NFL playoff picture: Titans slide up to No. 2, Cowboys clinch playoffs

And now we have two. The Cowboys have become the second NFL team to clinch a 2021 playoff berth, joining the Packers. Yes, we’re aware that the Cowboys were not one of the teams on the field Thursday night in Nashville, Tennessee. But the 49ers’ loss to the Titans secured the Cowboys’ spot, based on playoff scenarios confirmed Thursday morning by the league. The Titans haven’t clinched anything yet, but they can secure the AFC South title as early as Sunday if the Colts lose to the Cardinals.

What follows is a preview of our weekly snapshot of the NFL’s playoff picture, incorporating ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) and a bit of our own instincts to give you a sense of the stakes. We’ve threaded playoff and/or division clinching scenarios for a handful of teams, and we’ll update how it all worked out on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Note: X denotes a team that has clinched a playoff berth, Y shows a team that has clinched its division and Z indicates a team that has secured a first-round bye.

Jump to: AFC | NFC

AFC

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99%
FPI chances to win division: 93%

The Chiefs were at one point 3-4, but they have won seven consecutive games and are getting better results — if not better play-to-play efficiency — than any team in the NFL. They no longer have to worry about losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chargers, and they can clinch the AFC West this weekend with a win over the Steelers and a Chargers loss to the Texans. And they have a 53% chance to get the first-round bye, per ESPN’s FPI. The Chiefs can also simply clinch a playoff berth this week with a win.

Remaining schedule: vs. Steelers, at Bengals, at Broncos


FPI chances to make playoffs: 97%
FPI chances to win division: 91%
Current projected first-round matchup: vs. Chargers

The Titans had lost three of their past four games before Thursday night’s comeback victory over the 49ers. The win knocked them up one spot in the AFC standings, but the Patriots will leapfrog them with a win Sunday against the Bills. In either event, the Titans will be able to clinch the AFC South with a Colts loss Sunday to the Cardinals. Even if the Colts win, the Titans will clinch a playoff spot with losses by the Dolphins, Bills, Broncos, Browns and Steelers, or losses by the Dolphins, Bills, Broncos, Browns and Ravens.

Remaining schedule: vs. Dolphins, at Texans

play

0:19

The Titans take the fourth-quarter lead as Ryan Tannehill ropes a pass to A.J. Brown for the 18-yard touchdown.


FPI chances to make playoffs: 98%
FPI chances to win division: 55%
Current projected first-round matchup: vs. Bills

Week 15’s loss to the Colts snapped the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak and dropped them from the top of the AFC. It also set up a huge AFC East game on Sunday: The Patriots will host the Bills, with the winner taking control of the division. It won’t be a true AFC East championship game, because neither team can clinch it with a victory alone. But the Patriots could clinch if they win the game and the Dolphins lose to the Saints on Monday. To clinch a playoff spot, the Patriots would need to win and get either losses by the Raiders and Chargers, or losses by the Colts and Bengals, or losses by the Colts, Ravens and Steelers, or losses by the Colts and Chargers, or losses by the Ravens, Browns and Steelers.

Remaining schedule: vs. Bills, vs. Jaguars, at Dolphins


FPI chances to make playoffs: 53%
FPI chances to win division: 41%
Current projected first-round matchup: vs. Colts

The Bengals snapped their two-game losing streak and ascended to the top of the AFC North. They have the temporary head-to-head tiebreaker over the Ravens, but as luck would have it, the teams will meet on Sunday. Neither would clinch the division title with a win, but it will obviously be a huge leverage game for both teams. If the Bengals win, their one-game lead in the win/loss column would really be a two-game lead because of the permanent head-to-head tiebreaker. So they’ll win the AFC North if they win their remaining games.

Remaining schedule: vs. Ravens, vs. Chiefs, at Browns


FPI chances to make playoffs: 83%
FPI chances to win division: 9%
Current projected first-round matchup: at Bengals

The Colts are still in the AFC South race. A division title is still a longshot — the FPI gives the Colts a 9% chance to do it — but at least they are not eliminated from it at this point. Regardless, they should be riding high. They have an 83% chance to get into the playoffs, and they have the top wild-card berth in the AFC standings.

