With just three games left in the regular season, most teams now by now if they still have a legit shot at the playoffs, a first round bye or if their fan base is just hoping they lose out so they get a higher first round draft pick. We’re getting a lot further away from the “they need this, this and this to happen” and closer to the “they just need this to happen”.
So far only the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles have clinched a playoff spot(both clinched their divisions as well). Three more teams can clinch their divisions just by winning and several teams can get knocked out just by losing.
Needless to say, this week will have a playoff feel in all but two games.
THURSDAY-Denver Broncos(4-9) at Indianapolis Colts(3-10)- No playoff implications here, but the loser greatly increases their chances at getting a top 3 draft pick and the winner is in danger of falling out of the top 5. Denver needs to lose this game badly. They need a quarterback and don’t have a great cap situation. Getting the 3rd or 4th overall pick gets them a better shot at Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold or Josh Allen. If they go on a little run at the end of the season, they might blow their shot at all 3 and either have to give up a little to move up in the draft or find a way to sign a Kirk Cousins or Alex Smith.
SATURDAY-Chicago Bears(4-9) at Detroit Lions(7-6)- The Lions needs to win out to get in. If they do, they’ll still need some help because they have already lost to the Saints, Panthers and Falcons this season. If they do win out, they need Atlanta to go 1-2 down the stretch in order to get in or the Panthers or Saints to go 0-3, which is probably pretty unlikely. The Lions still have a shot at winning the NFC North if they win out and the Vikings lose out. The Lions, in that scenario, would win the division record tiebreaker over Minnesota. If the Lions do lose this game, the Vikings clinch the North and a single Falcons win will eliminate Detroit.
SATURDAY- LA Chargers(7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs(7-6)- This is a big game in the AFC West rest, but the loser could still win the division. If the Chiefs win, they need one more win to clinch the division. If the Chargers win, clinching becomes more complicated. They’d be a game up but would need to either match the Chiefs wins over the final two weeks to stay head. If they’re tied at the end of the season, then it depends on who each team last two over the final two games. They’ll be tied in division record if the Chargers win this game, but Chiefs can still pass them there if they KC beats Denver in Week 17 and the Chargers lose to Oakland.
If it comes down to a wildcard spot for either of these teams, neither played the Ravens or Titans, the two leaders for the final two AFC spots right now. The Chargers are currently 3-1 against the NFC, which hurts their conference record because right now, only four of their wins are against AFC opponents. If the Chargers lose this game, their only hope is to win out and hope either the Titans lose or the Ravens finish 1-2. They won’t win a tiebreaker over either, but they would win the head-to-head over Buffalo if it comes down to that.
The Chiefs are in an even worse spot for wildcard tiebreakers as they are only 5-4 in the AFC(5-5 if the lose on Saturday) and have lost to Buffalo. It’s very unlikely that the AFC West gets two playoff teams in, so the loser of this game really needs the winner to lose out to get into the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins(6-7) at Buffalo Bills(7-6)- The Bills still have a shot at the NFC East, but it involves the Patriots losing out and the Bills winning out. The Bills winning out could actually happen. Their schedule is Miami, New England, and Miami again. The Patriots are in Pittsburgh this week and finish the season against the Jets.
If it comes down to a tiebreaker, the Bills should beat out the Ravens based on strength of victory. Neither team played each other and both would finish with the same conference record if they are tied in the standings. They also won’t have enough common opponents to qualify for that tiebreaker.
Miami is still in the wildcard race and has a very important win over the Titans already. They have to win out to have a shot, and if they do I really like their chances to sneak in. The Titans finish the season against a red hot San Francisco team, and against probable playoff teams in the Rams and Jaguars. Beating Buffalo twice would knock them out of contention, so a world where the Dolphins win out knocks out the Bills, the AFC West loser(Dolphins beat the Chargers already, play KC in Week 16) and forces the Titans to win two out of 3 against, right now, three very good teams. The winner of this game is very much in play for a wildcard spot.
Sidenote- the Ravens did beat the Dolphins earlier in the season, so the Titans are the team the Dolphins are chasing. Two more Titans and Ravens wins will knock Miami out.
Philadelphia Eagles(11-2) at New York Giants(2-11)- The Giants still have an outside shot at the first overall draft pick. The Giants would need to lose out and the Browns would need to win out in order for New York to pick first overall. There are still two 3 win teams left who could lose out and pass the Giants for the second overall pick, so the Giants winning this game could potentially cost them a top 2 quarterback in the draft. Even if those teams aren’t in need of a quarterback(Colts have Andrew Luck, 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo), those teams would most likely trade down with QB needy teams. The Giants would either have to outbid them or potentially settle for the third best quarterback in the draft.
