With two weeks of the regular season remaining, the race for the NFL’s end of season playoffs is hotting up, here’s a look at who’s in, who’s out, and who’s still fighting…
Notes: Division Titles Secured (1 – Colts), Playoff Places Secured (3 – Colts, Broncos, Chiefs), Spots Available (3), Teams still in with a chance of qualification (6 – Patriots, Bengals, Ravens, Dolphins, Chargers, Steelers).
The New England Patriots (10:4) suffered a surprise setback in Week 15 as they were beaten 24-20 by the Miami Dolphins (8:6). That result keeps the race for the division title alive, at least for the time being.
The Dolphins will fancy their chances of ending the season 10:6, with their final two games against their other two divisional rivals - the Buffalo Bills (5:9) and the New York Jets (6:8). But in order for them to overtake Tom Brady and co, they’ll need the Pats to fall to back-to-back defeats in their remaining fixtures and, while the in-form Ravens could well do them a favour in Week 16, a final day meeting with the Bills is likely to ensure New England’s fifth consecutive divisional title.
Predicted Final Standings: Patriots (11:5), Dolphins (10:6), Jets (7:9), Bills (5:11)
Four straight wins for the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Baltimore Ravens, has thrown the race for the division title wide open once again. The Ravens looked dead and buried at 4:6, set to give up their crown with a whimper, but last weekend’s 18-16 victory over the Lions, which came courtesy of Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal, combined with the Cincinnati Bengals (9:5) 20-30 loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers (6:8), has moved them to within one win of first place.
The Bengals will remain heavy favourites for the division. They face a home game with the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16, which will likely put them at 10:5. If this happens, the Ravens will have to beat the Patriots to stand any chance of direct qualification into the playoffs. If the Ravens do match, or indeed better the Bengals result on Sunday, it will all come down to a winner takes all meeting between the pair in two week’s time.
The Steelers are also just about still in the mix, but their chances of a wildcard shot are slim at best. With 8:8 the best possible outcome for their season, they’ll need the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers all to slip up in order to slip into sixth place in the conference.
Predicted Final Standings: Bengals (11:5), Ravens (9:7), Steelers (8:8), Browns (4:12)
There really isn’t much to say about the AFC South. The Indianapolis Colts (9:5) captured the division title over a fortnight ago, and their victory has come without them playing their best football for much of the season.
Last Sunday, they cantered to a 25-3 victory over the hapless Houston Texans (2:12), but they haven’t won back-to-back games since Week 7 and 9, either side of their bye week. All that remains for the Colts is to attempt to edge higher up the AFC Conference standings, and secure themselves an easier playoff draw.
If they can beat the Chiefs and the Jaguars in their two remaining fixtures, they could even secure second place in the conference and bypass the wildcard matches.
Predicted Final Standings: Colts (10:6), Titans (6:10), Jaguars (5:11), Texans (2:14)
The Kansas City Chiefs secured their spot in the playoffs with a 56-31 demolition of the Oakland Raiders last week, and moved level at 11:3 with division leaders the Denver Broncos, who were stunned 27-20 by the San Diego Chargers.
The Chiefs are likely to have to settle for second place however, due to the Broncos superior head-to-head record between the pair. Nonetheless, Kansas could still win the division if they win more games than Denver in the final two weeks.
The Chiefs' final two games come against the Colts and Chargers, while the Broncos play the Texans and the Oakland Raiders. The interesting added factor here is that the Chargers are still far from out of the playoff mix themselves, despite being four wins adrift of the top two teams in their division.
Wins over the Raiders and the Chiefs in the final two games would take them to a 9:7 record and, crucially a 5:1 record against divisional opponents. If both the Ravens and the Dolphins lost at least one of their two remaining games, San Diego would make it three AFC West teams in the NFL’s final twelve.
Predicted Final Standings: Broncos (13:3), Chiefs (12:4), Chargers (9:7), Raiders (4:12)
Predicted Outcome: I would expect the Patriots and the Bengals to both do enough to clinch their respective division titles: division’s they have led for virtually the entire season.
The Broncos shouldn’t really have much trouble in belatedly clinching the Western title, as they have much kinder fixtures than the Chiefs still remaining. With Kansas City already having secured fifth place, it comes down to the Dolphins, Chargers, Ravens and Steelers for the last remaining spot.
I believe that these teams will only lose one game between them between now and the end of the season, that game being the Ravens trip to Cincinnati. Baltimore will have endured consecutive tough games against the Steelers, Vikings, Lions and Patriots, and I believe that could be the game where they simply run out of steam and, as a result, hand Miami the final wildcard spot.
Predicted Final Standings: Broncos (13:3), Patriots (11:5), Bengals (11:5), Colts (10:6) // Chiefs (12:4), Dolphins (10:6) – Wildcard Matches: Bengals vs Dolphins & Colts vs Chiefs
Notes: Division Titles Secured (0), Playoff Places Secured (1 – Seahawks), Spots Available (5), Teams still in with a chance of qualification (9 – Saints, Eagles, Bears, Panthers, 49ers, Cardinals, Packers, Lions, Cowboys).
