There are three weeks left in the season and no one has clinched a playoff spot. That could change with the games coming up this weekend. Here are the latest playoff clinching scenarios that you can keep track of while you watch the games over the weekend.
MUST WATCH GAMES
Cardinals at Rams
The Rams are surprisingly decent. They have posted back-to-back shutouts and held the Broncos to 7 points. If it was not for a three point loss at San Diego, this would be a team in the middle of the playoff chase and would be a team no one would want to face in Round 1.
As for the Cardinals, right now they are the NFC 1 seed, but with their final three games against divisional foes they could end up playing on the road in the playoffs or even missing the playoffs all together.
Such a shame for the Cardinals because they have a playoff caliber defense. If only their quarterback play was of the same quality. Losing quarterback Carson Palmer to a knee injury has put their playoff hopes and Super Bowl aspirations in jeopardy.
Leading up to Sunday's game at Washington, the Rams went to the coin toss with the players they got in the trade for quarterback Robert Griffin III. While that was some trolling by head coach Jeff Fisher, it should be noted that Rams have been mired in mediocrity over the past few seasons. The Rams could finish with a better record than the NFC South division champion, but like in previous seasons will miss the playoffs.
Bengals at Browns
Late Monday Night it was rumored that the Johnny Manziel era in Cleveland has begun.
And there went the Browns' playoff hopes.
Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer has played well, but in the last four games Hoyer has completed 75 passes on 151 attempts for 984 yards and 1 touchdown versus 8 interceptions resulting in a 1-3 record.
The Browns would eventually have to see Manziel play in a regular season game.
As for the other Ohio based football team, the Bengals currently lead the division but face a difficult closing stretch. Their home finale in Week 16 could determine if the Bengals get a bye week or not when the Broncos come to town for the Monday Night game and then the Week 17 finale at Pittsburgh could determine who wins the AFC North.
Texans at Colts
At the beginning of the season I said the Texans would win 6 games and sure enough they have won 7 games.
Unfortunately for Houston they will not make the playoffs.
The Colts are looking playoff ready with their win over a feisty Browns team. T.Y. Hilton was a no-show in the first half, but came to life in the second half catching 10 passes for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns.
I should also point out that when these two teams last met in Houston back in October, Hilton was targeted 9 times in the Colts 33-28 win and caught 9 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. In the previous five games against Houston, Hilton has caught 31 passes for 611 yards and 6 touchdowns.
And I have Hilton on my fantasy team.
Dolphins at Patriots/Broncos at Chargers
Panic has set in Denver.
Peyton Manning did not throw a touchdown pass in the Broncos win over the Bills last Sunday. Manning's streak ended at 51 games.
The Broncos have discovered they do have a running game with C.J. Anderson who rushed for 58 yards and 3 touchdowns in Denver's 24-17 win against the Bills.
The Chargers suffered a blow to their playoff chances with their loss to the Patriots. They aren't out of it yet, but losing to Denver will make the Chargers' chances of making a return to the playoffs very dim. A Broncos win would give Denver their third consecutive AFC West title in the Peyton Manning era and their fourth AFC West crown since 2011.
Because CBS has single header coverage this weekend, the Dolphins at Patriots game will not air in Denver so Broncos fans watch the game and cheer for the Dolphins in the hopes that Patriots lose the inside track for the AFC #1 seed (unless you have DirecTV or… an online live stream which I do not recommend to access… wink wink nudge nudge say no more). It is hard to believe that the Dolphins upset the Patriots in Week 1, but it happened. With a win, the Patriots will win their sixth straight AFC East title. New England has won the AFC East 11 times since 2000. The other teams that have won the division in this time period? The Jets once in 2002 and the Dolphins twice in 2000 and 2008.
49ers at Seahawks/Cowboys at Eagles
Anyone getting a feeling of déjà vu?
Both these games happened on Thanksgiving Day and much has happened in 18 days since.