The Eagles clinch a first round bye with a win. The would own the conference tiebreaker over the Saints, the head-to-head tiebreakers over the Panthers and Rams and couldn’t tie with the Seahawks, if they won the West, as they can only max out with 11 wins. The Eagles can clinch home field advantage with a win this week and a Vikings loss to the Bengals. Their magic number to clinch HFA is 2 for the rest of the season, but one of those needs to be an Eagles win in order to avoid a Saints/Panthers/Rams win out pushing them down a seed. If the Eagles win two more games, it doesn’t matter what Minnesota does, they get the top seed in the NFC. The Eagles could still fall as far as the 4th seed if they lose out and the 3rd best division winner is a 11-5 Seattle, 12-4 LA, or a 12-4 Saints/Panthers.
Arizona Cardinals(6-7) at Washington Redskins(5-8)- The Redskins are currently slated to pick 11th in the first round, but that pick can change quite a bit. They still have an outside shot at a top 5 pick if a few of the 4-9 teams get hot, but they could also work themselves up closer to the late teens if they get to 7 or 8 wins.
The Cardinals still have very slim wildcard hopes. The Cardinals have already lose to the Seahawks, Rams twice, the Cowboys and the Lions. The need either Atlanta or Carolina to lose out along with Seattle. Once all three of those teams wins a game over the final 3 weeks, Arizona is out. Arizona has to win out to stay alive as well.
Cincinnati Bengals(5-8) at Minnesota Vikings(10-3)- The Bengals are also barely hanging on. They need to win out, Baltimore to lose out, and Miami to go 1-0-1 in their upcoming two games against Buffalo, and also lose to Kansas City in Week 16. Kansas City would also need to win the AFC West, The Chargers lose out and the Raiders go 1-2 the rest of the way.
Basically, the AFC can only have six 8 win teams, and the Bengals have to be that 6th team at 8-8.
The Vikings can clinch the NFC North with either a win or a Lions loss this week. Things get complicated as far as a first round bye goes. They’ve beaten the Saints and Falcons, but lose to the Panthers and that division is still wide open so they don’t even know if they can afford to tie with the NFC South winner or not yet.
If the Vikings win out they have a first round bye and could still get home field advantage if the Eagles lose two of their final 3 games. If the Vikings win two more games and the Panthers don’t win the NFC South, then the Vikings get a first round bye. Carolina winning out and the Eagles winning two out of 3 would drop the Vikings to the number 3 seed, if Minnesota only wins two out of 3.
New York Jets(5-8) at New Orleans Saints(9-4)- The Jets are in a slightly better position than Cincinnati, but not by much. Their only difference is they could finish at 8-8 with Kansas City and beat them over because of head-to-head. If the Jets win out, they’ll finish with a 7-5 conference record, really good for an 8-8 team, and the only team that could win a head-to-head tiebreaker over them as an 8-8 team is Oakland. But all of this is pretty insignificant when you realize they just lost their starting quarterback and Bryce Petty isn’t exactly Nick Foles.
The Saints can’t clinch anything with a win, but they can do a lot of damage with a loss. They play Atlanta next week and could potentially lose the division with losses the next two weeks. They need this win to keep pace with Carolina(who they own the tiebreaker over stay ahead of Atlanta who beat them once and plays them next week. They have also lost to the Rams and Vikings, so winning out is essential if they want any shot at a first round bye.
Green Bay Packers(7-6) at Carolina Panthers(9-4)- It is very likely that the NFC South has two of the top 3 wildcard contenders. The Packers have already lost to the Saints and the Falcons. They cannot afford to lose to the Panthers as well, it will pretty much dooms them. In fact, if they lose and the Falcons win then the Packers are done. They could avoid the head-to-head tiebreaker with a three-way tie for the final wildcard spot, but they wouldn’t beat out Atlanta in the conference record, so they’d be out either way. If the Packers win they can win out and get either one more loss from Carolina or two from the Falcons and get in that way. They are also still alive in the NFC North, but they need the Vikings to lose their last three, two of which are against the Bengals and Bears.
