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The NFL playoff chase has reached its final two week-run and while eight teams have clinched postseason spots, there are 15 teams with serious to hopeful chances of punching one of the remaining tickets to the tournament.
The NFL loves this, folks.
In the AFC, the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens have clinched playoff spots. Of those, the Bills and Chiefs have already won their divisions.
In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys have clinched playoff spots. The Vikings and 49ers have won their respective divisions.
So this means half the NFL’s division winners have yet to be decided. It means almost half the league’s playoff spots remain undecided.
And nearly half the NFL’s teams are scrambling for six playoff spots.
The Los Angeles Chargers, by the way, can claim one of those remaining playoff spots with a victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.
The Chargers lead a group of nine teams that are in the enviable control-your-own-destiny mode: The Chargers, Dolphins, Patriots, Jaguars Titans, Giants, Commanders, Panthers and Buccaneers all get in the playoffs if they simply win out.
They won’t all do that, obviously, because the Panthers and Buccaneers play each other as do the Dolphins and Patriots and Jaguars and Titans.
And, of course, the Jets, Packers, Seahawks and Lions still fancy themselves playoff worthy but they need some help from other teams to make the postseason.
So what are the most interesting possibilities and teams?
Jaguars vs. Titans For AFC South
The Jaguars lead the AFC South today with a 7-8 record. The Titans also have a 7-8 record but are second in the division and are are reeling, having lost five consecutive games including a bitterly disappointing 19-14 home loss to the awful Houston Texans on Saturday.
The Jaguars won the first game between the teams. The season-finale will be a winner-take-all matchup for the division.
If the Titans enter Week 18 a game ahead of the Jaguars, a Jacksonville win in the finale would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker.
But if the Jaguars enter Week 18 a game ahead of the Titans, a Tennessee win would give the Titans the division based on them having a superior division record.
So the AFC South title game will be played in Jacksonville Jan. 8.
Patriots Face Favorable Scenario
The Patriots have looked like a lot of things lately but playoff contender hasn’t been one of them. Bill Belichick’s team has lost four of its last five games.
But New England is in the playoffs if it sweeps its final two games. And both games — against the Dolphins and Bills — seem winnable.
Here’s the reasoning: The Dolphins have lost four consecutive games. Defensive coordinators have generally figured out how to defend against Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It’s reasonable to give the Patriots a solid chance to beat the Dolphins at home next weekend.
The Patriots finish the season at Buffalo and it’s also reasonable to believe the Bills could stomp them. Because the Bills have stomped the Patriots a lot in recent years.
Except … the Bills may rest their starters or many of them in the Week 18 meeting with the Patriots. That doesn’t mean they’ll automatically lose. The Bills played their junior varsity for a half against the Dolphins in January of 2021.
The Dolphins needed to win that game to get in the playoffs. Buffalo clobbered Miami, 56-26.
Just saying the Patriots may face a similar, ahem, opportunity.
Commanders Must Decide On QB
The Washington Commanders are holding on to the final spot in the NFC playoff chase now but it is a tenuous grip.
The team has two consecutive losses, hasn’t won a game in nearly a month, and coach Ron Rivera doesn’t have a starting quarterback yet.
Rivera told reporters after Saturday’s 37-20 loss to San Francisco that he’d pick between Taylor Heinicke and Carson Wentz to start Sunday against Cleveland.
Heinicke has been a cool story but we may have just witnessed midnight for Cinderella when he was benched agains the Niners. Wentz, who lost the starting job to Heinicke when he fractured a finger in October, played well in the second half at San Francisco.
Rivera told reporters he’d decide early this week on his starter.
The Commanders finish the season at home against Dallas.