My thoughts on all 32 NFL franchises ahead of the chaotic 2021 off-season conclude today with thoughts on the eight teams from NFC south and west divisions.
With the NFL playoffs just around the corner, teams are still jockeying for seeding as we enter Week 16.
Here’s the race to the top:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-1)
Remaining games: (Home) v Falcons (4-10), (Home) v Chargers (5-9)
Essentially, the Chiefs will have to mess up badly over the last fortnight of the regular season to miss the getting the number one seed. In fact, if things go to plan, they could play four straight home games – including the divisional round and AFC championship game. That may be getting a little bit ahead of ourselves, but even without crowds, there’s no place like home.
2. Buffalo Bills (11-3)
Remaining games: (Away) v Patriots (6-8), (Home) v Dolphins (9-5)
They’ve clinched a playoff spot by winning their division, so now it comes down to seeding. They travel to New England and host Miami in their last two games. If they can win both of those, while KC lose both games, Pittsburgh win both of theirs, then add in the formula from ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and hope for northwesterly breeze as the clock strikes midnight – then the Bills could steal top spot.
So, you’re saying there’s a chance? Not really.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3)
Remaining games: (Home) v Colts (10-4), (Away) v Browns (10-4)
You know when you’re well ahead on a school assignment, so you muck around and then – all of a sudden – you’re now way behind? That’s the Pittsburgh Steelers. The last three weeks they have been in the pits and now face two tough games to try and hold on their AFC North division title and being able to host a playoff game.
They are secure in the playoffs, but based on form, it may not matter where they play.
4. Tennessee Titans (10-4)
Remaining games: (Away) v Packers (11-3), (Away) v Texans (4-10)
The Titans hold a slim AFC South lead over the Colts (10-4), but this will be a closely fought race. Tennessee goes to Lambeau to play the Packers this week, while Indy heads to Pittsburgh. Mike Vrabel’s team will be looking to win both upcoming road games to stay at home in the Wild Card round.
5. Cleveland Browns (10-4)
Remaining games: (Away) v Jets (1-13), (Home) v Steelers (11-3)
If Cleveland can win this week against the Jets, they can claim a playoff spot for the first time since 2002. Good grief, that is a long time ago. Now, if the Steelers lose to Colts this week, we could be in for a winner-takes-all AFC North title match, when the Browns host Pittsburgh in Week 17. Wouldn’t that be something?
But as we saw last week, you sleep on the Jets at your own peril.
6. Indianapolis Colts (10-4)
Remaining games: (Away) v Steelers (11-3), (Home) v Jaguars (1-13)
Rounding out the trio of 10-4 hopefuls are the Colts. A huge game for them this week at Pittsburgh, before a bye week (the Jaguars) to finish off. Win this week and they can jump over the Titans – if they lose. Yes, it’s getting kinda hectic.
7. Miami Dolphins (9-5)
Remaining games: (Away) v Raiders (7-7), (Away) v Bills (11-3)
There’s a bunch going on with these guys. The hold the same record as Baltimore, so they need to try and win out or rely on Baltimore stumbling (which they probably won’t). This week the Fins visit the Raiders who are either going to come out firing after having their playoff dreams largely dashed or they’ll be despondent and let nature takes its course.
Then they’d face a road trip to Buffalo to stay alive and if they do make the playoffs, things could well work out that the following week they’d have to travel back to Buffalo. Get the tables ready.
8. Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
Remaining games: (Home) v Giants (5-9), (Away) v Bengals (3-10-1)
On the surface of it, they have the easier run-in than the Dolphins, so Baltimore’s upcoming games are both playoff games and banana skin games. Now that’s not a normal combination. There is also the possibility they could win out from here and still miss the playoffs. Game on.
9. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)
Remaining games: (Home) v Dolphins (9-5), (Away) v Broncos (5-9)
For the Raiders to even entertain the thought of making the post-season in their maiden Vegas year, they need a bunch of things to go in their favour. Win out, hope for a heap of other results and a recount of votes in the states of Georgia, Nevada and Michigan. So yeah. It’s a long shot.
1. Green Bay Packers (11-3)
Remaining games: (Home) v Titans (10-4), (Away) v Bears (7-7)
They’ve clinched the NFC North and a playoff spot. Two more wins or a Saints loss will see them tie up the top seed for the NFC and a week off. A couple of tricky games though, as both the Titans and Bears are hitting form at the right time.
2. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
Remaining games: (Home) v Vikings (6-8), (Away) v Panthers (4-10)
They need to hold serve and hope that the Packers stumble to grab the top spot. They do lead the NFC South and limited crowds would far lessen any advantage of being able to play in the Superdome, though it’d be better than playing out in the freezing cold of Lambeau Field.
