|This photo not only previews Sunday Night's tilt to decide the NFC North, it also metaphorically represents the current clarity in the NFC playoff picture overall.|
It's been a good four months, but we're finally here. For 20 NFL teams, this is the last weekend of their season. We've seen some surprises (The Cowboys! The Raiders! The Panthers and Cardinals Aren't Good Anymore! Miami made the playoffs!) and some things that we absolutely expected to see (The Patriots and Seahawks are in the playoffs and look poised for a deep run).
But there are still some things we don't know. Let's run through all the permutations. Here's what we know:
1. Dallas has the No. 1 seed locked up in the NFC
2. New York has the No. 5 seed locked up in the NFC
3. New England has (at least) a bye in the AFC
4. Pittsburgh is locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC
5. Houston is locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC
Here's what could be confirmed this weekend:
1. New England can lock up the No. 1 seed with a win or tie against Miami, or an Oakland loss
2. Oakland can lock up the No. 2 seed with a win or tie against Denver, or a Kansas City loss; they can lock up the No. 1 seed with a win and a New England loss.
3. Kansas City can lock up the No. 2 seed with a win against San Diego and an Oakland loss against Denver
4. Miami can pass Kansas City into the No. 5 seed in the AFC with a win against New England and a Kansas City loss against San Diego.
5. Atlanta can lock up the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a win against New Orleans, or a tie against New Orleans and a Seattle loss or tie against San Francisco, or a Seattle loss to San Francisco and Lions loss or tie to Green Bay, or a Seattle tie to San Francisco and a Detroit loss to Green Bay (if you think that's confusing wait until we get to Tampa Bay)
6. Seattle can lock up the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a win against San Francisco and an Atlanta loss or tie against New Orleans, or a tie with the 49ers, a Falcons loss against the Saints, and a tie between Green Bay and Detroit.
7. Green Bay wins the NFC North with a win or tie against Detroit (whether they would end up with the 3 or the 4 seed depends on an absurd degree of tiebreakers in different scenarios and I tried to lock down exactly how it would shake out but my ears started to bleed), and they clinch a playoff spot with a Washington loss against the Giants and a win or tie by any of Seattle, Houston, Jacksonville, and Philadelphia.
8. Detroit clinches the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a win over Green Bay and a Seattle loss or tie against San Francisco and an Atlanta loss against New Orleans. The clinch the NFC North (but not a bye) with a win over Green Bay and a win by either Seattle or Atlanta. They clinch a playoff spot with a tie against Green Bay or a Washington loss or tie against New York.
9. Washington clinches a playoff berth (and the No. 6 seed) with a win against New York and any result other than a tie between Green Bay and Detroit, or, a tie with New York, a Green Bay loss against Detroit, and a Tampa Bay loss or tie against Carolina.
10. Tampa Bay clinches a playoff berth (and the No. 6 seed) with a win over Carolina, plus an Indianapolis win against Jacksonville, a Dallas win against Philadelphia, a Tennessee win against Houston, a San Francisco win against Seattle, a Kansas City win against Denver, a tie between New York and Washington, and a Detroit win against Green Bay. Such a scenario would result in a three-way tie between Tampa Bay, Washington, and Green Bay. Washington would be eliminated by the conference record tiebreaker, and the remaining long string of outcomes would result in Tampa Bay having a higher-rated strength of schedule than Green Bay. If you're still confused, I recommend a nap.
Everybody got all that? Okay, good.
If you want the short, short version - you really only have to worry about New England, Oakland, Atlanta, and Green Bay and Detroit. All of those teams control their own destiny and can clinch something with a win. Sunday Night's Green Bay-Detroit game is the only matchup where the two teams squaring off are battling for the same clinching scenario. Or, you can just forget about all this mumbo-jumbo and just watch football.
On to the last set of picks for the regular season:
Here Are The Picks We Agree On (Home Teams In CAPS)
Houston (+3) over TENNESSEE
JP: I know the Texans are locked into the 4-seed, but I have a feeling they're going to try to kick-start their offense a little bit. Plus, they've already moved their backup QB into the starting lineup, so I doubt they'll sit Savage this week.
JC: And Houston's (still kinda pretty good) defense against a Tennessee offense without Marcus Mariota? Matt Cassel against Houston's defense? Yeah, I'll take the points.
INDIANAPOLIS (-4.5) over Jacksonville
JP: Nothing to play for on either side, but I could see Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton using this game to pile up stats and put a shiny gloss on the Colts' season offensively.
JC: I can't imagine Jacksonville suddenly figuring out how to play cohesively in one week under an interim coach. Like, I get why you fire the coach before the season ends, to send a message to players and fans that you care about WINNING NO MATTER WHAT. But is it really going to make any difference for the last week of the season? If anything it's probably a net negative.
Dallas (+3.5) over PHILADELPHIA
JP: Are the Cowboys actually going to rest Dak and Zeke? Jerry Jones says no, so I'll take the points.
JC: And even if they rest Dak and Zeke, that means that Dallas' quarterback will be.... Tony Romo? Who is still pretty good? And their running back will be Darren McFadden? Who rushed for 1000 yards last year? Dallas will still be decent. If they rest their guys. Which they might not.
Chicago (+6) over MINNESOTA
JP: The Vikings aren't closing out the way they'd hoped, and I think six points is a little aggressive in a game they have nothing to play for.
JC: Minnesota's defense has suddenly fallen apart also. They've given up 72 points in their last two games. And Chicago has 900 total yards of offense over the last two weeks. This line should be two points lower.
