I am spoiled from the previous two seasons’ playoff pictures at the Week Sixteen mark. In those years, 7-7 teams where on the outside of the bracket looking in with chances ranging in legitimacy ranging between inevitability and Tim Tebow starting another NFL game. Don’t get me wrong . . . there’s some intrigue to be had in 2015, but most of it is hoping that teams in the NFC East and AFC South actually emerge with winning records (which I’m happy to report, the NFC East has clinched that at least an 8-8 team will represent them in the tournament). But there are so few teams in the hunt and those still in it aren’t looking too promising.
In the AFC, the New York Jets were once riding high holding a Wild Card slot based on tie-breakers over the Pittsburgh Steelers. But then, based on conference record improvement, the Steelers changed places with them while the Kansas City Chiefs have ridden an eight game win streak for ascension into the 5th seed. The lesser NFC equivalent to this is the Atlanta Falcons who are two games back with as many games remaining on the schedule riding a losing streak of seven of the past nine.
To add to the grim scenario of playoff failure for both franchises, the Jets and Falcons both have the top teams in their respective conferences blocking the road to potential. Next week, the Jets host the Patriots while the Falcons head to Carolina and battle the undefeated Panthers who shut them out 38-0 in Atlanta. In short, there is one team on the bubble in either conference and they need help by the helmet-full. The way I see it, the way these teams best prepare for the final 2015 games is to dust off their copy of the movie, Little Giants:
Bengals v. Broncos
I circled this game on my calendar weeks ago. These teams are among the top in the AFC and are competing for the still unclinched 2nd Playoff Bye. And now, they are on a collision course for one another with back-ups at the quarterback position. Denver’s Brock Osweiler has larger sample size to draw from with his stepping in for the injured Peyton Manning to hand the Pats their first 2015 loss. Since then, he’s 2-2 as a game manger including a loss to the Steelers which serves as a metaphor for Osweiler’s debut at the top of the Depth Chart. A strong start in the first half with him falling short in the back half leaving his stock breaking even so far.
Complicating the comparison further, Cincinnati’s AJ McCarron is a larger mystery. Filling in for Andy Dalton after a broken thumb, McCarron has a two-game resume’ where he was forced to debut against the solid Steelers squad and then followed that up facing flaccid 49er football. 1-1 himself, it’s hard to say who is better off at the position, but the supporting cast for the Broncos seems to be more extensive on both sides of the ball.
Redskins v. Eagles
This game is the de facto championship for the NFC (L)East. For a division whose football is so bad, we seem unable to look away from like a bad reality TV show. All the contestants are goofy, but one who watches the race HAS to know how it ends. I picture Jeff Probst waiting in the locker room of the losing team this game saying this:
With the way the Eagles defensive has been playing and the manner which Washington has somehow survived in close games, apparently Kirk Cousins will win the right for a first round exit from the postseason. “You like that?”
Giants v. Vikings
The Giants remain the most unpredictable team in the NFC, if not the entire league. What’s being lost in all the coverage in last week’s loss to the undefeated Carolina Panthers and the surrounding focus on Odell Beckham Jr. versus Josh Norman as a battle within the contest is that New York managed to put up 35 points on the Panther defense. It’s that fact that will help Coach Tom Coughlin motivate his boys in blue to play spoiler for the Minnesota Vikings. The problem is that Beckham as their top offensive weapon is suspended for Sunday’s match.
On top of that, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is getting hot coming off of a 85% completion performance against the Bears last week. With Big Blue sporting one of the worst passing defenses in the league, one might ask if this group is ready for Teddy. Combine that with Adrian Peterson running the football, perhaps stopping Bridgewater will be water under the bridge should AP put on a display in the ground game.
The only thing we know for sure is in order to guarantee that Week Seventeen becomes the de facto NFC North Championship for the Vikings facing the Packers, Minnesota must slay the Giants. I see that happening regardless of whether Eli Manning keeps mistakes to a minimum or not.
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