3. Seattle Seahawks (10-4)
Remaining games: (Home) v Rams (9-5), (Away) v 49ers (5-9)
After watching the Rams gift Seattle the NFC West lead, this week they get to play them and possibly sort it once and for all. The top seed is still a possibility for this team too, but they obviously would need slip-ups from both the Saints and Packers. However, far stranger things have happened this year.
4. Washington Football Team (6-8)
Remaining games: (Home) v Panthers (4-10), (Away) v Eagles (4-9-1)
After being the battling side all year, how will Washington handle being the front-runners in the NFC East? Massive game for them against the Panthers, as a win will eliminate both the Cowboys and Eagles. Plus, if the Giants lose to Baltimore, that will have the division signed, sealed, delivered for the Team.
5. Los Angeles Rams (9-5)
Remaining games: (Away) v Seahawks (10-4), (Home) v Cardinals (8-6)
Okay, so you got shocked by the Jets last week, but now it’s time for the Rams to put their big boy pants on and get serious in order to try and retake the NFC West. It’s playoffs from here on out, as they take on Seattle and Arizona, which will have all sorts of playoff implications.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5)
Remaining games: (Away) v Lions (5-9), (Home) v Falcons (4-10)
They probably have the cushiest draw for the last couple of weeks, so they look a good bet to clinch a playoff spot. The question then becomes how high can they go? There is a very, very slim chance they could sneak ahead of the Saints to the top spot, but that would need a bunch of stuff to go in their favour. But never say never.
7. Arizona Cardinals (8-6)
Remaining games: (Home) v 49ers (5-9), (Away) v Rams (9-5)
This entertaining bunch could flip the NFC West title on its head or likewise flame out of the playoffs altogether. They just need to take care of the 49ers at home (which has also been the same home ground for the 9ers in recent times). Do that and we’ll have a juicy patty of a game against the Rams to sort the men from the boys.
8. Chicago Bears (7-7)
Remaining games: (Away) v Jaguars (1-13), (Home) v Packers (11-3)
The Bears are a bit like a long, lost, overseas cousin who just rocks up for Christmas lunch – everyone’s like “what the hell are you doing here?”. But this is the world we find ourselves in and the Bears are indeed alive. They play the lowly Jags which isn’t a big problem. What is, is the fact that if the Rams, Bucs and Cards win, then their playoff hopes are just about toast.
9. Minnesota Vikings (6-8)
Remaining games: (Away) v Saints (10-4), (Away) v Lions (5-9)
If they do it, they’ll have to do it on the road. Do-or-die game against New Orleans on Christmas (our Boxing Day) could very well stick a fork in the Vikes’ season. But if they can overthrow them – which isn’t out of the realm of possibility – then the door stays slightly ajar for them to sneak in. Slightly.
Dallas Cowboys (5-9), New York Giants (5-9), Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1)
We really shouldn’t have to tolerate teams with records like these, but yet – here we are. Dallas plays Philly in a knockout match, where both could actually be knocked out if Washington wins. While the Giants are trying to survive against the Ravens. The odds suggest their tribe should have spoken for all three teams by the close of this week.
Current NFL draft order
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13)
After a lot of anger from Jets fans as their team actually won a game, Jacksonville just quietly snuck into the top pick – based on the strength of schedule tiebreaker. Now, Jacksonville has the inside lane to pick up the presumed top pick – quarterback Trevor Lawrence. They play the Bears and Colts too, so are in a strong position to stay here.
2. New York Jets (1-13)
At least the Jets have claimed one of the top two picks, so that’s safe. Now they need to hope that Jacksonville can shock one or their opponents (and the whole world) to try and get back where they think they should be.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (3-10-1)
As much as the Jets screwed up their own draft plans, they might have also done the same to these poor devils. With both the Jets and Jags set to pick quarterbacks to save themselves, the Bengals seemed ready to swoop on top offensive lineman Penei Sewell to protect Joe Burrow. But now, with the Jets probably picking at number two, they could very well go o-line. Drat.
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-10)
Not sure where other ATL fans are at, but I’m firmly wanting them to lose out and try to pick as high as possible. Which, at this point, seems like a decent bet. Picking in the top five would raise the question of whether or not to pick a quarterback.
5. Carolina Panthers (4-10)
They can potentially slip into the third pick if results fall their way, but the odds aren’t exactly in their favour. Having gone all defence in the 2020 draft (literally, all defence), it will be interesting to see where these cats go from here.
6. Miami Dolphins (9-5)
Wait. What? Yes, you’re wondering why the Dolphins – a potential playoff team – could be picking here. The answer to that question is Bill O’Brien. Old Billy boy traded the Texans’ (4-10) first-round pick to the Fins last year for offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil. I guess the Texans thought they weren’t that far off.
7 – 13. Chargers, Lions, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, 49ers, Broncos
This is still very tight, with every team in this range being 5-9, with the Eagles being 4-9-1. So, if the Falcons, Panthers and Texans win one or two games, the order can be shaken up a lot. Let’s see how things look at this time next week.