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Here is a look at and breakdown of the current NFL playoff picture:
- Steelers, 9-0
- Chiefs, 8-1
- Bills, 7-3
- Colts, 6-3
- Wild Card 1: Raiders, 6-3
- Wild Card 2: Dolphins, 6-3
- Wild Card 3: Ravens, 6-3
The Steelers are 9-0 and have few challenging games left. The worst case is that Pittsburgh loses two of three against the Ravens, Bills, and Colts. This is a 15-1 or 14-2 football team. They’re likely winning the AFC North, but will finish no worse than the 2nd seed.
Assuming that’s the case, Kansas City is the only team that can knock Pittsburgh out of 1st. To do so, Kansas City needs to win out or finish the season 6-1 and hope for a confusing tie-breaking edge. Given the Chiefs’ daunting remaining schedule — which includes the Bucs, Raiders, Dolphins, Saints — it’s more likely that the Chiefs slide to the 3rd or 4th seed than advance to 1st. It’s not a lock that they win the AFC West, either. The Raiders already beat the Chiefs this season and will host them this weekend. The second place AFC West team is getting one of the Wild Card spots.
The Bills and Dolphins play each other in Week 17. That could decide the AFC East. The loser will battle for one of the three AFC Wild Card spots. Baltimore is good enough to hold onto one, the AFC West should take another, leaving the final between Dolphins/Bills, Colts/Titans, the 6-3 Browns, and the 4-5 Patriots.
In the AFC, so much is unknown. But I’m expecting it to go through Pittsburgh.
- Packers, 7-2
- Saints, 7-2
- Cardinals, 6-3
- Eagles, 3-5-1
- Wild Card 1: Bucs, 7-3
- Wild Card 2: Rams, 6-3
- Wild Card 3: Seahawks, 6-3
Green Bay is in as strong of a position as Pittsburgh to hold onto the 1st seed. It’s hard to find two more losses on their schedule. Even if an upset occurs, 12-4 should be good enough to clinch home-field throughout.
The Packers have the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Saints, who now have to turn to Jameis Winston for at least the next couple of weeks. The Saints also look average half the weeks they play.
The NFC West will play itself out. Seattle’s defense is so bad it’s the least likely to host a home playoff game. There is a good shot all three teams make the playoffs, though. The Rams have the best roster among the three, and thus would be my pick.
Tampa is so inconsistent and has a tough remaining schedule. After losing both games to the Saints and trailing a game in the loss column, the Bucs are probably a Wild Card team.
The Bears, at 5-4, could make a late-season push to knock off the Bucs or one of the NFC West teams and secure a Wild Card spot. That’s if their QB play doesn’t remain putrid.
This season, only the first seeds are awarded first-round byes, making them bigger Super Bowl favorites than normal. If the Packers and Steelers remain there, I’d feel confident betting on them to meet in the Super Bowl.
What a season. It’s only getting better.