[dt_divider style=”thick” /]If the NFL season ended today, the AFC and NFC playoff picture would look like this:
- Steelers 1. Eagles
- Patriots 2. Vikings
- Chiefs 3. Rams
- Titans 4. Saints
- Bills 5. Seahawks
- Jaguars 6. Packers
In the AFC, teams such as the Jaguars, Texans, Broncos, and Ravens are in the hunt. Despite a Monday night loss to Philadelphia, the Redskins are in the hunt for a playoff spot in the NFC along with the Cowboys, Panthers, Falcons and Lions.
With ten weeks remaining in the season, I’ll take a look at the rest of the schedule for the playoff teams and those in the hunt and attempt to predict who gets in at the end. The way the season has gone so far, 17 teams are .500 or better. We’ll probably start to see some separation around November. If not, it’ll be a wild holiday season.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]AFC Outlook
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2): BYE, @IND, TEN, GB, @CIN, BAL, NE, @HOU, CLE
Key Game(s): Patriots, @ Texans
Martavis Bryant’s absence on Sunday Night Football against the Lions led to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s big performance, highlighted by a 97 yard touchdown reception from Ben Roethlisberger. The rookie receiver should see even more targets down the stretch, regardless of the role Martavis Bryant plays on offense. The Steelers pass rush, hanging their hat on T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, couldn’t capitalize on getting to Matthew Stafford. The pass defense gave up an average of 147 passing yards per game heading into Sunday’s game, but gave up 206 in the first half alone. They will need to tighten it up with New England and Houston remaining. A visit from the Patriots will ultimately decide if the Steelers will host the AFC Championship game.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Kansas City Chiefs (6-2): @DAL, BYE, @NYG, BUF, @NYJ, OAK, LAC, MIA, @DEN
Key Game(s): @ Cowboys, Chargers, Raiders, @ Broncos
After a Thursday night heartbreaker to Oakland, Monday night’s victory against Denver was sorely needed for Kansas City. For divisional purposes sure, but mostly to keep up with the Steelers and Patriots. Alex Smith has yet to throw an interception this season and Kareem Hunt is leading the league in rushing as a rookie. The Chiefs defense have seen better days but are still pretty solid all around.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]New England Patriots (6-2): BYE, @DEN, @OAK, MIA, @BUF, @MIA, @PIT, BUF, NYJ
Key Game(s): @ Bills, @ Dolphins, @ Steelers, Jets
It seemed like an eternity when we thought the New England defense was going to hold the team back at a shot for a repeat. So far it has taken a back seat, shutting out Atlanta for the majority of the game a couple of weeks ago. Very slowly, they are rounding up to form, giving up no more than 17 points the last four games. The loss of linebacker Dont’a Hightower will be a big hit in the long run.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Tennessee Titans (4-3): BAL, CIN, @PIT, @IND, HOU, @ARZ, @SF, LAR, JAX
Key Game(s): Ravens, @ Steelers, Texans, Rams, Jaguars
The triple threat rushing attack of DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry and a when-healthy Marcus Mariota has the Titans offense buzzing. With Mariota ailing however, the offense look to be a bit stagnant. That is a reason the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Buffalo Bills (5-3): NO, @LAC, @KC, NE, IND, MIA, @NE, @MIA
Key Game(s): Saints, @ Chargers, @ Chiefs, Patriots, @ Dolphins
After letting Stephon Gilmore walk in free agency and trading Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby in the offseason, it seemed that Buffalo was going to regress. Not so fast. LeSean McCoy and the Bills run game has risen after the bye. Tre’Davious White is starting to emerge in this secondary as a rookie. The Buffalo Bills formula of forcing turnovers on defense and letting Tyrod Taylor do the rest is working so far. The addition of Kelvin Benjamin at the receiver position gives them some size.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3): CIN, LAC, @CLE, @ARZ, IND, SEA, HOU, @SF, @TEN
Key Game(s): Chargers, Seahawks, Texans, @ Titans
The Jaguars, for the most part, are abiding by their mantra to run the ball every down. They’ve handed it off 238 times (53% of offensive snaps), a league high, and are averaging 169 yards per game, first in league as well. If they keep up with this current pace, the Jaguars would get 2,704 rushing yards, shattering the 1,631 yards they gained on the ground last year. On top of that, they lead the league in sacks with 33, with former Arizona Cardinal Calais Campbell leading the way with ten. The addition of Marcell Dareus should strike fear to the rest of the AFC South. The final game in Nashville will decide the division.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Miami Dolphins (4-3): OAK, @CAR, TB, @NE, DEN, NE, @BUF, @KC, BUF
Key Game(s): Raiders, @ Panthers, @ Patriots, Broncos, @ Chiefs, Bills
It seemed like Matt Moore was going to save the Dolphins season but the offense couldn’t do much against Baltimore on Thursday Night Football. Sending away Jay Ajayi will take a toll on their offense even more. Excluding the Baltimore game, the defense has given up a little over 18 points per game.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Baltimore Ravens (4-4): @TEN, BYE, @GB, HOU, DET, @PIT, @CLE, IND, CIN
