Week 15 NFL Action Clears Up Little in Playoff Race

Cardinals Titans Football.JPEG-01b27The New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers were rooting on the Tennessee Titans as they readied for a late-game miracle against the Arizona Cardinals. Both teams would have clinched a playoff spot had Tennessee defeated the road-tripping Cardinals in overtime. Where the Saints didn’t do their part losing to a last-place St. Louis Rams team, San Francisco held up its end of the bargain with a 33-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It still wasn’t meant to be as the Cardinals overcame a late-game meltdown to win.

Meanwhile a bit more east, if you want to call it that, Dallas was busy blowing a three score lead against the Green Bay Packers, who were in must-win mode themselves. This came on the heels of the Minnesota Vikings surprising 48-30 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the day.

Looking at the AFC, three of the top four seeds in that conference lost, which opened up the door for the Indianapolis Colts to remain within an earshot of a first-round bye. The Miami Dolphins took care of business against the first-place New England Patriots, a result that left Tom Brady and Co. with a sour taste in their mouths and without a division championship. The Pittsburgh Steelers refused to go quietly into the night after smacking the first-place Cincinnati Bengals in the face.

After the dust settled, not much was cleared up in the playoff race in each conference. Tonight’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions may clear some of it up, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

 

Some notes 

 

 

Kansas City Chiefs: Clinched a playoff spot by defeating the Oakland Raiders 56-31 on Sunday. They are tied with the Denver Broncos for first place in the AFC West and the best record in the conference, but lose the head-to-head tiebreaker. If the Chiefs fail to finish with a better record, they will be the No. 5 seed and take on the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens or Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card round.

Denver Broncos: Despite losing on Thursday night against the San Diego Chargers, Denver still maintains an advantage over the Kansas City Chiefs for the No. 1 overall seed based solely on a head-to-head tiebreaker. If Denver does win the division, it will have to finish one game ahead of the New England Patriots in order to grab the top spot in the conference. Whoever wins the AFC West is guaranteed a first-round bye.

Cincinnati Bengals: Their loss on Sunday Night Football was absolutely huge. The Bengals blew a chance to tie New England for the No. 2 overall seed in the AFC and can’t even clinch the division title with a Ravens’ loss tonight. Baltimore and Cincinnati play in Week 17, at which point it could decide the division title if the Ravens are within one game of their AFC North counterpart.

Miami Dolphins: What a huge win that was for Joe Philbin and Co. on Sunday. Not only did the Dolphins avoid a Patriots clinch, they pulled (at least temporarily) into the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff race. If Baltimore goes down tonight against Detroit, the Dolphins control their own destiny. With that said, Baltimore owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins, so if both teams win out the Ravens will earn the final playoff spot.

Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys: Both of these mediocre NFC East teams lost on Sunday, which means we are back at where we were to begin Week 15. Philadelphia can wrap up the division crown with a win and a Cowboys loss in Week 16. Otherwise, we are looking at a Week 17 matchup in Dallas between these two teams, most likely on Sunday Night Football, to decide the division winner. Sound familiar? It should, Dallas has lost in Week 17 to division rivals in each of the last two seasons with a division title and playoff berth at stake.

Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers: This is interesting. Seattle has wrapped up a first-round bye in the playoffs should it win the NFC West. The issue here is that San Francisco’s win on Sunday disabled the Seahawks ability to do so this week. Get this. Seattle can clinch the NFC West and also clinch a playoff berth for the 49ers next week against the Arizona Cardinals. In order for San Francisco to grab the NFC West (and a first-round), it needs to win out and have the Seahawks lose their final two games, both at home. San Francisco can clinch the No. 5 overall seed in the NFC with wins in its final two games. Obviously, if Seattle also loses its two remaining games, the 49ers will earn a first-round bye in the postseason. Don’t hold your breath.

Arizona Cardinals: A loss next week to Seattle would clinch a playoff spot for the 49ers, but wouldn’t necessarily knock Arizona out of the playoffs. While San Francisco holds both the head-to-head tiebreaker and a better record in the division, Arizona holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Carolina Panthers, who are currently the No. 5 seed and will be hosting the New Orleans Saints next week. If Carolina and Arizona finish with the same record, the latter will earn a spot in the second season.

NFC North: What a cluster mess this is. By virtue of their 23-point second half comeback against Dallas on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers are in the mix for the division crown. At 7-6-1, they sit a half game behind the Chicago Bears, who also won on Sunday. If Baltimore beats Detroit tonight, Green Bay controls its own destiny in the NFC North. It hosts Pittsburgh in Week 16 before traveling to Soldier Field to take on Chicago in Week 17. Speaking of the Bears, they are in the drivers seat for the division crown, only if Detroit loses tonight. Considering that the Lions have beaten Marc Trestman’s squad twice this season, the Bears will have to finish with a better record to secure the division crown. A Lions win tonight, and they control their own destiny.

Carolina Panthers: Their win over the New York Jets didn’t do a whole heck of a lot on its own. With that said, the Saints loss was huge for Carolina’s AFC South hopes. If the Panthers win their final two games of the season, it would set up a tiebreaker scenario that only Stephen Hawking could draw up. Just for the sake of your own sanity, I will let the next two weeks play out before drawing up the possibilities there. Carolina is only one game ahead of the Cardinals for the final playoff spot and could possibly have to root for San Francisco to defeat Arizona in Week 17 to earn a postseason spot, despite the fact that it would be giving up the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. Again, we will get to that tipping point if it becomes an eventuality after next week.

 

Updated NFL Playoff Standings

American Football Conference

1. Denver Broncos (11-3)

2. New England Patriots (10-4)

3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-5)

4. Indianapolis Colts (9-5)

5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)

6. Miami Dolphins (8-6) or Baltimore (7-6)

 

National Football Conference

1. Seattle Seahawks (12-2)

2. New Orleans Saints (10-4)

3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)

4. Detroit Lions (8-6)

5. Carolina Panthers (10-4)

6. San Francisco 49ers (10-4)

 

If Playoffs started today….

AFC Wildcard (Bye: Denver and New England) 

Miami/Baltimore at Cincinnati

Kansas City at Indianapolis

 

NFC Wildcard (Bye: Seattle and New Orleans) 

San Francisco at Philadelphia

Carolina at Detroit

 

We will have full NFL Playoff clinching scenarios up for Week 16 prior to this upcoming weekend.