After seventeen absorbing and fascinating weeks of NFL action, the final playoff places have been claimed and the wildcard weekend matches determined.
In this brief review of the season, I’ll look at how the twelve remaining franchises progressed, and take a look at those all-important upcoming match-ups.
Final Standings: 1) Broncos 13:3, 2) Patriots 12:4, 3) Bengals 11:5, 4) Colts 11:5, 5) Chiefs 11:5, 6) Chargers 9:6 // 7) Steelers 8:8, 8) Ravens 8:8, 9) Jets 8:8, 10) Dolphins 8:8, 11) Titans 7:9, 12) Bills 6:10, 13) Raiders 4:12, 14) Jaguars 4:12, 15) Browns 4:12, 16) Texans 2:14
The Denver Broncos secured the AFC’s number one seed with a 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders. Quarterback Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes in the game, extending the single-season record for scoring throws that he broke the previous weekend against the Houston Texans, to 55. He also secured precisely the 266 yards required to break Drew Brees’ 2011 record for passing yards in a single season, totalling 5,477 from the Broncos seventeen matches.
Denver will face the lowest ranked of the two AFC wildcard winners in the divisional playoff round on Sunday 12th January. This will be against Manning’s former team, the Indianapolis Colts, or either of the Broncos two divisional rivals: the Kansas City Chiefs or the San Diego Chargers. Both the Colts and the Chargers have tasted victory over Denver this season, accounting for two out of three of the Broncos total losses.
The Chiefs are therefore likely to be Denver’s preferred opponents, with Manning and co having bested Kansas twice already in 2013. Andy Reid’s team have also lost five of their final seven matches, meaning they are some way off their best form. However, for the Broncos to face the Chiefs, Kansas must defeat the Colts in their game while the Bengals must beat the Chargers, ensuring the Chiefs are the lowest ranked AFC seed remaining.
As expected, the New England Patriots took the second seed with a comfortable 34-20 success over the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots (12:4) will, like the Broncos, sit out the first week of playoff action, and will await the highest ranked wildcard winner from the AFC conference. This is guaranteed to be the Cincinnati Bengals, if they beat the San Diego Chargers, but could also be the winner of the Colts / Chiefs game, if the Bengals slip to defeat. The Patriots suffered a narrow 13-6 defeat to the Bengals back in October, while the 2013 incarnations of the Colts and the Chiefs would represent a step into the unknown. The Patriots first taste of playoff action will come on Saturday 11th January.
The Cincinnati Bengals did all they could as they looked to steal the AFC’s second seed, defeating the Baltimore Ravens 34-17, but had to settle for third place after the Patriots win over the Bills. At 11:5 the Bengals will be heavy favourites to emerge victors from their wildcard clash with the San Diego Chargers. However, having lost in a wildcard match for each of the last two seasons, the pressure will be on against the inform Chargers, who ultimately have nothing to lose. If the Bengals emerge victorious from their match on Sunday 5th January, they will travel to the Patriots six days later.
The Indianapolis Colts knew that anything other than seed four would require some heavy upsets, which ultimately didn’t materialise. But their last day victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars (30-10) does at least mean the Colts match their 11:5 record of last season and sends them into their wildcard match with the Kansas City Chiefs in good form. They face a challenging route to the Super Bowl however, with the Chiefs followed by a potential meeting with either the Denver Broncos or the New England Patriots. Their opponent is dependent on the Bengals / Chargers results, a Cincinnati win would send the Colts to Denver, while a San Diego win would have the Colts travelling to New England.
The Kansas City Chiefs have already done wonderfully to reach this stage after improving from 2:14 in 2012 to 11:5 in 2013 and playoff progression would simply be a bonus. Despite losing five of their last seven games, the Chiefs were able to rest several key players, including quarterback Alex Smith and running back Jamaal Charles in last weekend’s loss to the San Diego Chargers – with their seeding already having been confirmed. Their first playoff match comes against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday 4th January.
The San Diego Chargers 27-24 overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, their fourth win in succession, secured them an unlikely sixth place in the AFC. Both the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Ravens, who ranked higher than the Chargers ahead of kick-off, fell to defeat, and allowed San Diego, at 9:7, to reach the playoffs. The Dolphins will be devastated to have missed out, having lost their last two matches against the lowly Bills (19-0) and the Jets (20-7), both games they would have expected to win.
The Ravens also lost their last two matches – against the Patriots and the Bengals – meaning their Super Bowl defence comes to a premature December end. The Pittsburgh Steelers also narrowly missed out, in fact, they would have qualified were it not for the Chargers last gasp victory.
