NFL Playoffs taking shape

Dec 8, 2009 5:07 PM
Pigskin Picks by Andy Iskoe |

More teams are falling out of contention

Following last Monday’s game between Baltimore and Green Bay, the NFL regular season was three quarters complete. As such, games now begin to really take on importance as far as teams’ prospects of making the Playoffs are concerned.

Thus far only the two unbeaten teams, Indianapolis and New Orleans, each 12-0, have clinched spots in the Playoffs. In fact, both the Colts and Saints have clinched their Division titles and are on the verge of securing the top overall seed in their respective conferences.

Teams are also being eliminated each week and this is a good time to start focusing in on games that may be “make or break” games for a team’s Playoff chances. In general, once a team has lost its seventh game, it is all but assured of missing the post season barring an unusual set of circumstances. In most seasons, it will take a record of 10-6 or better to win a Division title or earn a Wild Card. At the worst, 9-7 can earn a Wild Card in some seasons.

Last season was unusual in the San Diego made the Playoffs with just an 8-8 record by winning the weak AFC West, beating out Denver, also 8-8, on the basis of tie breakers.

Entering this week, 10 Playoff spots are still to be determined. Arizona, Cincinnati and Minnesota are all in position to win their Division titles and each should make the Playoffs at least as Wild Cards. New England and San Diego both lead their Divisions but only by a single game. Of the two, the Chargers are in better position to earn at least a Wild Card with their 9-3 record (the Patriots are 7-5).

The only Division with a first place tie is the NFC East where Philadelphia and Dallas are both 8-4. Right now that record is also good enough to control an NFC Wild Card with Green Bay also controlling their destiny if they won at home on Monday to also stand 8-4. A Packer loss would have Green Bay tied with the New York Giants at 7-5, a game ahead of 6-6 Atlanta for that second NFC Wild Card.

In the AFC, Denver controls one Wild Card at 8-4 while 7-5 Jacksonville controls the other. The Jags could have been tied by Baltimore if the Ravens won the Monday night game. A Baltimore loss would have them tied at 6-6 with Miami, the New York Jets and Pittsburgh, a game behind Jacksonville for that second AFC Wild Card.

Things will sort themselves out over the next few weeks -- they always do -- and it will not be a surprise if at least one or two Playoff spots are not determined until the final week of the season. With just a 16 game schedule there is a very fine line between making and missing the Playoffs. But those teams with 6-6 records can ill afford another loss. And the teams currently at 5-7 need to win out and hope for help elsewhere.

The NFL’s annual stretch run has begun. Here’s a look at the 16 games this weekend.

Pittsburgh (-10) at Cleveland (Over/Under 36½): At 6-6 and losers of four straight the defending champion Steelers probably need to win their remaining four games to make the Playoffs as a Wild Card. PITTSBURGH.

Denver (+7) at Indianapolis (44½): The Broncos have regrouped and gotten back on track with a pair of impressive wins over the Giants and Kansas City. DENVER.

Cincinnati (+7) at Minnesota (44): Could this be a Super Bowl preview? Perhaps, as the 9-3 Bengals have been consistent all season and the Vikings lost for just the second time Sunday night in Arizona. MINNESOTA.

New York Jets at Tampa Bay (No Line): The Jets are 6-6 and likely need to win out to make the Playoffs, although they trail New England by just a game for the top spot in the AFC East. N. Y. JETS.

Buffalo (Pick’em) at Kansas City (37½): Both teams have struggled mightily all season, especially on offense. Both teams have been held to 17 points or less in 8 of their 12 games. UNDER the Total.

Green Bay at Chicago (NL): Green Bay hosted Baltimore Monday night and, barring injuries, figures to come about a FG favorite in a rematch of a week one game won by the Packers 21-15 on a late TD. GREEN BAY.

New Orleans at Atlanta (NL): New Orleans was very fortunate to remain unbeaten in Washington last week. But good teams find a way to win these types of games as they possess the confidence to make big plays at critical times. NEW ORLEANS.

Detroit at Baltimore (NL): Baltimore is off of Monday’s game in Green Bay but figure to be nearly two touchdown favorites even with the uncertain status of Detroit QB Matthew Stafford who was injured against Cincinnati. UNDER the Total.

Miami (+2½) at Jacksonville (44): This is a virtual Wild Card elimination game for the loser. MIAMI.

Carolina (+13½) at New England (44): Following their loss at Miami last week the Pats should be focused for a big effort here. Their talent edge is conducive for a one sided win. NEW ENGLAND.

Seattle (+6) at Houston (44½): A 5-3 start has been followed by a quartet of losses for Houston and head coach Gary Kubiak may be in his final few games as such barring a strong finish. SEATTLE.

St. Louis (+13 ½) at Tennessee (41 ½): Tennessee’s five game win streak ended at Indy last week and the Titans need to win their final four games to have a shot at a Wild Card. TENNESSEE.

Washington (-1) at Oakland (37): Both teams are playing better over the past month. Even though Washington has lost 7 of 8 the Redskins have covered 4 in a row. Only one loss has been by more than 10 points. UNDER the Total.

San Diego (+3) at Dallas (48): This may be the week’s most attractive matchup as both teams have much to play for if they are to make the Playoffs. DALLAS.

Philadelphia (+1) at New York Giants (46½): Philadelphia routed the Giants 40-17 in their earlier meeting this season, taking control of the game in the first half and not letting up. N. Y. GIANTS.

MONDAY

Arizona (-3) at San Francisco (44½): An Arizona win all but clinches the NFC West Title for a second straight season. The Cardinals were extremely impressive in defeating Minnesota last week at home where they are just 3-3. SAN FRANCISCO.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe