, but the quality of those teams is much lower.
- New England
- Kansas City
Mathematically, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and San Diego are still alive, but their playoff chances are so slim they’re not worth mentioning.
I truly think, seeding aside, this is how the AFC plays out. I think these six teams deserve the playoff spots. Kansas City may find themselves at the 5th or 6th seed, or even at the No.1 seed. New England could fall a bit. Pittsburgh may move up, but all in all, I think these are the six teams.
Denver is the team that is gonna catch eyeballs on this list. Their offense seems to be stalled out right now, as Trevor Siemian has experienced a fall from grace since his great start to the season. The Broncos can’t run the ball to help him out either, and the Denver defense looks extremely vulnerable (though they did get in Marcus Mariota’s head Sunday). Plus, they have a brutal schedule to close out the year.
However, are we sure a team like Miami or Baltimore is better than them? You never know what to expect from Miami’s defense. Their front seven can terrorize an offensive line or their shaky back seven can let up big plays. Baltimore has a great defense, but couldn’t stop the Patriots running back platoon Monday night. They concern me for a couple reasons: 1) Their offense is not explosive enough. Thats a problem against the league’s best defenses. 2) I worry that what happened to them against LeGarrette Blount could happen in a playoff game against a better and faster back. That would be a recipe for disaster.
Denver gets the nod because we know what their defense is capable of, even though they haven’t played like it recently. They also have experience, and know what it takes.
The only reason Tennessee and Indianapolis are on the list is because their division is a complete flameout. Houston might actually bench Brock Osweiler if they make the postseason, or at least thats what I would do. He’s been just atrocious this year, but their decent defense and running game has bailed him out. Come the offseason though, I’m not sure it will.
Houston’s probably winning the AFC South, but the Titans are frisky and the Colts have Andrew Luck. The Titans or Colts would certainly be a lot more fun than Houston come January.