They’re unlikely to be best pleased with the Chiefs who, as well as resting their star players, missed a potential game-winning field goal in the dying seconds of regulation time. The Chargers will face the Cincinnati Bengals in their first playoff match on Sunday 5th January and, if they progress, will travel to Denver a week later. Having already beaten the Broncos at Mile High, and lost narrowly to the Bengals this season, the inform San Diego side will fancy their chances of causing a big upset.
Final Standings: 1) Seahawks 13:3, 2) Panthers 12:4, 3) Eagles 10:6, 4) Packers 8:7:1, 5) 49ers 12:4, 6) Saints 11:5 // 7) Cardinals 10:6, 8) Cowboys 8:8, 9) Bears 8:8, 10) Giants 7:9, 11) Lions 7:9, 12) Rams 7:9, 13) Vikings 5:10:1, 14) Falcons 4:12, 15) Buccaneers 4:12, 16) Redskins 3:13
The Seattle Seahawks survived their shaky end to the season to clinch both the NFC West title and the conference’s number one seed. The Seahawks lost two of their final four matches to end the year 13:3, surpassing the San Francisco 49ers record by a single victory. That final win came last weekend when they beat the St. Louis Rams 27-9.
The Seahawks will face the lowest ranked NFC wildcard qualifier on Saturday 11th January. They’ll hope to avoid facing the 49ers, who beat them at the start of December, but they will do so if the 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New Orleans Saints.
The Carolina Panthers edged to a 21-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons and secured the NFC South title last weekend. The victory was their eleventh in twelve games, giving them a final win:loss ratio of 12:4. The Panthers will host the highest ranked wildcard qualifier from the NFC conference on Sunday 12th January. This will be the Philadelphia Eagles, if they beat the New Orleans Saints, or it could be the victor of the 49ers / Packers game, if the Eagles lose. They can’t meet their divisional rivals, the Saints, until the Championship Game. Either way their first match will come on Sunday 12th January.
The Philadelphia Eagles emerged victorious in their winner takes all match against the Dallas Cowboys, topping the NFC East with a 24-22 win in the NFL’s final match of the regular season. The Eagles will host the New Orleans Saints on Saturday 4th January in their wildcard match. It’s a challenging game, with the Saints having bettered the Eagles 10:6 regular season record, but lost out on a division title to the Panthers. If they progress, the Eagles will travel to the Panthers in their divisional playoff match.
In another pre-playoff match-up, the Green Bay Packers, led by the returning Aaron Rodgers, defeated the Chicago Bears 33-28 to win the NFC North. At 8:7:1 they are statistically the worst of the twelve playoff qualifiers. But with Rodgers back and a tremendous playoff pedigree behind them, they could yet upset the San Francisco 49ers in their wildcard match on Sunday 5th January. If they do, either the Seattle Seahawks or the Carolina Panthers await in match two.
The San Francisco 49ers polished off another impressive regular season, with their 23-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals taking them to 12:4 – an improvement on the 11:4:1 registered in 2012. However, the Seattle Seahawks win over the Rams denied them a third successive divisional title. Colin Kaepernick and his team will fancy their chances against the Packers on Sunday 5th January, who they’ve already beaten once this year and defeated in last year’s divisional playoff match. Victory could well lead to a third encounter of the year with divisional rival, the Seahawks. The Carolina Panthers are the other team that could be standing in their way, as they look to go one better than last year’s effort of Super Bowl runner’s up.
And finally, the New Orleans Saints secured the sixth and final NFC seed. Ironically, their 42-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made little difference to the overall standings. The Carolina Panthers win over the Atlanta Falcons confirmed that the Saints would not be winning the NFC South, while the Arizona Cardinals loss to the San Francisco 49ers ensured there would be no late challengers to their wildcard spot. They face the Philadelphia Eagles in their first playoff match on Saturday 4th January, where victory will result in a meeting with the Seattle Seahawks, who thrashed them 34-7 at the start of December.
Full List of Week Seventeen Results:
Browns 7 (at the) 20 Steelers, Redskins 6 (at the) 20 Giants, Ravens 17 (at the) 34 Bengals, Texans 10 (at the) 16 Titans, Jaguars 10 (at the) 30 Colts, Jets 20 (at the) 7 Dolphins, Lions 13 (at the) 14 Vikings, Panthers 21 (at the) 20 Falcons, Buccaneers 17 (at the) 42 Saints, Bills 20 (at the) 34 Patriots, Rams 9 (at the) 27 Seahawks, Packers 33 (at the) 28 Bears, 49ers 23 (at the) 20 Cardinals, Broncos 34 (at the) 14 Raiders, Chiefs 24 (at the) 27 Chargers, Eagles 24 (at the) 22 Cowboys.
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