OT: NFL Playoff Picture

Submitted by Moleskyn on December 27th, 2011 at 2:03 PM

So, as we head into the final week of the 2011 NFL regular season, there are a few spots up for grabs in both the NFC and AFC. This weekend should prove to be a dramatic one. Here's how things look right now:

NFC

  1. Green Bay, 14-1 (clinched home field advantage and first-round bye)
  2. San Francisco, 12-3 (clinched division; can clinch first-round bye with win over St. Louis)
  3. New Orleans, 12-3 (clinched division; can clinch first-round bye with win over Carolina and San Francisco loss)
  4. NY Giants/Dallas, 8-7 (winner clinches NFC East, loser is eliminated)
  5. Detroit, 10-5 (clinched Wild Card; secures 5th seed with win over Green Bay)
  6. Atlanta, 9-6 (clinched Wild Card; can move up to 5th seed with win over Carolina and Detroit loss)

Green Bay will probably beat Detroit this Sunday at home, unless they rest their starters. Green Bay really has nothing to play for at this point, other than pride, and it's not an uncommon thing to do. I think Rodgers and starters play at least through halftime, though, and the Packers finish the season at 15-1.

San Francisco will probably beat St. Louis to lock up the 2nd seed. Doing so makes New Orleans' game meaningless. New Orleans' game only means anything if they win and San Francisco loses.

The NY/Dallas game is a tossup, in my opinion. That should be a fun game to watch, even though I'm not a fan of either team.

If Detroit loses to Green Bay, it opens the door for Atlanta to move into the 5th seed, since Atlanta beat Detroit in Week 7. Atlanta has a favorable matchup this week against Carolina [Ed: Tampa Bay. Thanks, my mistake. Still a favorable matchup, as pointed out in the comments], so it looks like they have a decent shot of moving up.

This is exciting to me because, even though we already know most of the teams that will be in the NFC playoffs, each team (except Green Bay) has something to play for this week. The difference between the 5th and 6th seed is the difference between playing a mediocre Dallas/NY team and Drew Brees. I would not want to have to face Brees in the first round at all.

AFC

  1. New England, 12-3 (clinched division and first-round bye; can clinch home-field advantage with win over Buffalo)
  2. Baltimore/Pittsburgh, 11-4 (see below)
  3. Houston, 10-5 (clinched division; their game against Tennessee means nothing for them. They are locked into the 3rd seed regardless of the outcome of this game)
  4. Denver/Oakland, 8-7 (see below)
  5. Baltimore/Pittsburgh (see below)
  6. Cincinnati/Tennessee/Oakland/NY Jets (see below)

New England is guaranteed to finish no lower than the 2nd seed in the AFC. A win over Buffalo would lock them in to the #1 seed. A loss opens up the door to either Pittsburgh or Baltimore.

Baltimore has a wide range of possibilites right now: they could finish as high as the #1 overall seed and as low as the #5 seed. A win over Cincinnati on the road guarantees that they finish no lower than the #2 seed. If Baltimore wins and New England loses, Baltimore would clinch the #1 overall seed; however, if Baltimore loses and Pittsburgh wins, Baltimore would fall below Pittsburgh and be stuck with the #5 seed.

Pittsburgh could also finish as high as #1 and as low as #5. If Pittsburgh wins on the road against Cleveland and Baltimore and New England lose, Pittsburgh would clinch the #1 overall seed. If Pittsburgh wins and Baltimore loses, Pittsburgh would clinch the #2 seed. If Baltimore wins or Pittsburgh loses, Pittsburgh would be stuck with the #5 seed.

Houston has no incentive to win their game against Tennessee, unless they want to ruin Tennessee's playoff hopes. Houston has locked up the #3 seed and will host the #6 seed in the first round of the playoffs, no matter what.

Denver's playoff hopes are in their (or dare I say Tebow's) hands. If they beat Kansas City at home, they win the AFC West. If they lose and Oakland wins, then Denver is eliminated from contention. There is absolutely no way they can win the Wild Card, it's AFC West. or bust for them.

Oakland can clinch either the 4th or 5th [Ed: 6th. Thanks, my mistake] seed. They must win to have any chance at all though. It is impossible for them to make the playoffs if they lose at home to San Diego. If Oakland wins, they would clinch the AFC West with a Denver loss. If both Oakland and Denver win, and Cinncinati loses, then Oakland would clinch the Wild Card.

Tennessee can clinch the Wild Card if they beat Houston on the road, and Cincinnati and Oakland lose.

The Jets can clinch the Wild Card if they beat Miami on the road, and Cincinnati, Oakland, and Tennessee lose.

Cincinnati will clinch the Wild Card with a win over Baltimore at home. If Cinncinnati loses, they can only get in if Tennessee, NY, and Oakland lose; OR if Tennessee, NY, and Denver lose, and Oakland wins.

Wow, so you can see that there is much to play for in Week 17. Even though all but 1 team has yet to be determined in the NFC, there is a lot of room for moving around among the qualified teams there. In the AFC, there are 4 teams vying for the 2 remaining playoff spots, and there is a lot of room for variation among the 4 qualified teams. Exciting stuff, for sure.

Finally, here's my weak attempt at a prediction for the first week of playoffs:

NFC

#1 Green Bay - BYE
#2 San Francisco - BYE
#3 New Orleans vs. #6 Detroit
#4 Dallas vs. #5 Atlanta

AFC
#1 New England - BYE
#2 Pittsburgh - BYE
#3 Houston vs. #6 Cincinnati
#4 Denver vs. #5 Baltimore

Comments

LandryHD

December 27th, 2011 at 2:09 PM ^

Im a SF fan. I would rather see ATL in the #6 spot and upset NO. I feel that would be our best match up. Between NO and DET I'll be rooting hard for DET. NO is just way to scary, I feel we would have a better chance vs the Packers in GB. Either way its going to be tough for teams not named the Saints and Packers. :(

Needs

December 27th, 2011 at 2:34 PM ^

I'd be surprised if Rodgers plays more than a couple of series, if at all. While GB's taking the Herm Edwards line, Rodgers is also saying things like "As a friend of Matt Flynn's, I'd like to see him get some playing time."

Needs

December 27th, 2011 at 2:35 PM ^

Slight correction to the OP. If Oakland qualifies as the wild card, they'd be the #6 seed. Whichever of Baltimore or Pittsburgh doesn't win the AFC North is slotted in as the #5 seed.

exmtroj

December 27th, 2011 at 3:29 PM ^

The key to beating the Saints is getting them on the road, where they are capable of playing at abysmal levels.  A playoff road game is usually a season-ender for them, and this year they were dominated on the road against the powerhouse Rams.  As a Green Bay fan, I would much rather see the Saints at Lambeau than the 49ers. 

Overall though, the NFC appears to be a toss-up.  San Fancisco plays old-school and physical, but has had to eke out too many close wins against bad teams, Green Bay's defense is pathetic almost to Michigan '10 levels, and New Orleans can't play on the road.  If the Giants make it in and Eli can avoid the interceptions that always plague him, I could see New York making a serious run with that pass rush of theirs.

Needs

December 27th, 2011 at 4:01 PM ^

Yep. As a Packer fan, I do not want to see the Giants at all. Eli's proven he can perform in harsh conditions and that pass rush is scary.

I'm also rooting hard for SF to wrap up the #2 seed, as I think they'll give NO a good game and whichever team wins will emerge beat up. I do think that the Packers match up against the 49ers better than any other team in the playoffs. GB doesn't care about running the ball, stopping the run is the 49ers forte, and I don't think they'll be able to match scores with the Packers. I would expect a game between the two to look something like the Packers-Bears game, a close game early on but with SF unable to respond after the Packers put up a couple scores in succession.

Broken Brilliance

December 27th, 2011 at 4:26 PM ^

Comparing this year's D to GERG's 2010 D is hyperbolic. They've been without Collins all year, Hawk and Bishop the last month, and are still missing Pickett. Now that we have our starting ILBs and hopefully a little more depth on the DL we should be a little more healthy on that side of the ball for the playoffs. Neal, Wynn and Wilson have been 'just guys' out there, so I think the absence of Cullen Jenkins is a factor. Dude was an important role player in Capers' scheme.

exmtroj

December 27th, 2011 at 4:51 PM ^

I agree that losing Jenkins was much bigger than anyone thought it would be, and Collins being out hurts, but Josh Mcown was able to literally go from coaching high school football to shredding Green Bay's secondary in a matter of a couple weeks.  Collins and Jenkins don't explain how Chicago's 9th string (it seemed like it anyway, their whole offense seems to be gone) receiver could be standing all alone 20 yards downfield with nobody in a green jersey in the same zip code. 

The tackling has also been abysmal, and a big reason why they get run all over.  Desmond Bishop was the biggest offender at trying to arm tackle people up high or just kind of slap at their back as they streak by on yet another 9-12 yard run straight up the gut. 

The defense scares me, and puts all the pressure solely on the offense.  Rodgers has been tremendous in his playoff career, but one off-day, like he had in the NFC Championship last year, and the D likely won't be able to bail him out.  I hope Capers has something up his sleeve.  These three-man rushes just aren't cutting it.

Michigan4Life

December 27th, 2011 at 6:21 PM ^

I like the Lions winning NFC.  They're hot at the right time and they should get all of their defensive starters back especially Delmas which should be a much needed boost for the secondary.  They have the offense to keep pace with GB and NO especially with Stafford playing lights out since he took off his gloves.

The Lions match up well against both GB and NO in terms of defensive matchup.  They rarely blitz and will try to put pressure on the QB with their front four.  GB and NO defense are terrible and I would expect Stafford to feast on them.

It would not surprise me if the Lions win the NFC.  It doesn't pay to have a bye in the playoff.  The trend seems to be that the wildcard team make a deep run to the SB.  Look at GB last year. Cardinals and NYG a few years ago