If Carolina wins out they are either the 5th seed, or they can climb as high as the top seed in the NFC if they win the south. If Carolina loses, they are in trouble. A 10-6 Panthers team will struggle to make the playoffs. They’d have a 6-6 conference record and a huge loss to Green Bay and two to the Saints. They play Tampa Bay at home next week and at Atlanta in Week 17. They could 11-4 in Week 17, sitting pretty with a shot at the South, of they could be 10-5 with a must in in Week 17, at Atlanta, just to get in the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens(7-6) at Cleveland Browns(0-13)- The Browns will have the first overall pick if they lose this week or the Giants win this week.
The Ravens should be a lock for the 6 seed, with an outside shot at catching Tennessee for the 5th seed(down 1 game, lost head-to-head to Titans). This is their final road game of the season. They finish the season at home against the Colts and Bengals. They own the tiebreaker over Oakland and Miami and Buffalo is the only team that could tie them at 10-6 and potentially knock them out(strength of victory).
Houston Texans(4-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars(9-4)- The Texans don’t have a first round pick this year, so losing out only helps them starting on day 2 of the draft. That’s kind of a bummer for the fans, but at least they can enjoy being a spoiler a little bit more.
The Jaguars are up one game on the Titans in the division, so they can’t clinch the South this week even if they win and the Titans lose. They also lost their first match-up, so it most likely comes down to that Week 17 game, unless the Titans lose their next two games.
If the Jaguars lose this week and the Titans beat the 49ers, the Jaguars become the 5th seed in the AFC with two games to go. As far as the wildcard goes, if they win one game, they are the 5th seed, though winning the division is highly likely, unless Tennessee wins out through a brutal final 3 games.
As far as chasing a first round bye or even home field advantage, things get interesting if the Jags win this week and the Patriots beat the Steelers. The Jaguars beat the Steelers earlier this season and have fewer wins against the NFC than New England does, meaning Jacksonville would win the conference tiebreaker(they did not play each other this season) if they finish tied. If New England and Jacksonville wins this week, the Jags control their own destiny for a first round bye. At the very least, Jacksonville winning out forces New England to play their starters and wait until after Week 17 to clinch a bye.
LA Rams(9-4) at Seattle Seahawks(8-5)- The winner of this game does not clinch the NFC West, but they are in the driver’s seat. If the Rams win, they are up two games with two to go. They would need just one win or one Seattle loss to clinch the West. If Seattle wins, they are tied, but Seattle owns the tiebreaker. Seattle would need a combination of two wins or two Rams losses to win the West, but they would control their destiny and the Rams would need help.
If Seattle loses, they’ll have an uphill climb to get a wildcard spot if the Rams don’t lose out. They’ve already lost to Atlanta who is 8-5 and Seattle still has to play a 7-6 Dallas in Week 16.
New England Patriots(10-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers(11-2)- This game should decide home field advantage in the AFC, but the winner will still have work to do because of Jacksonville. If Jacksonville loses this week and Pittsburgh wins, than Pittsburgh will clinch the top seed. If New England wins, they can win their final two games and cinch the top seed.
If New England wins, they will also clinch a playoff birth and the AFC East. They can also clinch the AFC East if Buffalo loses, regardless of their later game.
Tennessee Titans(8-5) at San Francisco 49ers(3-10)- The 49ers could still draft as high as second overall in the first round, but that probably drops down to 4th or 5th if they win this game, which isn’t a huge deal because they have found their franchise quarterback already.
The Titans needs this game badly. They still have the Rams and Jaguars left and one more win may not be enough to secure a wildcard spot, not to mention that they still control their own destiny in the AFC South. No matter what happens this week they can still get a wildcard spot or win the South, but winning the South becomes very difficult with a loss.
Dallas Cowboys(7-6) at Oakland Raiders(6-7)- The winner of this game stays alive and the loser isn’t quite finished, but yeah, they’re finished. It’s not a super exciting Sunday night game, but you get a heavy preseason favorite getting all but knocked out in Week 15 either way.
Atlanta Falcons(8-5) at Tampa Bay Bucs(4-9)- The Falcons win this game, and they are still in the hunt in the South with a Week 17 showdown against the Saints still to come. They have tiebreakers over the Saints, Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks right now and all but two of their losses have come against the AFC. They should win just about any tiebreaker. They win this game, and they’re probably one win away from making the playoffs and two more away from winning the South.
Tampa Bay is in a weird spot, at least for the fans. If they lose out, they could get a top 5 draft pick, probably a defensive playmaker that can boost that dreadful side of the ball. Their coaching staff is being judged heavily by these last 3 games. Jameis Winston is back and losing out would reflect badly for Dirk Koetter and company, after they were expected to be a playoff team this season.