On Thanksgiving Day the Seahawks defeated the 49ers in
Northern California 19-3. Meanwhile in Dallas Arlington, the Eagles ran
roughshod over the Cowboys 33-10.
The Cowboys responded by defeating the Bears in Chicago 41-28. Dallas led at one point by 28 due to running back DeMarco Murray rushing for 179 yards and a touchdown along with Tony Romo's 3 touchdown passes. Murray is 394 yards away from passing the 2,000 yard mark and would need 500 yards to break Eric Dickerson's 2,105 yard rushing mark set in 1984.
I think the Cowboys are more concerned about making the playoffs than trying to set records. Dallas can make the playoffs if they win their final three games. Finishing 11-5 or 10-6 would require some help in order to make the playoffs. Dallas could finish with a better record than the NFC South champion and miss the playoffs.
The 49ers damaged their playoff chances with a loss to the Oakland Raiders. If San Francisco is to make the playoffs they need to win this game at Seattle and their final two home games against the Chargers and Cardinals, both teams are jockeying for the playoffs as well.
The Seahawks and Eagles met last Sunday in Philadelphia. Seattle's defense played championship caliber on Sunday forcing two turnovers and holding the Eagles offense to 139 yards and 14 points. The most important statistic is the Seahawks offense was on the field for 41:56 compared to the Eagles offense being on the field for 18:04.
The 49ers have a difficult task at hand. San Francisco is currently on three game losing streak when playing at Seattle including last year's NFC Championship Game. The 49ers recent playoff run might end and may result in the team parting ways with Harbaugh.
Steelers at Falcons/Saints at Bears
The NFC South race is featured in these two games. The Steelers and Falcons play in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon while the Saints travel to Chicago to play the Bears on Monday Night.
As I have observed in previous posts, this division is a dumpster fire and could become a tire fire if a below .500 team wins the division. Per the NFL playoff rules, a division champion gets to host a playoff game. So consider these scenarios:
1) Green Bay, which recently beat Atlanta in the regular season, could finish 12-4 and have to travel to the 6-10 Falcons. Meanwhile, the NFC East runner up could finish with 11 wins and miss the playoffs.
2) Dallas, which beat the Saints in the regular season, could finish 11-5 and have to travel to the 7-9 Saints. Meanwhile, a 10-win Packers team could miss the playoffs.
3) Detroit beat the Saints, but could finish 11-5 and have to travel to the 7-9 Saints in the playoffs. Meanwhile, just like last year, Arizona wins 10 games but misses out on the playoffs.
(NOTE: These scenarios are based on some unlikely outcomes, but anything can happen in the NFL.)
Besides the NFC South teams in these games, the Bears were eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to Dallas and when the Lions beat the Buccaneers. From this point on the Bears are playing out their schedule with games against the Saints, Lions, and Vikings.
The Steelers appear to be the favorite to win their division. Pittsburgh proved they can play with division leaders Indianapolis and Cincinnati, but they have had some bizarre losses. Tampa and the Jets (both 2-11). The Saints (5-8, but they have Drew Brees). While Atlanta is 5-8, they are leading the NFC South, but as shown in Monday's game at Green Bay the combination of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones cannot be ignored. If the Steelers are to improve their playoff chances, they need to get the ball to running back Le'Veon Bell early and often (and I have him on my fantasy team).
And now the picks.
Kickoff times are mountain time, games airing in Denver are noted by (DEN), and picks are in BOLD.
THURSDAY NIGHT, NFL 6:15 PM
Cardinals at Rams
Packers at Bills (DEN)
Bengals at Browns
Buccaneers at Panthers
Washington at Giants
Dolphins at Patriots
Jaguars at Ravens
Raiders at Chiefs
Steelers at Falcons
Texans at Colts
49ers at Seahawks (DEN)
Vikings at Lions
Broncos at Chargers (DEN)
Jets at Titans
SUNDAY NIGHT, NBC 6:15 PM
Cowboys at Eagles
MONDAY NIGHT, ESPN 6:15 PM
Saints at Bears