Thursday, December 14, 2006

The potential playoff impact of Week 15

The brain trust at the NFL has to be overjoyed heading into tonight's game. This weekend features at least twelve games that could have a potential impact on the playoffs. And an argument can be made for the Browns-Ravens, and Dolphins-Bills games. If the Browns can pull the upset, and that's a big if, the game could have a direct impact on playoff seeding. While long shots, both the Bills and 'Phins have played themselves into position to possibly snag a wild-card, but that would be dependent on a lot of things going wrong for the teams ahead of them, and five teams crashing and burning in the last three games - very unlikely.
A month ago it looked like the Bears and Colts were locks for the top seeds in their respective conferences. To date, the Colts have fallen into a tie with Baltimore and behind the Chargers who are hoping to lock up the number seed. Chicago has secured one of the byes in the NFC, but could still find themselves on the road for the Championship game (if they can win their home game) depending on what happens over the next three weekends.

Right now, this is how things stand:

1. Chicago (11-2) Clinched NFC North
2. New Orleans (9-4) NFC South Leader
3. Dallas (8-5) NFC East Leader
4. Seattle (8-5) NFC West Leader
5. Atlanta (7-6) Wild Card
6. NY Giants (7-6) Wild Card
7. Philadelphia (7-6)
8. Minnesota (6-7)
9. Carolina (6-7)
10. St. Louis (5-8)
11. San Francisco (5-8)
12. Green Bay (5-8)

1. San Diego (11-2) Clinched AFC West
2. Baltimore (10-3) AFC Central Leader
3. Indianapolis (10-3) AFC South Leader
4. New England (9-4) AFC East Leader
5. Cincinnati (8-5) Wild Card
6. Jacksonville (8-5) Wild Card
7. Denver (7-6)
8. NY Jets (7-6)
9. Kansas City (7-6)
10. Miami (6-7)
11. Tenessee (6-7)
12. Buffalo (6-7)
13. Pittsburgh (6-7)

Currently 13 teams that are not in the playoffs are in position to potentially make it. This translates into a slate that could completely change the look of the playoffs between now and that first game in January. Let's list them in order of importance and impact (randomly attributed by with it)...

A quick look at the key games and some potential impact...

The Big Game

Cincinnati (8-5) at
Indianapolis (10-3)
Amazingly, the Colts have not managed to wrap up their division, and with the way their defense is playing the team is in danger of hosting only a first round game in the dome. If it weren't for a week 16 tilt against the lowly Texans, I would say that they could possibly be passed in the standings by a Jacksonville team that's beginning to get healthy.
Meanwhile, the NFL's loudest criminal contingent has begun to play their best football of the year in recent weeks and is cementing at the very least, a wild-card spot.
Look for the Bengals to be too much for a floundering Indy team.

The Undercard

Dallas (8-5) at
Atlanta (7-6)
If Dallas loses, they move into a tie for the division lead with the winner of NY-Philly, and are in second by virtue of tie-breakers. Dallas can still land a bye, but would have to move past a New Orleans team that has a weak schedule. Look for Dallas to move closer to locking up the NFC East against an Atlanta squad that's becoming unhealthy at the wrong time.
If, as expected, Atlanta loses, this opens up some serious fighting for the last wild-card spot in the NFC.

Philadelphia (7-6) at
New York Giants (7-6)
Whoever loses this one isn't done, but it certainly makes it harder. Depending on how the chips fall around the NFC, it's feasible that three playoff teams can come out of this division.
The winner here positions itself well for one of the wild-card slots, and possibly to take the division if Dallas falters down the stretch.

Pittsburgh (6-7) at
Carolina (6-7)
The Steelers' chances at the playoffs depend on too many other teams, but Carolina, with a win combined with an Atlanta loss and a loss from either the Giants or Eagles can put themselves right back in the thick of the wild-card hunt.

New York Jets (7-6) at
Minnesota (6-7)
With both teams only a game out of the wild-card, a win combined with one or two losses elsewhere could catapult one of these teams into the playoffs. A loss doesn't kill either, but with only two games to make up ground after this weekend, it might as well.

Denver (7-6) at
Arizona (4-9)
Arizona has a legitimate shot at playing spoiler to the of late struggling Broncos playoff hopes. Even if Denver wins, like the Jets, they will have to leap-frog at least one team ahead of them to get into the second season.

Jacksonville (8-5) at
Tennessee (6-7)
While the Titans have a shot at the playoffs, albeit a slim one, they have a better chance of upsetting the Jaguars bid at making some noise in the playoffs. With a resurgent Titans team, the Jags have a tougher game ahead of them than might have been thought as recently as a month ago.

Kansas City (7-6) at
San Diego (11-2)
San Diego is playing for homefield. Kansas is playing for their lives and the memory of Lamar Hunt. If they can't get it going for this game, then they're not going to get to the playoffs, it's do or die for the Chiefs right now.

Houston (4-9) at
New England (9-4)
If New England had destroyed Detroit, and at least put together a respectable showing on offense against Miami, this game wouldn't even make the list. However, this is a chance to see if the Patriots have made any progress in correcting the offensive issues (turnovers, completions) that will cause an ouster in the playoffs and have been plaguing the team this season.
Should they right the ship and win, they still have a shot at one of the byes, although they would have to leapfrog the Colts and Baltimore to do so. The way the Colts have been playing, that is possible...Baltimore is another story.

San Francisco (5-8) at
Seattle (8-5)
The fact that the 49ers with only 5 wins have not been mathmatically eliminated from the playoffs speaks volumes about the NFC. Seattle could also feasibly lose their remaining three games and win the division at 8-8.
As is, they're only one game behind New Orleans and still have a shot at the remaining bye in the NFC.

Washington (4-9) at
New Orleans (9-4)
With a win and losses by both Dallas and Seattle the Saints will all but lock up the second bye. Should they stumble here, while those teams win, it opens up a dogfight in the NFC over the final weeks of the season.


Tampa Bay (3-10) at
Chicago (11-2)
Simply put - if Chicago wins, they sew up homefield advantage through the post season. If they lose, they leave the door open to the Saints in regards to landing that home-field advantage through the championship season.

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