Written by and Graphic by Pat Pryor, @PryorGraphics
The first few weeks of the NFL season contain a lot of outliers, especially when it comes to standings. But as division ranks get set further, it’s beneficial to keep up with how this week will affect the playoff picture. Here are your top three games that can make a splash on the final standings:
Cleveland Browns(4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers(4-0), Sunday 1:00 PM
The AFC North is by far the hottest division in the AFC, and probably the entire league. They have 3 four-win teams, no other division in the conference even has 2. With a win against the Eagles, the Ravens are not able to fall behind the Browns. However, if they can’t win in Philly, this Sunday’s AFC North match becomes much more important. Whoever wins will have sole leadership of the division. Pittsburgh can have head to head wins against each division team by week 10, but Cleveland has already dropped a game against the Ravens. While they beat the Bengals in Week 2, they risk heading into the week 7 rematch 1-2 against the division. It’s too early to call any games “must-win”, but the Browns know they can be in a bad situation if they don’t come out victorious this weekend. If Pittsburgh wins, they’ll have a good lead in the division, but putting the Browns at 4-2 makes second place anyone’s game, even the 1-3-1 Bengals.
Green Bay Packers (4-0)), at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2), Sunday 4:25 PM
Brady on his new team, up against the new-look Packers. This game is slated to be an instant classic and contains a lot of hidden blowback on the standings. With the Saints on their bye, a Buccaneers win puts them at number 1 in the South. If the Panthers win too, the Saints drop to third, with no way to fight back. If the Buccaneers lose, however, the Panthers can be number 1 in the South with a win. As for the Saints, a week 7 loss would put them at 3-3, and in dangerous reach of joining the ranks of the Falcons, with no shot at the division. The Packers can also go down to second in their division if the aforementioned Panthers instead lose against the Bears. If both Carolina and Tampa Bay lose, the Saints stay on as the only team in the division above .500. In that scenario, the North’s Packers and Bears would stay 1 and 2 in the division, distancing themselves even further from the current 1-win Lions and Vikings.
Kansas City Chiefs(4-1) at Buffalo Bills(4-0), Monday 5:00 PM
This game actually can’t affect the standings this week, but could possibly end up deciding the 1 and 2 seeds in the AFC. The Bills will stay on top of the East this week, but a loss to the Jets next week puts the Patriots in a position to take it during their week 8 matchup if New England can win their next two. However, if Buffalo can stop Mahomes and his number of weapons, the Patriots would have to wait several weeks to make moves for first. In the West, if the Raiders and Chiefs have the same record at any point, the Raiders will be ahead thanks to a huge head to head win last week. If they can do the same in their week 11 rematch it creates a discussion about whether or not they’ll be able to secure the AFC West. This could be the biggest game all season that actually won’t affect current standings, and it should be a great one.
Next week, these games will be recapped with a look towards the future, along with three Week 7 games to keep your eye on!