Monday, December 28, 2009

Seven AFC teams, two playoff spots, who makes it?

While the NFC playoff teams have already been determined (sorry Giants fans, that pathetic effort against Carolina proves you don't deserve a shot), there are still seven teams sitting at 8-7 and 7-8 with a shot at the AFC Wild Card spots.

After sitting at 4-6 five weeks ago, the Jets have somehow made their way back into the playoff picture and can clinch a Wild Card berth with a win against the Bengals at the Meadowlands, a game that will be played on Sunday night thanks to flex scheduling. New York was ninth in the AFC heading into Week 16, needing a loss by the Jaguars, Dolphins and Ravens to control their own destiny.

The Jets also needed to beat the previously undefeated Colts and, thanks to Jim Caldwell's decision to rest Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and other key starters with a 15-10 third-quarter lead, the Jets picked up a somewhat tainted 29-15 victory. As a Jets fan, I'll be the first to tell you I don't care how they won. A win is a win (is a win).

The Ravens, despite penalizing themselves to the point of exhaustion in their 23-20 loss to Pittsburgh, also control their own destiny thanks to Denver's loss at Philadelphia. Their job: Beat the Raiders to make the playoffs. Sounds easy, especially after the Browns beat Oakland by 14 points, but crazier things have happened.

Denver, Houston and Pittsburgh are also sitting at 8-7, hoping for either the Jets or Ravens to slip up. Denver needs to beat Kansas City and hope either the Jets or Ravens lose. They can also make it with a loss if the Jets, Ravens, Texans, Steelers and Jaguars ALL LOSE. Houston needs to beat the Pats and hope two of the teams ahead of them lose, while Pittsburgh needs three losses from the Jets, Ravens, Broncos or Texans and a win against Miami to get in. Confused yet?

It gets worse. If Jacksonville beats Cleveland and four of the five 8-7 teams lose, they are in. The Dolphins are the team with the worst chance at the playoffs, needing to beat the Steelers and have the Jets, Ravens, Texans and Jaguars lose (Jacksonville can also tie). The Denver-Kansas City result has no bearing on Miami's playoff hopes; if the Dolphins make it at 8-8 the Broncos will be the other Wild Card team no matter what.

Now that we have all the scenarios laid out, let's get to some predictions.

1:00 games:
1. The Steelers struggle on the road (2-5 away, 6-2 home) and were lucky to get past the Ravens, so I'm picking the Dolphins, essentially eliminating both teams. Five alive.
2. Jacksonville rolls Cleveland to keep their slim chances alive.
3. The Patriots have little to play for outside of the third seed, which is meaningless unless the AFC Championship game becomes a 3-4 matchup, and are also just 2-5 on the road. The Texans have everything to play for and, despite their inconsistencies, I can see them sneaking by New England. Houston will have their first winning season ever.

4:15 games:
1. The Broncos take care of the Chiefs at home, considering they beat them 44-13 on the road a few weeks ago. Jacksonville is officially eliminated. Four alive.
2. The Ravens, despite a 2-5 record on the road, go into Oakland and make Charlie Frye look foolish, eliminating the Texans in the process and leaving it a three-team race.

Forgive the homer pick here, but I'm going with the Jets. Like the Patriots, the Bengals have little to play for. Cincinnati is also 3-3 in their last six games, including terrible losses to Oakland and Minnesota. They struggled to beat the Browns and Lions and let the Chiefs stay in the game until the final minutes last week.

These teams follow a similar blueprint: Excellent defense, pathetic offense. On what is bound to be a chilly night in the Meadowlands, I would be surprised if these teams combined for over 30 points. Jets 13, Bengals 10. Denver goes from 6-0 to watching the playoffs at home.

End Result: Jets and Ravens are in, everyone else is out. Jets get the Bengals again as the fifth seed, this time in Cincinnati, while Baltimore travels to New England.

In the NFL, we are taught to expect the unexpected. Just not this week, people.

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