Another crazy NFL week is in the books and while some teams managed to claw their way back into the playoff picture with just four weeks to go, others faded away and still others, clinched spots in the postseason. Here is a division-by-division recap of what took place this week and who punched their ticket to the playoffs early.
With the Broncos on the biggest win streak in the NFL right now (7 games), it looked like a playoff berth was certainly in their future, but they made it official this week by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 to improve to 9-3 on the season. It turns out they would have clinched regardless, as the Chargers continued their slide, losing to the Bengals 20-13. The Chargers are now 4-8 on the season and their only hope is an extremely slim shot at a wild card spot. Look for Denver to be dangerous come playoff time.
Baltimore wasted a big opportunity to extend its lead in the North against its rival Pittsburgh, but came up short against a Steelers team that was starting their third-string QB Charlie Batch. The win was huge for the Steelers, which are now in contention for a wild card spot and are just two games back of the Ravens in the division. The Bengals also had a big week, winning against San Diego to stay tied with Pitt for second in the division at 7-5. Look for Cincy to finish strong with its young, healthy group and take a wild card spot, while Baltimore should still take the North.
As expected, the Patriots locked up the East this week with a win over the pesky Dolphins. The Patriots, now 9-3, are looking to make another playoff run and it would be hard to bet against them. Meanwhile, the Jets, which are still in shambles, managed a 7-6 win over the hapless Cardinals to stay alive for a wild card spot, but with all of their problems, things don’t look good.
Houston clinched a playoff berth this week after beating the Titans 24-10, but has not clinched the South yet, as the Colts continued their winning ways, coming from behind to beat the Lions 35-33. While the Texans are in prime position to take home field in the South, the Colts are in prime position to nab a wild card spot. The Colts could be a dark horse come playoff time, but there’s a reason that the Texans are 11-1 and that is because they are the most complete team in the AFC.
The West tightened up a bit this week after the 49ers suffered a tough overtime loss on the road in St. Louis, keeping the Rams’ slim hopes alive. The Seahawks then took full advantage, beating the Bears, also in overtime to pull to within a game and a half of first place in the West. The Seahawks also claimed sole possession of lead for the second wild card spot with the win. Look for both of these teams to make the playoffs, but for San Fran to win the West.
Green Bay got back on track this week, notching a big win over Minnesota, which continued its slide to 6-6 on the season. The Pack are now in a first place tie with Chicago, after the Bears loss, so it’s anybody’s ballgame with four games remaining. Luckily for these teams, whoever doesn’t win the North still has a great chance at the wild card with an 8-4 record. I like the Packers to win the North, but for the Bears to limp into the playoffs with one of the NFC wild cards.
The East has become the tightest race in the league, after seeing New York fall to Washington last night and Dallas defeat Philly on Sunday night. Now the Giants lead is only one game and there are two teams on their heels. This division is the biggest toss up, but I have to give the edge to the Giants, simply based on experience. Dallas has been inconsistent down the stretch in recent years, while the Redskins simply haven’t been in this position in a long time. Expect them to contend again next year, but I think that inexperience may hurt them this year.
The hot Buccaneers have finally flat-lined, while the Falcons continue to soar and have now clinched the South with their win against the Saints this week. It looks like the Saints’ hopes for a comeback are now over, as they are 5-7 on the season. The Bucs still have a shot at the playoffs, but with so much competition, I doubt they will get in. The Falcons are easily the best team in the NFC and should have no problem cinching up home field here fairly soon.