The Dallas Cowboys capitulated once again in Week 15 as they somehow contrived to throw away a seemingly certain victory and lose 37-36 against the Packers and leave themselves at 7:7.
Their only saving grace is that the Philadelphia Eagles (8:6) also fell to defeat, 48-30 against the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys also face the easier fixture this coming weekend, visiting the Washington Redskins while the Eagles host the Bears.
That’s all before the pair meet in the decisive game in Dallas on the final day. Unless Philadelphia win and Dallas lose next weekend, that match will decide the divisional winner.
Predicted Final Standings: Eagles (10:6), Cowboys (8:8), Giants (6:10), Redskins (3:13)
Long term division leaders the Detroit Lions (7:7) have now slipped from first place to third after suffering a fourth defeat in five games, this time at the hands of the Ravens. Both the Chicago Bears (8:6), 38-31 winners over the Cleveland Browns last weekend, and the Green Bay Packers (7:6:1) bypassed them after the results of Week 15, leaving a three way battle for the division title.
Luckily for the Lions' chances, their two remaining fixtures – at home to the Giants and at the Vikings – are very winnable, while the Packers and the Bears must face each other on the final day. Next Sunday, the Packers host the Steelers and the Bears travel to the Eagles.
Predicted Final Standings: Lions (9:7), Packers (8:7:1), Bears (8:8), Vikings (4:11:1)
The New Orleans Saints looked to have all but wrapped up the division when they defeated the Carolina Panthers in Week 14, but a surprise 27-16 loss to the Rams last weekend, combined with the Panthers 30-20 victory over the Jets, has the two teams tied once again at 10:4.
The pair play each other this coming weekend, with victory for the Saints enough to secure the title, regardless of results in Week 17. However, if the Panthers can emerge victorious, they will only need to beat the Atlanta Falcons on the final day to secure the title. The Saints last game is at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Predicted Final Standings: Saints (12:4), Panthers (11:5), Buccaneers (4:12), Falcons (4:12)
NFC West: The Seattle Seahawks returned to winning ways last weekend, defeating the Giants 23-0 to move to 12:2. However, while they are the only NFC team to have secured their playoff place, they are still waiting on their division title after the San Francisco 49ers moved to 10:4 with a 33-14 win over the Buccaneers.
Also in the mix are the Arizona Cardinals, whose 37-34 overtime win over the Titians took them to 9:5. The Cardinals final two games are against the Seahawks and the 49ers, so while they look unlikely to make the playoffs themselves – they could have a big say over who does. One, two, or all three of the teams could make the final twelve if results go their way.
Predicted Final Standings: Seahawks (14:2), 49ers (12:4), Cardinals (9:7), Rams (7:9)
In the decisive games of Week 16, I have backed the Saints to come out on top against the Panthers and take the NFC South, the Seahawks to beat the Cardinals and clinch the NFC West, and both the Bears and the Packers to suffer defeat against the Eagles and Steelers respectively.
I believe the Eagles will then win the NFC East with victory over the Cowboys, who will be short of a playoff place once again, while the Lions will beat the Vikings and secure the NFC North.
The Panthers and the 49ers should then both win their final fixtures to take the two wildcard spots. However, with ten teams still with realistic playoff ambitions, this is just one of many possible outcomes, ensuring the NFC is by far the hardest conference to call.
Predicted Final Standings: Seahawks (14:2), Saints (12:4), Eagles (10:6), Lions (9:7) // 49ers (12:4), Panthers (11:5) – Wildcard Matches: Eagles vs Panthers & Lions vs 49ers
Full List of Week Fifteen Results:
Chargers 27 (at the) 20 Broncos, Redskins 26 (at the) 27 Falcons, 49ers 33 (at the) 14 Buccaneers, Seahawks 23 (at the) 0 Giants, Eagles 30 (at the) 48 Vikings, Patriots 20 (at the) 24 Dolphins, Bills 27 (at the) 20 Jaguars, Texans 3 (at the) 25 Colts, Bears 38 (at the) 31 Browns, Chiefs 56 (at the) 31 Raiders, Jets 20 (at the) 30 Panthers, Packers 37 (at the) 36 Cowboys, Cardinals 37 (at the) 34 Titans, Saints 16 (at the) 27 Rams, Bengals 20 (at the) 30 Steelers, Ravens 18 (at the) 16 Lions.
Week Sixteen Fixtures:
Dolphins (8:6) at the Bills (5:9), Saints (10:4) at the Panthers (10:4), Vikings (4:9:1) at the Bengals (9:5), Broncos (11:3) at the Texans (2:12), Titans (5:9) at the Jaguars (4:10), Colts (9:5) at the Chiefs (11:3), Cowboys (7:7) at the Redskins (3:11), Browns (4:10) at the Jets (6:8), Buccaneers (4:10) at the Rams (6:8), Cardinals (9:5) at the Seahawks (12:2), Giants (5:9) at the Lions (7:7), Patriots (10:4) at the Ravens (8:6), Raiders (4:10) at the Chargers (7:7), Steelers (6:8) at the Packers (7:6:1), Bears (8:6) at the Eagles (8:6), Falcons (4:10) at the 49ers (10:4).
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