We have come to a breaking point in the NFL season where critical wins, or losses, could be the difference between making the playoffs, or sitting on your couch wrapped up in your favorite snuggie with a bowl of popcorn and watching them.
There is no question that certain teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, and Arizona Cardinals need a lot of help to make the playoffs, while division titles in the NFC West, and AFC East and others could be secured this week.
1. Denver Broncos (11-3): AFC West leader*
2. New England Patriots (10-4): AFC East leader
3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-5): AFC North leader
4. Indianapolis Colts (9-5): AFC South leader *
5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3): Wild card*
6. Baltimore Ravens (8-6): Wild card
In the Hunt: Miami Dolphins (8-6), San Diego Chargers (7-7), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8)
* Denotes team has clinched a playoff berth
Denver can clinch the AFC West and a first-round bye with a victory on the road against the Houston Texans, accompanied by a loss from the Kansas City Chiefs, who hold an identical record at 11-3, but face a tougher test as they host the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts have already clinched the AFC South with basically no competition in their own division, and it looks they will be the host of the first-round of the playoffs….even though they will have less wins than the team they will face.
New England will win the AFC East for the 9th time in 10 years if they are able to defeat the Baltimore Ravens on the road, or if the Dolphins lose or tie. The Pats can also clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs with a victory, and a loss from Cincinnati and Indianapolis. New England would need some help in the next two weeks if they have any chance at home-field advantage.
The AFC North is somehow still up for grabs, even with the poor start from the Ravens as the Bengals can clinch the title with a win and a Ravens loss or tie.
The Ravens will clinch a playoff spot with a win accompanied by a Miami loss and a San Diego loss. The Dolphins need some help, as they will clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win plus losses by Baltimore and Cincinnati.
With the Colts already clinched, the rest of the remaining divisions could crown a champion this week, but there will be playoff spots available in the final week of the season no matter the outcomes of this week’s games. With much help, Indianapolis even has a chance to acquire a first-round bye, but would need the Broncos and Pats to lose their next two games.
The Broncos and Chiefs could swap spots in the AFC West and the bearer of home-field advantage, depending on how the final two games play out, while the Bengals and Ravens are still fighting for the AFC North.
Behind all of this, the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers are doomed without wins, and even so, they need losses from both Miami and Baltimore to make up any ground in the standings.
If the Ravens end up winning and the Bengals lose, the final week of the season will set up a matchup between the two AFC North teams, with the winner claiming the title.
We will take a look at the NFC playoff picture next….