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.
Seven playoff spots are up for grabs in each NFL conference and there is only one week to go. It’s coming down to the wire.
Here’s the race to the top.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-1)
Remaining game: (home) versus Chargers (6-9)
Top spot and home ground advantage has been clinched, so Andy Reid has decided to rest quarterback Patrick Mahomes and is expected to give other key players a week off too. It’ll end up being two weeks off, due to the first-round playoff bye. Will they be well rested or rusty by then?
2. Buffalo Bills (12-3)
Remaining game: (home) versus Dolphins (10-5)
There’s a bit of ‘who’s calling whose bluff’ here between the Bills and Steelers. Buffalo is already cemented in the playoffs, but a win against a desperate Dolphins team would lock up the number two spot and home ground advantage against any team not named Kansas City. Miami are a good team too, so the question of resting starters or not becomes an interesting one for the Bills’ coaches.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3)
Remaining games: (away) versus Browns (10-5)
Back-up quarterback Mason Rudolph has been named to start against the Browns this week. Cleveland, like Miami, are desperate to win to make the playoffs, so this is another crucial match to how the playoffs will line up.
4. Tennessee Titans (10-5)
Remaining games: (away) versus Texans (4-11)
They got bounced by the Packers last week, but the Colts also lost, so the Titans are still atop the AFC South for now. However, if Tennessee lose to the Texans, they could miss the playoffs altogether. They are pitted against division foe Houston whose record isn’t flash, but they are the type of team that could spring an upset. Oh, the tension!
5. Miami Dolphins (10-5)
Remaining games: (away) versus Bills (12-3)
After winning in Vegas on their final chip, Miami could actually spring a home playoff game if they won against Buffalo and Tennessee loses. That’s the best-case scenario. Worst case would see them fall to the Bills and get thrown out of the playoff picture altogether.
6. Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
Remaining games: (away) versus Bengals (4-10-1)
How quickly things change. Last week Miami was trying to hold out Baltimore of the playoffs, but this week the Ravens are sitting inside the top seven and looking pretty good. Based on their recent form I would expect them to beat the suddenly lively Bengals and cause a bunch of headaches in the knockout phase.
7. Cleveland Browns (10-5)
Remaining games: (home) versus Steelers (12-3)
This is a tough spot for the Browns. They have to beat Pittsburgh, as the Colts are playing a bunny team. The great news is that the Steelers will be resting some starters. So that means a rematch of Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph, but more so this is another crucial game in the AFC playoff picture. The Browns are expected to get their four receivers back from COVID reserve, so that will help them too.
8. Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
Remaining games: (home) versus Jaguars (1-14)
If you lose to the Jaguars, you don’t deserve to make the playoffs. But technically the Colts did lose to them back in Week 1. So if they lose twice to the Jags, then they most definitely do not belong in there. Philip Rivers commented that every scenario for them to make the playoffs is by winning their game, so that’s all they’ll look at for now.
1. Green Bay Packers (12-3)
Remaining games: (away) versus Bears (8-7)
Even though Green Bay have punched their playoff ticket, they still have a lot of things to consider this week against the Bears. If they win, they will remain the NFC’s number one seed. However, it they lose to a desperate Bears team, there are all sorts of scenarios that could come in to play. Believe it or not, they could go into the week sitting first and end up third for the playoff seeding.
2. New Orleans Saints (11-4)
Remaining games: (away) versus Panthers (5-10)
It looks as though the Saints might be full steam ahead for the final week of the regular season. They still have a shot at the number one seed if Green Bay lose, but they’d also need Seattle to win. That scenario could create a three-way tie, which would open the door for New Orleans to sneak the top spot via tie-breaker. It would also be the first time they’ve swept the NFC South and could also be Drew Brees’ final regular season game.
