Down the Stretch in the NFL By: Mike Patt
Well folks, we have reached the final stretch of the 2019-2020 NFL season. As we head into the heart of December with the playoffs a mere 24 days away, things are relatively calm across the football landscape. Most of the mid-season drama surrounding players like Antonio Brown and Colin Kaepernick has subsided. Teams and the media seem to be focused mostly of the final playoff battles, which are not shaping up to be too dramatic. Two divisions have already been clinched with a third almost in the books. The other five divisions are basically two team races, and the wild card spots have been narrowed down to a handful of squads in both conferences. Still, there is plenty to talk about for the last three weeks. Here is a look at where every team in the league stands, and the key final races of the regular season.
Playoff Spot Clinched – Baltimore (AFC), Kansas City (AFC West), New Orleans (NFC South)
AFC – New England
NFC – Green Bay, San Francisco, Seattle
It’s hard to imagine the Patriots not making the playoffs in some capacity, despite not playing their greatest football as of late. The Trio of NFC teams has made it to the 10 win mark, with each having a fair shot at a dozen wins. Even if 11 wins is the mark to make for the playoffs in that conference, it is a doable job for each squad. All four are still at risk of losing their division however, and will need strong finishes to keep from doing so.
AFC – New York, Miami, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Oakland Denver, Los Angeles
NFC – Washington, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Arizona
Exactly half the league is in this category, which is pretty surprising even with three weeks to go. There are a few squads that you could argue for being in the hunt. Oakland and Indianapolis both sit just two games out in the AFC, and Indy still has a chance at the division. Both would have to win out just to make it to 9-7, and both are playing sloppy football in December. I just don’t think their odds are better than poor. Chicago is the only winning team on here, and is actually playing really good football. Unfortunately they need both Minnesota and the Rams to falter in order to sneak in, and I don’t believe that will happen.
In the Hunt:
AFC – Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Houston, Tennessee
NFC – Dallas, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Los Angeles
I will talk more about these teams in the key final races. The only two I will focus on here are Minnesota and the Rams. The Vikings currently hold the 6th seed in the NFC, with LA one game behind them. It will be interesting to see if the Rams can make up the difference over the final three weeks, but it just missed the cut as one of the key races. Which brings us too…
Key Final Races:
NFC West –
This race has less to do with who makes the playoffs and more with seeding. The San Francisco 49ers sit atop the division at 11-2, with Seattle one game behind them at 10-3. The Niners also currently own the #1 seed in the NFC, and the Seahawks are the top wild card team. It is likely that whoever wins this race ends at 12-4 or 13-3, which almost guarantees them a top two seed with a first round bye plus home field advantage in the divisional playoff round. This makes the final game of the season between these two in Seattle that much more significant, because the loser will get a road game in the wild card round against the winner of the…
NFC East –
Man, I am on fire with the transitions today. This race is pretty simple for the playoff scheme. It will be Dallas or Philadelphia; one will be the 4th seed while the other will be sitting at home beginning their off-season preparation. The main issue with this race is the ongoing debate about playoff seeding. Many have argued in the past that once the teams who make the playoffs are decided, that they should be re-seeded based on record. Now the top wild card team will automatically have a better record than the winner of this division, but if one of these teams were to go on a winning streak and at least make it to 9-7, it may quell some of the ire behind this argument. If they go 8-8 or worse, then I fear the push for reform will only gain more traction.
AFC Wild Card –
This may be the most dramatic race to finish the season. As things currently stand, Buffalo holds the top wild card spot at 9-4. Pittsburgh has the second wild card spot at 8-5, and holds the tiebreaker over Tennessee (also at 8-5) for better conference record. Tennessee is also tied with Houston for the AFC South lead, but loses that tiebreaker based on division record. We also have to included New England in here as they are only a game ahead of Buffalo and could be bumped down to the 5th seed if the Bills overtake them in the final weeks. There are several moving parts here, but ultimately this will come down to five teams battling for four spots. The combinations are extensive, and there are several key games down the stretch between these squads.
AFC South –
I alluded to this race somewhat in the previous section, with Houston and Tennessee being tied but Houston owning the tiebreaker. What makes this an interesting battle is that these teams play each other twice over the last three weeks, including a season finale that will be huge for both squads. Houston has been inconsistent this year, beating the Patriots one week only to lose to the Broncos this past Sunday. Tennessee has overcome some early season struggles to surge down the stretch, winning four games in a row to get into this race. This will be a good one, and both these teams could finish anywhere from 3rd seed to last team out.
As always, I like to end posts like these with some predictions. I believe San Francisco does enough to hold on to the division title and secure the top seed in the NFC. Seattle has to settle for a top wild card spot, but they will get to pounce on the NFC East winning Dallas Cowboys and likely play the Niners in the divisional round. Buffalo does not overtake New England for the division but does get the top Wild Card spot. Pittsburgh secures the 2nd spot due in large part to Tennessee having a rough final stretch of the schedule, which allows Houston to secure the division. Bonus prediction, Minnesota holds on to the 6th seed ahead of the Rams, who finish with double digit wins but do not make the playoffs (while an 8-8 Dallas team does, and debates spark everywhere). That will do it for this post. Thanks for reading, and we will see you next time on the IE Sports Radio Blog; your blog for all that is sports. Have a great day.