Will a .500 Team Reach the AFC Playoffs?
WILL A .500 TEAM REACH THE AFC PLAYOFFS?
Losses this past week by the NY Jets, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns, and Tennessee Titans increased the chances that a record as poor as 8-8 (or worse!) could reach the postseason in the AFC. That sets up a complicated stretch run that will have everyone but Jacksonville and Houston technically in “must win” situations because of legitimate playoff contention.
The Buffalo Bills may be 4-7, but they’re not out of it yet! If they go 4-1 after their upcoming bye week, they’re sitting right at the magic .500 mark.
Let’s run through the Wildcard standings heading into the new NFL weekend. First, remember that the first five playoff spots are virtually wrapped up. We’re looking at New England, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis in control of the AFC East, North, and South respectively. The West will get two spots for Denver and Kansas City…a pair of 9-1 teams that might possibly be able to reach the postseason if they forfeited the rest of their games! All of these teams are fighting for the #6 seed.
THE RACE FOR #6
NY Jets 5-5
San Diego 4-6
Parity may be good business, but this is ridiculous!
To reach 9-7, the two .500 teams have to go 4-2 the rest of the way…one with a rookie quarterback who struggles on the road, and the other with a behind-the-scenes soap opera that could provide an even bigger distraction as each game becomes more important.
To reach 9-7, any of the six .400 teams would have to go 5-1 the rest of the way. It’s possible to “get hot” down the stretch if things break just right. But, that’s a HUGE leap from playing .400 caliber ball to becoming a juggernaut. You have to catch some breaks in close games, and hope you run into gift games in the last few weeks against opponents who have already been eliminated.
If either the Jets or Dolphins can catch fire, everything else becomes moot. So, let’s take a look at what’s left for those two teams. The good news for that couplet is that they play each other twice in the last six weeks. Somebody’s got to win those games! If either team sweeps, they would put up a mark that would be tough to catch from behind.
NY Jets: at Baltimore, vs. Miami, vs. Oakland, at Carolina, vs. Cleveland, at Miami.
Miami: vs. Carolina, at NY Jets, at Pittsburgh, vs. New England, at Buffalo, vs. NY Jets
Both teams are currently positioned to control their own destiny. The Jets can stick losses on Baltimore, Miami, Oakland and Cleveland in a way that would knock hangers-on off the ledge. Miami can do the same to the Jets, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. Both teams draw Carolina…a quality team that will be fighting for playoff position over in the NFC. Both teams are split 3-3 in home games and road games. Miami has the tougher slate because they still have to play New England while the Jets have finished up that series for 2013.
There’s not much point in running the schedules for everybody because teams will be falling by the wayside in short order. We would suggest that the following factors will matter most:
*Veteran quarterbacks: that favors Pittsburgh, Baltimore and San Diego…who are all led by men who have reached the postseason. Ryan Fitzpatrick of Tennessee is also a veteran, but not in the class of Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, and Philip Rivers in terms of crunch time experience.
*Strong defenses: Cleveland, the NY Jets, and Tennessee are all in the top 10 in yards-per-game defense. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are in the upper half, and have a history for being stingy down the stretch.
Using those guidelines, Pittsburgh and Baltimore probably deserve a slight nod as teams most likely to make a serious run at the final spot. But, if they were performing like playoff caliber teams, they wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with!
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Back with you in the NOTEBOOK Wednesday for more sports talk. Here’s this week’s big game preview schedule:
Thursday: New Orleans at Atlanta on the NFL Network
Friday: early look at Texas A&M at LSU for Saturday’s CBS telecast
Saturday: coverage of the prime time thriller matching Baylor and Oklahoma State on ABC
Sunday: Denver at New England on NBC (Manning vs. Brady!)
Monday: San Francisco at Washington on ESPN’s Monday Night Football
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