Key Game(s): @ Titans, @ Packers, Texans, Lions, @ Steelers
Alex Collins and Javorius Allen are having a solid year out of the backfield for Baltimore. There should be no more of the Jekyll-Hyde pass offense if they want to make a run for a wild card spot. Their defense leads the league in interceptions. The secondary play and run defense need to get better for the remainder of the season.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Denver Broncos (3-4): @PHI, NE, CIN, @OAK, @MIA, NYJ, @IND, @WAS, KC
Key Game(s): @ Eagles, Patriots, @ Raiders, @ Dolphins, Jets, @ Redskins, Chiefs
The Broncos have laid an egg in their last two losses primarily due to the offensive line play which has affected Trevor Siemian and the run game. The inability to keep the drives going and early turnovers to start have taken a toll on the defense. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. are at the top in terms of shutdown corner duos. Finishing up a three-game road trip in Philadelphia, with a date with New England following, the offense needs to keep up with the defense.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Houston Texans (3-4): IND, @LAR, ARZ, @BAL, @TEN, SF, @JAX, PIT, @IND
Key Game(s): @ Rams, @ Ravens, @ Titans, @ Jaguars, Steelers, @ Colts
It is pretty much a lock that Deshaun Watson would be your offensive rookie of the year for 2017. He has thrown for 19 touchdowns in his first seven games which is the most by any rookie. Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins are becoming a defensive nightmare. Games at Tennessee and Jacksonville in December could decide the playoff seeding in the AFC South.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Los Angeles Chargers (3-5): @JAX, BUF, @DAL, CLE, WAS, @KC, @NYJ, OAK
Key Game(s): @ Jaguars, Bills, @ Cowboys, Redskins, @ Chiefs, @ Jets, Raiders
Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edges have combined for 35.5 sacks the past two seasons. Even with their effort, it is the same old Chargers story of losing close games with the opportunity to take the lead at the end.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Oakland Raiders (3-5): @MIA, BYE, NE, DEN, NYG, @KC, DAL, @PHI, @LAC
Key Game(S): @ Dolphins, Patriots, @ Chiefs, Cowboys, @ Eagles, @ Chargers
Marshawn Lynch’s absence against Buffalo (suspension) limited what Oakland could do in the run game. The offensive line hasn’t been playing as well as they have last year. The offense can’t afford to stall. The defense continues to be a question mark even with NaVorro Bowman in the lineup.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]NFC Outlook
Philadelphia Eagles (7-1): SF, DEN, BYE, @DAL, CHI, @SEA, @LAR, @NYG, OAK, DAL
Key Game(s): Broncos, @ Cowboys, CHI, @ Seahawks, @ Rams, Raiders, Cowboys
Some words of caution. We’ve seen the Vikings start out 5-1 in 2016 and they finished the season 8-8. The same thing happened to Atlanta in 2015, finishing 8-8 after starting out their season 6-1. Don’t relax just yet. With starting left tackle Jason Peters out for the year, the offensive line will face the likes of Von Miller, Demarcus Lawrence, Leonard Floyd, Michael Bennett/Frank Clark, and Khalil Mack on their schedule. Whether the Eagles move Lane Johnson from the right tackle spot to fill in for Peters will remain to be seen but it is a blow to the offense. Jordan Hicks, who left Monday’s game against Washington early, will be out for the year and Mychal Kendricks is dealing with a hamstring injury, depth at the linebacker position will be a concern. The secondary has played solid with young corners in Rasul Douglas and Jalen Mills with veterans Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod at safety. Four of their last seven games will be on the road, and will be a crucial test for this young team.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Minnesota Vikings (6-2): BYE, @WAS, LAR, @DET, @ATL, @CAR, CIN, @GB, CHI
Key Game(s): @ Redskins, Rams, @ Lions, @ Falcons, @ Panthers, @ Packers
The defense has been stellar, led by Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith. The rebuilt offensive line is paying dividends, allowing the third fewest sacks in the league with 10 , which is already eleven fewer when they played their first eight games last year. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have filled in well for the offense after the loss of Dalvin Cook. Receivers Stefon Diggs and free agent acquisition Michael Floyd have missed a game or two due to injury, and they will be needed down the stretch for Case Keenum, who has made some plays this season, and the Vikings offense. Five of their last eight games will be on the road and will certainly be the tipping point for their season.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Seattle Seahawks (5-2): WAS, @ARZ, ATL, @SF, PHI, @JAX, LAR, @DAL, ARZ
Key Game(s): Redskins, Falcons, Eagles, @ Jaguars, Rams, @ Cowboys
Seattle’s defense has played well for the most part. Cliff Avril’s injury doesn’t hurt as much with Frank Clark filling in for him. Cornerback Shaquil Griffin has been playing well as a rookie. The offense needs to be consistent, especially in the run game. Can the Seahawks lean on Russell WIlson’s heroics on a way to a championship? The meeting with the Rams on December 17 could decide the NFC West.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]New Orleans Saints (5-2): TB, @BUF, WAS, @LAR, CAR, @ATL, NYJ, ATL, @TB