3. Seattle Seahawks (11-4)
Remaining games: (away) versus 49ers (6-9)
There is another volatile team here. A win and Green Bay plus New Orleans loss would vault them in to home advantage for the playoffs. It is a tricky little game for them too, coming up against a 49ers team who are one of those unpredictable sides that have flashed the ability to cause an upset this season.
4. Washington (6-9)
Remaining games: (away) versus Eagles (4-10-1)
The race to win the NFC East is still on a knife’s edge. Only the Eagles are out of playoff contention. Therefore, Washington will play against them trying to seal their spot, while Philly is just hoping to ruin any sort of playoff party. But often playing for pride can be a powerful force.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5)
Remaining games: (home) versus Falcons (4-11)
They leap-frogged the Rams last week and now host the Falcons to hold firm. They’ll probably want to stay there too, as a playoff game against the NFC East champion would be much more appealing than a trip to Seattle, New Orleans or Green Bay.
6. Los Angeles Rams (9-6)
Remaining games: (home) versus Cardinals (8-7)
Things have gone from bad to worse for the Rams. Following a listless loss to Seattle last week, they now have a number of key players unavailable for a vital game against Arizona, including Jared Goff, Cooper Kupp, Cam Akers, and Michael Brockers, among others. They can still lose and stay in if Chicago loses, but what looked like a sure thing is now anything but.
7. Chicago Bears (8-7)
Remaining games: (home) versus Packers (12-3)
Chicago host the Packers in a titillating NFC North match-up. They can’t win the north, but they sure can cause Green Bay some problems, as well as seal their playoff spot. They can still stay in too if Arizona loses, so buckle up everyone – it’s about to get bumpy.
8. Arizona Cardinals (8-7)
Remaining games: (away) versus Rams (9-6)
They can grab the sixth seed with a win and a Bears loss. Likewise, they could lose and miss out altogether. Interestingly, they could actually tie and make it in, if Chicago loses. And even though they will be facing a lot of back-ups for the Rams, the Cards’ maestro Kyler Murray is still racing the clock to play.
Dallas Cowboys (6-9), New York Giants (5-10)
And we’re back to the final ashes of the dumpster fire that is the NFC East. Both the Cowboys and Giants are alive and conveniently play one another in a playoff before the playoffs. Both these teams will need help from the Eagles to make it too. Dallas will need to win and have Washington to lose or tie against Philly, while the Giants need to win and Washington to lose. Got it? Good.
Here’s the race to the bottom.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-14)
Congratulations Jacksonville, you have clinched the top spot in the 2021 NFL draft. Now they’ve just got to watch the college football playoffs and hope that Trevor Lawrence doesn’t suffer some disastrous injury. But with this team’s luck, you never know.
2. New York Jets (2-13)
The Jets have clinched the number two pick, despite some recent winning form. It will be interesting to see how they play things in the draft too. Could Sam Darnold be out the door?
3. Atlanta Falcons (4-11)
Atlanta can pick as high as three, or as low as ninth. For the choke-fest that has been their year, I could easily see them even screwing this up by winning against the Bucs.
4. Miami Dolphins (10-5) pick via Houston Texans
Miami would’ve been thrilled to win their own game last week, but also for Houston to lose. They’ll look for more of the same this week and even hope for a Falcons victory to put them into pick number three.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1)
Cincinnati is another team getting late wins, which is good for team morale, but not for draft position. They can still go back to picking third if they lose to the Ravens, if Atlanta and Houston win.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1)
They had a crushing loss to the Cowboys, which knocked them out of playoff contention, while simultaneously boosting their draft position. Like the Bengals, they can still steal the number three pick, if games fall their way.
7-10. Detroit Lions (5-10), Carolina Panthers (5-10), Denver Broncos (5-10), Los Angeles Chargers (6-9)
There is a huge logjam of teams on 5-10 and 6-9, meaning that this order could drastically change by the end of Week 17. Even the New England Patriots (6-9), who are ranked 15th, can jump in to the top ten. So there is a tonne of intrigue with how a lot of these games play out, even for the NFL’s also rans.