Through out this Pandemic the NFL has for the most part found a way to finesse their way through the season. Despite not adopting a Bubble method that many thought was required, the league has managed to pass the halfway point relatively unscathed. There have been a couple scares along the way, most notably the Titans early on, but to this point no games have been cancelled. Even with the success so far, the league’s owners unanimously approved a contingency plan to expand the playoffs, should COVID increasingly get worse and affect the NFL season.
Not to get lost in all of this was an additional new rule that incentivizes the develop of coaches and executives of colour. Better late than never for the league as this is finally being addressed after numerous campaigns for social change by players from across the league. I love that this new rule was announced the same week that Mike Tomlin made NFL history, tying the league record for most consecutive non-losing seasons to start his career. Let’s just remember Mason Rudolph was his Quarter Back (QB) last season.
Tomlin tangent aside, let’s get back to the playoffs! One thing to remember is that this is a contingency plan that would only take place if the NFL is forced to cancel games. The league has already announced a possible Week 18 in the case of cancelled or rescheduled games, so this is really a back up, back up plan. With the NFL adding a potential eighth seed to each conference, which teams and fanbase stand to benefit the most?
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
Starting at the top, the Steelers and Chiefs are pretty safe bets to either win their division or finish at worst as the fifth or sixth seed Wild Card. The Bills are a tier below but very close to being in that same conversation. Their remaining Strength of Schedule (S.O.S) ranks middle of the pack in the AFC but their 4-0 divisional record gives them the tie breakers in most situations right now. The AFC South will likely come down to the wire with the Titans having a slightly easier path to the division title over the Colts. These two play each other twice in the next three weeks, and a sweep would put one team in the driver seat. The other will find themselves in a tight Wild Card race. Finally, the Ravens AFC North title hopes are slim with an 0-2 record against the Steelers, but they should be a lock for a top Wild Card spot.
On the flip side, the only two teams that are realistically out of contention are the Jets and the Jaguars. The Bengals, Texans and Chargers are all hanging on by a thread and will need to string together a couple victories fast. The Bengals fortunately have a trip through the NFC East on deck, however they also have three divisional matchups left, including two against the undefeated Steelers. Their Week 16 matchup against the Texans could be a crucial one if these two teams can catch up to the pack. The Chargers have no one to blame but themselves after back to back heartbreakers on the final plays. The team finds themselves in a serious hole with a severely damaged shovel.
The Pats and Broncos are in a weird purgatory, they still have a chance but they feel more like pretenders than contenders. The Patriots fall from grace has been well documented but it would be foolish to ever count out Bill. Their relatively easy remaining schedule is a glimmer of hope, but hope is dimming fast in New England. The Broncos have stolen back to back wins from the grips of defeat. Drew Lock has this team in contention but they have the toughest remaining S.O.S with multiple key matchups, starting with back to back games against the Raiders and Dolphins.
As it stands, the race for the seventh and final Wild Card spot is going to be an all out sprint between the Dolphins, Browns and Raiders. They have the three easiest remaining schedules in the Conference, and the Week 16 matchup between the Dolphins and Raiders could very well decide who makes the playoffs. Interestingly enough these are the favourite teams of Peeze and Duke respectively, so a lot will be on the line in the Hot Sauce world as well!
Suffice to say that an additional playoff spot would greatly benefit the loser of the Dolphins/Raiders matchup. The Browns are the Browns so they will inevitable screw it up; probably by losing to the Jets. The Chargers have a chance to be a Dark Horse, especially considering their toughest matchup on paper is Week 17 against the Chiefs who will likely be sitting a couple starters.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
The NFC is a bit more clustered at the top and bottom with a clear middle pack of teams. Ironically these clusters tend to be separated by division with the NFC West exercising it’s dominance over the Conference. The NFC North and South are sprinkled through out the middle part of this division, competitively fighting it out for a playoff spot. The NFC East however, is making a case for the NFL to promote the CFL’s West division in it’s place.
The Seahawks, Packers and Saints all lead their divisions, but none hold a secure lead in their division. Out West the Seahawks are being chased by the Cardinals, Rams and 49ers all of whom have a legit shot at the division title and/or a Wild Card spot. The Saints and Buccs will likely go down to the wire, but the Saints hold the tie-breaker. With that being said, Tompa Bay looks to be a lock for a Wild Card spot despite their difficult remaining S.O.S. with games against the Panthers and Falcons (twice). In the North, despite holding just a one game lead (with a game in hand) in the division, it’s undoubtedly Green Bay’s to lose.
The NFC East deserves little to no recognition in the playoff race other than the fact that the division winner is entitled to the fourth spot in the Conference. With a matchup against the Giants this week, the Eagles should be able to take a “commanding” lead in the division. The Cowboys are the only team I will give a chance to catch the Eagles. They have the easiest remaining S.O.S in the league that includes a crucial Week 16 matchup against the aforementioned Eagles that could potentially decide the division.
Things really start to get interesting when discussing the final (two) Wild Card spots. If the season ended today, the Buccs, Cards and Rams would make the playoffs and the Bears would only get in by virtue of the eighth playoff seed. With the exception of the Buccs all of these teams have five wins on the season, with six teams within two games back. The Cards, Rams and 49ers are in tough situation with four inter-division matchups between the three which will cause the division to self-cannibalizes. This should come as no surprise as all three of these teams have some of the hardest remaining schedules in the Conference.
The Panthers and Falcons have both had up and down moments this season, but again, they both feel more like pretenders. The Falcons are much better than their record shows, but with the most difficult remaining schedule in the Conference, it is likely too little, too late. The Panthers put on a show against the Chiefs last week and it is clear the difference McCaffrey can make. They have a chance, but a lot will need to go right for the Panthers to be in the conversation for a Wild Card spot.
As for the remaining NFC North teams in contention, this weeks matchup between the Bears and Vikings at Soldier field will be crucial for both sides. The two teams have had polar opposite seasons, the Bears starting 4-1 to the Vikings 1-5 with both changing courses over the last few weeks. The Vikings recent (and maybe not so recent) history at Soldier field is ugly and a loss to their division foe would put a serious road block in the teams quest for a Wild Card spot. The Lions have a slightly harder remaining S.O.S. but they do have a path to the playoffs. They will however, need to run the table in the North as they currently hold an 0-3 divisional record.
All in all, an additional playoff spot would likely benefit one of the three NFC West teams or the loser of the Bears/Vikings seasonal matchup. With or without this additional Wild Card spot, the NFC will be a Royal Rumble to the finish.
Most importantly, whether or not your team makes it as the eighth seed in the Conference, we are all winners if the NFL adds two playoff teams. Why? Because adding two more teams will be two additional teams that should be in the playoffs over the NFC East division winner.
As always, don’t forget to check out our podcasts! Tune in for this weeks upcoming episode of the Podcast as Peeze, Terry and Eagle will be sitting down with Brandon Keiller and Andrew Pace from inplayLIVE to discuss a different angle to Sports Gambling. This week on Weekly Sauce, Alex the Intern and Terry will be talking with Andrew Zadarnowski from Habs Eye On The Prize to discuss all things Habs, hockey and more!
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