Written by Pat Pryor, @PryorNFL
Once again we’ll start off with some playoff scenarios, courtesy of @NFLScenarios on Twitter.
Green Bay can clinch a playoff spot with a win, and a Cardinals loss or Seahawks win. They can also take the NFC North with a win and a Vikings loss.
New Orleans has a playoff spot and can clinch the division with a win, or just a Tampa Bay loss.
Pittsburgh clinches a playoff spot with a win, or if the Dolphins, Raiders, or Titans lose. They can also clinch the division with a win, and a loss by the Browns.
Kansas City can clinch the AFC West with a win, or a Las Vegas loss.
Houston and Denver can eliminate themselves with losses and are the only teams in the position to get knocked out without help.
Quick draft order notice:
If Cincinnati tops Dallas, they’ll move down the fourth overall pick, and Dallas would move to the third.
Los Angeles Rams 38, Arizona Cardinals 28
Thursday Night Score: Rams 24, Patriots 3
The Rams have essentially taken the Cardinals out of the race for the West, and for now, the playoffs as Arizona has lost four of their last five. With a game against the hot Giants coming off an upset victory, they may soon be looking in from further outside when it comes to the playoffs. After a dominating win over the Patriots on Thursday, the Rams hold a safe lead over the division for at least this week, thanks to their Week 10 win over the Seahawks. Given their upcoming schedules, it’s more likely than not that the division comes down to the better record rather than a tiebreaker, so these two wins are huge for the Rams.
Baltimore Ravens 34, Dallas Cowboys 17
I’ll admit it. I was wrong on this one. I thought the Cowboys would enter with Washington and New York coming off losses, looking to take the division in a week. Instead, both the Giants and Football Team pulled off enormous upsets and unofficially knocked the Cowboys out of the division race. The Ravens came off a rough few weeks to simply dominate in the run game and put up 294 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. They can’t fight back into the playoff picture this week, but they keep their season alive for now.
Cleveland Browns 41, Tennessee Titans 35
It looked to be a runaway early in Tennessee, but the Titans managed to make the game much closer, despite falling short in the end. The Browns have essentially cemented themselves into second place in the North and would need quite a bit of work to get knocked out of the playoffs. If it comes down to tiebreakers, they now have head to head wins against both the Colts and Titans. Their biggest rival for the 5 seed is the Dolphins, who have a tough matchup against the Chiefs this weekend. The Titans still hold onto the South, but are once again just ahead by percentage versus the division, and can’t afford a loss down the line.
Now let’s take a look at some games coming up this week.
Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5), Sunday 1:00 PM
The Buccaneers started strong, at 6-2 and in contention for the division. Over their past four games, they’ve lost three games and been outscored 115-55. Tom Brady has struggled, with 8 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, but has also been stuck with a defense that hasn’t stopped a team from scoring less than 20 points since Week 6. The Vikings, on the other hand, have revived their season after starting 1-5. Since their bye-week, they’ve flipped the script and gone 5-1. They are now in the heated wildcard race in the NFC, and would immediately take the 6th seed from the Bucs with a win this week. A loss is not the end for the Buccaneers, as they face the Falcons twice and the Lions in their final stretch. However, it would still put a reasonable amount of pressure on them to play at their top for their last three games. The Cardinals are also looking for a Tampa Bay victory, as that would provide them a much-needed push to get back in the picture. This game could end up being a tiebreaker for as high as the fifth seed, or simply end the playoff hopes of several different teams.
Indianapolis Colts (8-4) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-5), Sunday 4:05
Both of these teams are among the most mysterious in the league. The Raiders beat the ever-powerful Chiefs but barely won on a miracle against the Jets. The Colts lost to the Jaguars but beat the Packers in OT. The immediate ramifications are simple: whichever team comes out on top will hold the seventh seed, and the other will currently be out of the playoffs. In the long term, it’s still rather simple. Both teams are projected to win two of their final three games, and they each have one tough matchup. The Raiders face off against Miami, and the Colts challenge the Steelers. If the Colts win this game, they’ll have at least a one-game lead and shouldn’t have to worry about their game in Pittsburgh when it comes down to securing a spot above the Raiders. The Raiders will be playing for a chance to stay in the competition, and it’s just a fact that this game will have an effect come postseason time.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) at Buffalo Bills (9-3), Sunday 8:20 PM
The Steelers are coming off possibly the biggest upset loss possible, losing to the Washington Football Team, while the Bills have been quietly dominating, going 5-1 over their past six games. Just two weeks ago, it looked like the Steelers would stay at number one in the AFC throughout the season, and could even afford a loss with a conference percentage tiebreaker over the Chiefs. However, they now face the Bills in Buffalo, and Kansas City visits the Dolphins. While Miami has certainly been a good opponent, they are still an uncertain team, losing to the Broncos just three weeks ago. If the Chiefs win, the Steelers must win on Sunday Night Football to stay ahead in the AFC. Not only will this affect home-field advantage, but this year also marks the first where the number two seed will not receive a first-round bye. A Bill’s win would give them a commanding lead in the division and would provide the Chiefs just enough of an opening to take the conference, and have a bye week and home-field advantage throughout.