Only one team so far has already clinched a playoff berth – the Seattle Seahawks, who in all likelihood will also finish as the champions in the NFC West and have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The same goes for the Denver Broncos in the AFC West and also for the New England Patriots, but behind those three no one can really feel safe about where they are right now.
The Dallas Cowboys lead the NFC East on the merit of their win over the Eagles, but might not have a good enough record to get into the NFC playoffs via the wild card spot. In the AFC, you don’t need too good of a record to get far, but things are quite complicated in the AFC North, as even the 8-4 Bengals can’t feel completely safe until they win one more game.
The Seahawks still have to play in San Francisco, but it’s hard to see them falling any more along the way – they have to play the New York Giants, Arizona and St. Louis to close out the season, with the last two games coming at home. Knowing just how hard it is to beat them at home, don’t expect them to rest up players until they have the home field advantage thing all sewn up.
In the NFC South it’s going to come down to the two games between the Saints and the Carolina Panthers, who have won their last eight games. Any kind of late collapse might be disastrous for both teams. The Philadelphia Eagles (7-5), Arizona Cardinals (7-5), Chicago Bears (6-6) and even the Green Bay Packers, if they get Aaron Rodgers back in time, are good enough to win their division or create a late-season win streak that’ll earn them their wild card spot. The Lions are good, but not that good so the’d be trusted to hang on for the rest of the season.
So the NFC North is still open, and still is the NFC East. The Cowboys and the Eagles are at 7-5, with Dallas having a head-to-head advantage giving them the division title right now. Dallas have to play in Chicago, host Green Bay (with or without Aaron Rodgers), at Washington and host Philly. The Eagles have Detroit, play in Minnesota, host Chicago and their last day visit to Dallas as the season ends. Aaron Rodgers returning or not will determine who got the short end of the draw, but right now it looks like the Cowboys have the slightly tougher road to the playoffs.
|1||x – Seattle||11||1||0||.917||3-0-0||8-0-0||.455|
There’s a very good chance Denver won’t be caught. They have four very manageable games waiting for them – at home against Tennessee and San Diego before visits to Houston and Oakland. Their two wins give them a huge cushion over the Kansas City Chiefs, who should be slightly worried about a late season collapse but not too much – at 9-3, they have a three game advantage over Miami, the team with the best record (6-6, lose in the head-to-head to Baltimore) outside the top 6. However, they do have three road games on the remaining schedule, and only one backup quarterback to play against.
The Patriots are safe, although two road games against Miami and Baltimore isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. They’ll win their division, but this season once again teaches us just how important home field advantage is to them. Both the Colts and the Bengals would love to replace them as the number two team and get a bye week, but they actually play each other next week. The Colts also have to play at Kansas City between two easy home games vs Houston and the Jags, while the Bengals have a rougher road of Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Baltimore to end the season.
The Ravens have the slight edge over the Steelers for now, but they have to play in Detroit, in Cincinnati and against the Patriots in a rough ending to this season, along with a home game against the Vikings. The Steelers (5-7) have three home games (Miami, Cleveland, Bengals) and a road trip to Green Bay, hoping Aaron Rodgers is still injured.