With four games left until the postseason, it’s time for a bit of a history lesson as to what it takes to make the playoffs.
We have 10 seasons of history since the NFL’s division realignment into 8 groups of 4 teams each in 2002. That means there have been 80 division winners and 40 wild cards to make the playoffs during this time span.
A 10-6 record is usually sufficient to make the postseason. Since 2002, the 99 of 120 teams to make the playoffs have won at least 10 games. Only 6 teams with at least 10 wins failed to make it, the most glaring example being New England in 2008. That was the season Tom Brady was lost for the season in the opening game.
Matt Cassel took over, leading the Pats to a record of 11-5. They lost the AFC East title on tie breakers to Miami and also lost out on the wild card tiebreakers to Baltimore as both the Dolphins and Ravens were also 11-5. Indianapolis earned the top AFC wild card with its second place finish in the AFC South at 12-4.
A record of 9-7 has earned 15 teams a trip to the playoffs since 2002 and another 5 have played in the postseason with 8-8 records. And the final playoff berth of the 120 teams went to 7-9 Seattle two seasons ago when such a record was good enough to win what was then a pathetic NFC West.
Bottom line: Since 2002, some 80 percent of the playoff teams had at least 10 wins. Slightly more than 95 percent had at least 9 wins. These 10 season percentages are very much in line with the longer historical view that dates back to 1990 when the NFL expanded from 10 to 12 playoff teams.
Teams that have yet to lose their eighth game can still cling to hopes of making the playoffs. However, once a team loses that eighth game any realistic chance of making the playoffs is all but gone.
Such teams may often start to look towards the future and give younger and less experienced players substantial playing time down the stretch.
With four weeks remaining, a third of the playoff field has been determined. Four teams clinched playoff spots this past weekend. Three teams clinched division titles with Atlanta, Denver and New England garnering those honors. Each of those teams has at least a four game lead in their respective divisions.
Houston also clinched at least a wild card with a franchise record 11th win last week but second place Indianapolis is 8-4 and, at least in theory, can still catch and overtake the Texans for the AFC South title. It is unlikely although the Colts and Texans will meet twice in the season’s final two weeks.
The Colts do, however, control the top AFC Wild Card with both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati tied for the second. Baltimore leads both the Steelers and Bengals by two games in the AFC North.
Depending on Monday night’s result, the New York Giants will have either a one or two game lead in the NFC East. Chicago and Green Bay are tied atop the NFC Central and San Francisco leads Seattle by a game and a half in the NFC West.
Chicago currently holds the top NFC Wild Card as they technically are in second place behind the Packers in the NFC North by virtue of having lost their first game at the Packers back in September. The rematch will take place in Chicago in Week 15. Seattle, at 7-5, controls the second NFC Wild Card and will play 3 of its final 4 games at home where the Seahawks are unbeaten this season.
The final four weeks of the season will be exciting, entertaining, frustrating and full of surprises, twists and turns. That’s why we love the game and the reason we bet them.
Here’s a look at the 16 games that comprise the Week 14 schedule.
Broncos -10½ at Raiders (49): It’s hard to concoct a case for the Raiders given their level of play but it’s even more dangerous to lay double digits on the road. RAIDERS.
Ravens PK at Redskins (47): Washington has a short week after hosting the Giants last Monday night. Redskins have the better statistical profile but both teams are allowing more yards per game than they gain. OVER.
Chiefs +5 at Browns (37½): Kansas City leads the league in losing turnovers. Cleveland’s defensive play has picked up in recent weeks. It’s hard to project the Browns winning any game by a margin. Both teams are averaging less than 20 points per game. KC just ended a stretch of 7 games of not scoring more than 17 points. UNDER.
Chargers (NL) at Steelers: The uncertain status of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger keeps this game off the boards. If Big Ben plays Pittsburgh could be favored by around a touchdown. If Charlie Batch starts the line would be 4 or so less. Regardless, the Steelers showed their moxie with last week’s win in Baltimore . STEELERS.
Titans +5 at Colts (48½): Tennessee has been inconsistent all season but 2 of its 4 wins have been on the road. Indy continues to find ways to win but they are not yet to the point at which you can feel comfortable laying more than a FG. TITANS.
Jets -2 at Jaguars (38½): The Jets now have a new QB controversy but it does not involve Tim Tebow. Rather, Greg McElroy replaced a very ineffective Mark Sanchez last week. Jacksonville rushed for less than the league average of 115 yards for the eleventh time in 12 games last week. Both rank near the bottom in total offense. UNDER.
Bears -3 at Vikings (39½): These teams met two weeks ago with Chicago winning 28-10. The scheduling spot greatly favors the hosts who are off of back to back road games with two more on deck. Chicago has that rematch with Green Bay up next. VIKINGS.
Falcons -3½ at Panthers (47½): The Panthers nearly beat Atlanta in their first meeting, squandering a lead as Atlanta won on a last second FG, 30-28. Carolina continues to play hard. Atlanta’s focus may be on next week’s home game against the Giants, the team that embarrassed the Falcons in last season’s playoffs. PANTHERS.
Eagles +7 at Bucs (46): Turnovers continue to plague the Eagles who have had a plus margin just once this season and have had a negative figure in each of the last 4 games. Both defenses are weak and we should see both offenses have success. OVER.
Rams +3 at Bills (42): St. Louis continues to excel as an underdog but, surprisingly, Buffalo is 4-1 ATS as a favorite this season. Any inclement weather and the elements do favor the Bills. The Rams have already lost to the other 3 AFC East teams by a combined 55 points. BILLS.
Cowboys +3 at Bengals (45½): The Bengals have looked much more impressive in their current winning streak than have the Cowboys with 3 of Cincy’s wins by double digits. Dallas has had a negative yards per play margin in each of its last 5 games. Cincy has a decided edge in both TO margin and defensive yards per play. BENGALS.
Dolphins +10 at 49ers (39): Miami’s lack of depth is starting to show as the Dolphins are 1-4 SU and 1-3-1 ATS in its last 5 games. They are in a poor scheduling spot, traveling west after a pair of home games with a pair of home games on deck. The 49ers have already defeated the Jets 34-0 and the Bills 45-3. NINERS.
Saints +6 at Giants (53): Drew Brees saw his consecutive games streak of tossing a TD come to and end and he’s uncharacteristically thrown 7 interceptions in the last 2 games. He’ll be facing an aggressive Giants’ pass rush and the confidence of the Saints has to be questioned. GIANTS.
Cards (NL) at Seahawks (NT): Possible suspensions to a pair of Seattle players keeps this game off the board. Seahawks expected to be close to 10 point favorites. Arizona has scored below 20 points in each of 8 straight losses, averaging just 11.9 ppg. Regarding totals, 6 of 8 NFC West games averaged just 32.3 points. UNDER.
Lions +7 at Packers (52): Detroit is an eastern version of the Chargers. Green Bay’s play is clearly down from the past couple of seasons on offense although their defensive play is much improved. The Pack has a decided edge in turnover margin. They also know how to win games when not playing their best football. PACKERS.
Texans +4 at Patriots (51½): Both have won 6 straight games. New England ranks first in points scored, Houston second. The Pats host San Francisco next Sunday night and thus cannot afford to take this game lightly. Both teams are playing well but the Pats have been more consistent and more dominant over the past month. PATRIOTS.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]