We’re through 10 weeks of the NFL season and have just one more round of bye weeks remaining, which makes it a pretty good time to starting thinking about the postseason. Here’s how the playoffs would look if the season ended today:
With the Steelers, Patriots and Chiefs firmly entrenched atop their divisions, the only division race that looks remotely competitive right now is the AFC South, where both the Jaguars and Titans sit at 6-3. Now I’m not going to say Jacksonville will finish 12-4 and perhaps bump someone out of a playoff bye, but look at the Jags’ remaining schedule: at Browns, at Cardinals, Colts, Seahawks, Texans, at 49ers, at Titans. Take away Seattle and the New Year’s Eve finale at Tennessee, and that’s a ghastly assortment of middling-to-bad NFL teams.
The Titans’ schedule isn’t all that much harder. After Thursday night’s game in Pittsburgh, Tennessee gets a four-game stretch featuring the Colts, Texans, Cardinals and 49ers. At this point it’s safe to say that the Jacksonville-Tennessee division loser will claim one of the AFC’s wild-card spots, leaving the Bills and just about everyone else in the AFC to battle for the last one.
AFC teams hanging around
Frankly, the only team that we can probably eliminate from the AFC playoff race is winless Cleveland. Everyone else is within 2 1/2 games of the Bills, currently holding down the final wild-card spot. But these three are closest.
Dolphins (4-5): Miami gets mentioned solely because of its record in what’s shaping up to be a soft AFC wild-card bubble. The Dolphins have lost three straight, two of them on the road by a combined score of 85-21. Miami also has the following teams remaining on its schedule: Patriots (twice), Bills (twice) and Chiefs. The outlook is bleak.
Raiders (4-5): Oakland also has a difficult slate remaining, starting with Sunday’s game against the Patriots in Mexico City and continuing with the Chiefs, Cowboys and Eagles down the line.
Ravens (4-5): Baltimore has lost 3 of 4, but the Ravens’ late bye week will have them rested up for a schedule that isn’t exactly taxing: Packers sans Aaron Rodgers, Texans, Lions, Steelers, Browns, Colts, Bengals.
Things are much more competitive in the NFC, where only the Eagles have at least a three-game lead atop their division. There’s also the fact that the NFC is just better this year:
NFC teams hanging around
Cowboys (5-4): Things didn’t go so great for Dallas in its first game with Ezekiel Elliott suspended, with a 20-point loss to the Falcons snapping a three-game winning streak. But the Cowboys’ next three games are at home, starting with Sunday night’s key battle against the Eagles. A loss wouldn’t mathematically end Dallas’s NFC East hopes, but it would make things exceedingly difficult both in terms of the division and the wild card.
Lions (5-4): Of Detroit’s remaining opponents, only the Vikings — whom the Lions already have beaten — would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
Packers (5-4): The injuries really are starting to pile up for Green Bay, even beyond Aaron Rodgers. Running backs Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery both departed Sunday’s win over the Bears, and quarterback Brett Hundley injured his hamstring. But if the Packers can cobble together some wins on a schedule that features teams such as the Ravens, Bucs and Browns over the next four weeks (plus the Steelers), could Green Bay be primed to make a push should Rodgers return from his broken collarbone in December?
Falcons (5-4): Not to get too Fancy Stats on you, but here’s something that could portend good news for Atlanta. The Falcons currently lead the league in net yards per play, as their offense is gaining 1.1 yards per play more than their defense is allowing. The last team to lead the NFL in net yards per play and not make the playoffs was the 2010 Chargers. But man, that remaining schedule: at Seattle on Monday night, home against Minnesota on Dec. 3, two games against New Orleans, season finale against the Panthers.
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