As Week 16 in the NFL approaches, the focus of the league is now solely on the postseason. With 2014 possibly becoming the last season before playoffs likely expand next year, teams are still fighting for the right to be one of the 12 teams who reach the postseason.
Here is how the playoff picture breaks down at the moment:
That looks nice and clean until you take a look at the teams who are still on the cusp of the playoffs, fighting for those last few coveted spots:
It’s messy, it’s heated and it will undoubtedly provide us with some amazing entertainment over the next few weeks. In preparation for the final playoff push, we have combined some of our predictions for the 2014 NFL Playoffs.
The AFC North Will Claim Three Seeds
The cards will have to fall perfectly, but it is very conceivable that the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers could all reach the postseason. While the last two games for the Bengals and Steelers are much more difficult than those laying ahead for the Ravens, much pressure relies on the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills.
Here are the games for those three teams on the outside looking in over the final two weeks of the season:
SD at San Francisco; SD at KC.
KC at Pittsburgh; KC vs. SD.
Buffalo at Oakland; Buffalo at New England.
For teams needing assistance to make the playoffs, the Chargers and Chiefs will face an incredibly tough last two games. For Buffalo, Oakland will likely be a walk through and the Patriots will likely be resting starters to end the season – so anything is possible.
In the AFC North, the Bengals face Denver and Pittsburgh, the Steelers face the Chiefs and Bengals, the Ravens face the Texans and Browns. While the seeding is likely to change, there is no reason we should be surprised seeing the AFC North represented by three teams when the playoffs begin in January.
This has been the toughest division in all of football, and all three teams are worthy of the postseason.
The Seattle Seahawks Will Win the NFC West
Since struggling early in the season, the Seattle Seahawks have gone on an impressive run winning their last four games. Sunday night will see an important match-up that could decide the fate of the NFC West as the Arizona Cardinals host the Seahawks.
While the Cardinals have managed to tread water after losing their starting quarterback as well as their backup, the play of the Seattle secondary will likely overmatch the dismembered Arizona offense. Playing the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers back to back will present a major issue for the Cardinals’ hopes of winning the West.
Arizona is currently residing as the top seed in the NFC, so the discussion of them possibly not winning their division seems to be a reach. However, the strong play from the Seahawks as of late means the likelihood is much greater than we may anticipate.
The Philadelphia Eagles Will Miss the Playoffs
How does a team just one game out of contention miss the playoffs altogether when they are facing the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants over the next two weeks? The answer doesn’t lie within the Philadelphia Eagles as it does the rest of the NFC.
Losing last week to the Dallas Cowboys took the Eagles out of control for their possible playoff berth. Like the Bills, Chargers and Chiefs in the AFC, Philadelphia is in need of some help from around the league in order to reach the postseason. Dallas will host Indianapolis and travel to the Washington (where Trent Green could be playing quarterback by then) – there is little doubt the Cowboys will win the NFC East.
That leaves the NFC Wild Card, and the Eagles will be fighting the Packers (10-4), Lions (10-4), Seahawks (10-4) and the Cardinals (11-3). Even with their incredibly easy remaining schedule, does anyone really expect the Eagles to overtake any of those four teams for a playoff spot?
The Denver Broncos Will Be One and Done
Since losing to the St. Louis Rams on November 16, the Denver Broncos have won four games in a row. For most teams (see Seattle above), that is reason enough for optimism. However, that is not quite the case with the Broncos. Over those four games, Denver’s offensive output has been slowly declining. Take a look at their points scored over the past four games:
Win over Miami: 39 points.
Win over KC: 29 points.
Win over BUF: 24 points.
Win over SD: 22 points.
For a team that is averaging 400.7 yards per game this season, their yardage total recently is a bit alarming as well – 450 yards, 388 yards, 306 yards, 337 yards. For other teams, that may not create a pause for concern, but in Denver it is a bit unusual. The different for the Broncos has been the strong play of their defense, which has bailed them out a few times over the past four weeks.
Concerns about Peyton Manning‘s health and the consistency of the Denver running attack are valid. If the Broncos continue to play the way they are at the moment, they could be in for an early playoff exit after their first round bye.
The Dallas Cowboys Will Make the NFC Championship Game
Question marks have come to head recently with the fluctuating health of DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo as well as suspect play at times from the Dallas defense. However, the Cowboys have shown that they can be an incredibly potent and dangerous team to play. The Cowboys’ win last week over the Eagles will be their launching pad into the playoffs, giving the team momentum at the end of the season – something they have been lacking for quite a few years.
With an improved offensive line, the Cowboys have crafted an incredibly efficient and effective offense. With Romo on pace to eclipse career highs in single-season completion percentage (69) and interceptions (8), the Cowboys have been built with the long-term goal in mind.
The Dallas defense has improved from 32nd in the league in the 2013 season to 22nd in 2015. They are far from being a shutdown defense, but they are doing exactly what needs to be done in order to keep winning – bending but not breaking. The defense, while still in need of upgrades, is strong enough to win a Super Bowl with at the moment.
They won’t beat the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game, but the Cowboys will finally take that big, elusive step forward.
Cover Photo: AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Jose Yau
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