Arizona (-6.5) over LOS ANGELES RAMS
JC: I may never bet on the Rams again.
Kansas City (-6) over SAN DIEGO
JP: This line should be a point-and-a-half higher. KC can potentially move from the No. 5 to the No. 2 seed with a win, and San Diego just lost to Cleveland.
JC: How many people do we think will be at this game? 45?
Seattle (-9.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
JP: The Seahawks can still snag a bye if they win and the Falcons lose, so I'd expect them to put the pedal to the metal against the hapless Niners, who are probably just happy this year is ending (aren't we all?).
JC: The Seahawks, despite all their injuries, will still come out swinging in the hopes of picking up a first-round bye if the Falcons stumble. The games are scheduled at the same time (continuing the NFL's great trend of curating the schedule during weeks 16 and 17 to keep as much uncertainty on the table as possible), so the Seahawks have no reason to not put their best foot forward.
Here Are The Picks We Disagree On (Home Teams Still In CAPS)
JP: NEW YORK JETS (+3.5) over Buffalo
The Bills have a lame duck staff, while the Jets just gave Todd Bowles another year to prove himself. Methinks his players give him a smidge of momentum heading into the offseason.
JC: Buffalo (-3.5) over NEW YORK JETS
Yeah, but isn't it just as likely that the Bills will be all of a sudden thrilled that they don't have to play for Rex Ryan anymore and will come out gangbusters and finish the season at .500? Also, I've done the math - I need to disagree on 8 games (and win all of them) in order to win the season. So this is disagreement 1 of 8.
JP: CINCINNATI (-1) over Baltimore
Each of these teams have had their hearts ripped out by the Steelers the last two weeks, but Baltimore's heart-ripping was more recent, and knocked them out of the playoffs. The Bengals are coming off a win, and would probably love to get a win over their division rivals to finish the season on a positive note.
JC: Baltimore (+1) over CINCINNATI
2 of 8. Yeah, but if both of these teams have roughly the same motivation (none), wouldn't you just take the team that's, you know, better?
JP: Cleveland (+6) over PITTSBURGH
I actually think the Steelers can win this game, even as Ben, Brown and Bell sit, but six points... Not so sure about that.
JC: PITTSBURGH (-6) over Cleveland
3 of 8. Cleveland picked up their win for the year, so they're good. They're lucky that San Francisco picked up a win also. They'll roll over in this one to make sure they get that No. 1 pick.
JP: New England (-9.5) over MIAMI
The Dolphins have virtually nothing to play for, while New England needs a win to make sure it gets homefield advantage. I could see this thing turning into a blowout.
JC: MIAMI (+9.5) over New England
4 of 8. Sure, Miami has something to play for - momentum. Miami has won 9 of their last 10 and obviously wants to keep that going when they roll into the playoffs next week. Wild Card teams tend to usually not rest players. Besides, Miami still has an outside chance to grab the No. 5 seed, and those Pats-Dolphins games in Miami are ALWAYS weird.
JP: WASHINGTON (-8) over New York Giants
New York has nothing to play for, and Washington needs a win to lock down a Wild Card spot. Roll up those yards, Cousins!
JC: New York Giants (+8) over WASHINGTON
5 of 8. Yeah, but the strength of this New York team is still in their defense, and they aren't going to bench their entire defense. Besides, there hasn't even been confirmation that Eli and Beckham are sitting. They very well could play the first half, and I don't think Washington is going to be blowing out the Giants.
JP: New Orleans (+7) over ATLANTA
The dirty birds are playing at home, with a chance to lock up a first round bye with a win, but: Drew Brees is leading the darn league in passing yardage and is Top 5 in every relevant passing category, and didn't even make the freaking Pro Bowl! Methinks he comes out slinging and turns what should be an easy Falcons win into a fun shootout.
JC: ATLANTA (-7) over New Orleans
6 of 8. Atlanta has their sites on the No. 2 seed and will come out swinging. The Saints' defense has looked slightly less of a train wreck lately, but they're still among the worst in the league. Atlanta's offense shouldn't have too much trouble.
JP: Oakland (+1.5) over DENVER
I know Derek Carr is out, but Oakland actually controlled the line of scrimmage the last time they played Denver, so I expect this one to be tight, and it's not like Denver has great quarterback play either. Look for the short-handed Raiders to pull off the mild upset, and retain the No. 2 seed
JC: DENVER (-1.5) over Oakland
7 of 8. I can't see how Oakland will be able to put up enough points without David Carr to take this game on the road. Denver might not have anything to play for, but they still want to take a division win and play spoiler if they can.
JP: DETROIT (+3.5) over Green Bay
This one looks like a toss up for the NFC North, so I'll take the points and the team playing at home.
JC: Green Bay (-3.5) over DETROIT
Here we are. 8 of 8. If I sweep all of these, I win the season. I'm taking Green Bay because I think they're just straight-up better and they should win this game.
JP: TAMPA BAY (-5) over Carolina
The Bucs can still make the playoffs... Right.
JC: Carolina (+5) over TAMPA BAY
Bonus Disagreement! Tampa Bay needs to win a 9-team parlay in order to make the playoffs (see the above link for more details). So I'll throw a 9th Disagreement into the mix. I don't need to win all 9, but I like symmetry, especially at the end of the season. It also creates a scenario in which I win the week's disagreements 8-1, and we end the season in a tie. Wouldn't that be magical? Let's hope that happens.
Last Week: 7-8-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-3
Season's Disagreements: 34-41-1
Last Week: 8-7-1
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-2
Season's Disagreements: 41-34-1