Key Game(s): @ Bills, Redskins, @ Rams, Panthers, @ Falcons, @ Buccaneers
The Adrian Peterson experiment didn’t go as hoped for those in the Big Easy. They shipped him out to the desert and haven’t seen much of a drop off in the run game with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara leading the way. First round pick Marshon Lattimore and the Saints defense have been big for them the last games that could pose a threat in the NFC. Four of the last five games against divisional opponents could very well seal the fate of this team.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Los Angeles Rams (5-2): BYE, @NYG, HOU, @MIN, NO, @ARZ, PHI, @SEA, @TEN, SF
Key Game(s): Texans, @ Vikings, Saints, Eagles, @ Seahawks, @ Titans
The Rams could very easily be 6-1 if Cooper Kupp made the late-game catch to beat Seattle in Week 5. If there was an award for most improved team, it would definitely be the Rams under coach of the year candidate Sean McVay. The Rams thus far are scoring the most points per game with 30.3. This time last year, they were averaging 21.1 points per game. This Wade Phillips defense is in the top-five in sacks with 23, and Aaron Donald is still playing like the best interior defensive lineman in the league. The month of December will be a key time for Los Angeles with dates with the Eagles, a re-match in Seattle, and a trip to current AFC South leader Tennessee.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Carolina Panthers (5-3): ATL, MIA, BYE, @NYJ, @NO, MIN, GB, TB, @ATL
Key Game(s): Falcons, @ Jets, @ Saints, Vikings, Packers, @ Falcons
The Panthers are back on track for their season with a win against division rival Tampa Bay. Luke Kuechly, coming back from a concussion, made his return felt, contributing an interception, six tackles and a fumble recovery. Hopefully, this is something the team can build around later to crack a Cam Newton smile at season’s end. The trade to send Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo is a surprise, leaving a hole in the receiving spot with tight end Greg Olsen still injured.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Green Bay Packers (4-3): DET, @CHI, BAL, @PIT, TB, @CLE, @CAR, MIN, @DET
Key Game(s): Lions, Ravens, @ Steelers, @ Panthers, Vikings, @ Lions
The Packers appear to have a running game now with 5th round draft pick Aaron Jones, leading the team in rushing (346) since making his debut against Chicago in September. With Aaron Rodgers out for the year, it is an uphill battle at a chance for a wild card spot.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Dallas Cowboys (4-3): KC, @ATL, PHI, LAC, WAS, @NYG, @OAK, SEA, @PHI
Key Game(s): Chiefs, @ Falcons, Eagles, Chargers, @ Giants, @ Raiders, Seahawks, @ Eagles
The Dallas Cowboys are starting to hit their stride after the bye week, rushing for a total of 434 yards their last two games (10 yards less than what Arizona has all season). It appears that they might have to move on without Ezekiel Elliott, however, due to an upcoming suspension that will cause him to miss the next six games. As long as the offensive line continues to play the way they have been the last few weeks, they have a shot. The next three games against Kansas City, Atlanta and Philadelphia will be huge if Elliott is unable to play.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Atlanta Falcons (4-3): @CAR, DAL, @SEA, TB, MIN, NO, @TB, @NO, CAR
Key Game(s): @ Panthers, Cowboys, @ Seahawks, Vikings, @ Saints, Panthers
After starting out 3-0, the Falcons have come back to Earth, losing three consecutive games. The offense hasn’t been as explosive as we saw under Kyle Shanahan last year. Julio Jones has only one game over 100 receiving yards (Week 2 vs Green Bay) and caught his first touchdown in last week’s loss to New England. The offense overall has been an enigma all season.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Washington Redskins (3-4): @SEA, MIN, @NO, NYG, @DAL, @LAC, ARZ, DEN, @NYG
Key Game(s): @ Seahawks, Vikings, @ Saints, @ Cowboys, @ Chargers, @ Giants
Vernon Davis and Chris Thompson are becoming the unlikely playmakers for Kirk Cousins. Josh Norman saw limited action against the Cowboys but that should be the least of their concerns. The offensive line injuries could put a damper on their season with the next three games against tough defenses.
[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Detroit Lions (3-4): @GB, CLE, @CHI, MIN, @BAL, @TB, CHI, @CIN, GB
Key Game(s): @ Packers, Vikings, @ Ravens, @ Buccaneers, Packers
The offense had quite the performance on Sunday night due to big plays. The defense, which has thrived off of big plays themselves early in the season, hasn’t gotten it done. The defensive line has struggled to get to the quarterback, while the run game hasn’t been as effective even with Ameer Abdullah healthy. The return of left tackle Taylor Decker from injury should help the team moving forward.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Who Gets In? Mid Season Playoff Predictions
- Patriots (13-3) 1. Seahawks (13-3)
- Steelers (12-4) 2. Eagles (13-3)
- Chiefs (11-5) 3. Saints (12-4)
- Jaguars (10-6) 4. Vikings (12-4)
- Bills (11-5) 5. Panthers (10-6)
- Texans (10-6) 6. Rams (9-7)