One of the most unpredictable weeks of the 2017 season left the NFL with new leaders for both conferences and the prospect for three massive Week 15 showdowns. Let’s take a closer look at the current playoff picture, as one game with AFC East implications remains to be played on Monday night between the Patriots and Dolphins.
A wild victory Sunday night over the Ravens allowed the Steelers to clinch the AFC North and grab a temporary half-game lead for the top seed in the conference, pending Monday’s game between the Patriots and Dolphins. Should the Dolphins win, the Steelers could clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory next week over the Patriots at Heinz Field.
Before they start worrying about the Steelers, the Patriots will focus on finishing out Week 14. A victory on Monday night in Miami would clinch the AFC East (while also allowing them to keep pace with the Steelers). Stay tuned.
An impressive victory over the Seahawks, combined with the Titans’ loss to the Cardinals, have returned the Jaguars to the AFC South lead. It’s the latest point of the season they’ve been atop the division since 2009, and they’re five games above .500 for the first time since 2007. But unless the Titans collapse, there isn’t an obvious tie-breaking path to clinching the division before the teams’ Week 17 showdown.
If the Chiefs have stopped the bleeding, it couldn’t have come at a better time. They ended a four-game losing streak Sunday, essentially putting two games between themselves and the Raiders. Kansas City can cement its head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chargers with a victory over L.A. next week at Arrowhead Stadium. Long story short: Despite a massive midseason slump, the Chiefs remain in total control of the division and thus their spot in the playoffs.
The Titans trail the Jaguars but could still clinch the division title by winning out. (They would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.) We’ll see if quarterback Marcus Mariota‘s knee injury will hamper that push. They also have a tough schedule, facing the resurgent 49ers in Week 15 and the Rams in Week 16. But they still hold a strong advantage in the wild-card race.
Even after losing a fourth-quarter lead in Pittsburgh, the Ravens are clinging to the AFC’s final wild-card spot. For now, at least, they come out ahead in a three-way tiebreaker with the Chargers and Bills thanks to a better record in common games. Fortunately for the Ravens, however, their remaining games are against the Browns (0-13), the Colts (3-10) and Bengals (5-8).
Has a division title ever felt emptier? The Eagles clinched the NFC East and regained control for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with Sunday’s 43-35 victory over the Rams. But projections for the rest of their season must be re-calibrated to having Nick Foles replace quarterback Carson Wentz, who is feared to have suffered a torn left ACL. The Eagles might well be able to hold to the NFC’s top seed. Their remaining games are against the Giants (2-11), Raiders (6-7) and Cowboys (7-6). But it’s difficult to envision Foles leading them to the Super Bowl.
Their eight-game winning streak ended at Carolina, and they suffered a handful of injuries to be monitored. But the Vikings might have emerged from Week 14 as the team to beat in the NFC. The Eagles’ post-Wentz future is cloudy at best, and already the Vikings have defeated the Saints and Rams. The Vikings will have another, and more likely, chance to clinch the NFC North by defeating the Bengals at home next week. (It would also happen if the Lions and Packers both lose.) It’s possible the Vikings could pass the Eagles outright. If not, they still have a chance to clinch either the conference record or strength of victory tiebreaker.
The Rams missed on a chance to lessen the pressure on their Week 15 matchup with the Seahawks. Sunday’s loss to the Eagles means that the winner of next week’s game will hold the division lead with two games to play. The Rams would lead by virtue of record, but the Seahawks would win the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Rams would still be in decent shape for a wild-card spot. FPI is giving them an 85 percent chance of making the playoffs, one way or the other.
Even after last Thursday’s loss to the Falcons and the Panthers’ victory over the Vikings on Sunday, the Saints are atop the division because of the head-to-head tiebreaker with Carolina. They might need to win out in order to win the NFC South, but their schedule is favorable for it. They’ll host the Jets, and possibly backup quarterback Bryce Petty, on extra rest. They’ll follow with the Falcons and finish up with the 4-8 Buccaneers.
The Panthers won the first game of a three-week homestand on Sunday, closing their gap with the Saints and remaining ahead of the Falcons. Their goal should be to make the Week 17 game against the Falcons irrelevant.
The Seahawks’ loss to the Jaguars allowed the Falcons to jump back into the No. 6 spot. As that position remains in play, it’s worth noting the Falcons hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Seahawks, Packers, Lions and Cowboys. That gives them a great chance to reach the postseason, even if the can’t overcome the Saints and Panthers. That’s presuming they keep winning, of course. They’ve won five of their past seven.