Remaining schedule: at Cardinals, vs. Raiders, at Jaguars


FPI chances to make playoffs: 72%
FPI chances to win division: 6%
Current projected first-round matchup: at Patriots

The Chargers are in a good position for a wild-card playoff berth. It would be just their second trip to the postseason in the past eight years. They had a legitimate chance to overtake the Chiefs in the AFC West last week, and it remains a statistical possibility going forward, but it’ll require help from a Chiefs team that has developed a bunch of experience in closing out postseason position during the past few years.

Remaining schedule: at Texans, vs. Broncos, at Raiders


FPI chances to make playoffs: 84%
FPI chances to win division: 45%
Current projected first-round matchup: at Titans

At the moment, the Bills hold the common-games tiebreaker over Baltimore. The FPI is giving the Bills a great chance to make the playoffs, and their game at the Patriots gives them a chance to take over the AFC East lead. The Patriots are favored in that game for a number of reasons, and rightfully so, but if you had told the Bills a few weeks ago that they would have a chance to retake the division lead in late December, they would have considered themselves fortunate. They’ll win the AFC East if they win their remaining games.

Remaining schedule: at Patriots, vs. Falcons, vs. Jets


In the AFC hunt

Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

The Ravens are so decimated by injuries and COVID-19 losses that coach John Harbaugh has felt compelled to go for a game-winning 2-point play twice in the past three weeks rather than take his chances in overtime. They have lost both games and are now on a playoff-crushing three-game losing streak. The Ravens will have a chance to turn it around at the Bengals, but the FPI is giving them only a 55% chance to make the playoffs, and their division title odds are just 35%.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1)

The Steelers’ level of difficulty is about to go up. Sunday’s matchup at the Chiefs, the hottest team in football, is not the kind of game they want while trying to stay within a reasonable distance of the race. The FPI is giving Pittsburgh an 18% chance to make it to the postseason.

Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)

The FPI now gives the Raiders a 10% chance of advancing to the postseason. All wins count the same in the standings, but if you watched the Raiders struggle to overcome a team of Browns backups last week, you probably don’t have much confidence in their chances, given upcoming games against the Broncos, Colts and Chargers.

Miami Dolphins (7-7)

Give some credit to the Dolphins for simply getting into this conversation. They have followed a seven-game losing streak with a six-game winning streak and have another winnable game on Monday at the Saints. Their chances to make the playoffs are still pretty minuscule at 6%, per the FPI, but they exist.

Cleveland Browns (7-7)

The AFC North is obviously tight, and the Browns will have a chance to climb back into the race. The FPI has Cleveland at 16% to make the playoffs.

Denver Broncos (7-7)

The Broncos’ playoff chances are now 9%, according to the FPI. They have a winnable game this week at the Raiders, but with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (concussion) likely sidelined, their postseason outlook is bleak.

NFC

FPI chances to make playoffs: Clinched
FPI chances to win division: Clinched

Their Week 15 win in Baltimore gave the Packers the NFL’s first playoff berth, and they clinched the NFC North on top of it. Now they’ll turn their attention to winning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs; they’re 6-0 at Lambeau Field this season and 19-3 there in three regular seasons under coach Matt LaFleur. Their next two games are home, and their season finale is at Detroit. So it’s no wonder the FPI is giving them a 72% chance to secure the No. 1 seed.

Remaining schedule: vs. Browns, vs. Vikings, at Lions


FPI chances to make playoffs: Clinched
FPI chances to win division: 99%
Current projected first-round matchup: vs. Vikings

The 49ers’ loss Thursday night clinched a playoff spot for the Cowboys. But Dallas has bigger goals in mind. The Cowboys have won three consecutive games after losing three of four. They have moved ahead of the Cardinals and Buccaneers thanks to a better conference record, and they continue to be the overwhelming favorites to win the NFC East. In fact, they can clinch the division on Sunday night with a victory over Washington. And they can secure the division title even if they lose to Washington — that will happen if the Eagles lose to the Giants or if the Cowboys clinch a strength-of-victory tiebreaker over the Eagles.

Remaining schedule: vs. Washington, vs. Cardinals, at Eagles


FPI chances to make playoffs: 99%
FPI chances to win division: 99%
Current projected first-round matchup: vs. 49ers

The Buccaneers were overtaken at least for the time being by the Cowboys last weekend, but they can clinch the NFC South on Sunday with a win. How will they be affected by injuries suffered in Week 15 to receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and running back Leonard Fournette? Regardless, the Buccaneers can clinch a playoff berth even without wining. They’ll do so if the Vikings and Eagles lose, or the Vikings lose and the Cowboys win, or the Vikings lose and the Cowboys clinch at least a tie in their strength of victory tiebreaker with the Eagles.

Remaining schedule: at Panthers, at Jets, vs. Panthers


FPI chances to make playoffs: 99%
FPI chances to win division: 64%
Current projected first-round matchup: vs. Rams

The Cardinals are going in the wrong direction. They’ve tumbled as far down the NFC standings as they could, at least while still holding on to the NFC West lead. But the damage isn’t as severe as it could be, assuming they can get themselves back on track. They can clinch a playoff berth with a win, or losses by the Eagles or Saints. There are no scenarios for winning the NFC West in Week 16, however.

Remaining schedule: vs. Colts, at Cowboys, vs. Seahawks


FPI chances to make playoffs: 99%
FPI chances to win division: 35%
Current projected first-round matchup: at Cardinals

Tuesday’s victory over the Seahawks pulled the Rams into a tie with the Cardinals in the NFC West, but the Rams remain behind the Cardinals in the standings because of Arizona’s better winning percentage in the division. The Rams’ FPI chances to win the division stand at 35%. They also have several scenarios for clinching a playoff spot this weekend. Most simply, they’ll secure a spot if they beat the Vikings. If they lose in Minnesota, the Rams can still lock in a spot with losses by the Saints and Eagles. If nothing else, however, the Rams are keeping the heat on the Cardinals.

Remaining schedule: at Vikings, at Ravens, vs. 49ers


FPI chances to make playoffs: 83%
FPI chances to win division: 1%
Current projected first-round matchup: at Buccaneers

Despite Thursday night’s loss, the 49ers remained squarely in the NFC wild-card race. If both the Vikings and Saints win Sunday, they 49ers will move down to the No. 7 spot, but there does not appear to be a scenario in which they’d get knocked out of the top seven. Plus, the Niners are fortunate to have the Texans up next on their schedule. If they can’t beat the Texans at home in Week 17, then they probably don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.

Remaining schedule: vs. Texans, at Rams

play

0:17

Jimmy Garoppolo finds Brandon Aiyuk in the back of the end zone for the touchdown to tie the score late.


FPI chances to make playoffs: 30%
FPI chances to win division: Eliminated
Current projected first-round matchup: at Cowboys

The Vikings hold the common games tiebreaker over the Eagles and the conference record advantage over the Saints. Despite being eliminated from the NFC North division race, they currently have the No. 7 seed and carry a 30% chance of making the playoffs.

Remaining schedule: vs. Rams, at Packers, vs. Bears


In the NFC hunt

Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

The Eagles kept their foot in the playoff door, and their FPI chances now they stand at 34%. They head into another very winnable game against the Giants.

New Orleans Saints (7-7)

The Saints secured a huge victory in Week 15 that will help them in myriad tiebreakers, including division and conference record, and it’s worth noting that they don’t have another game scheduled against a team that currently has a winning record. New Orleans’ FPI playoff odds are at 47%, and the Dolphins are up next.

Washington Football Team (6-8)

Washington faces a quick-turn game against the Cowboys, and its FPI playoff chances are down to 7%.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *