The NFL playoff picture is starting to crystalize as we approach the Christmas holiday. Throughout the weekend we have seen some teams clinch spots in the playoffs, while others put their hopes in dire straits. Let's take a look.
In the Playoffs:
New England Patriots (12-2): Patriots clinched the AFC East with a 16-3 smackdown of the punchless Denver Broncos. This game was a snoozefest, but the Patriots won because their defense was too much for the battered Broncos. Trevor Siemian was under siege all day, and the Broncos had no running game. While it wasn't a great day for Tom Brady, the Pats ran for 136 yards with 95 yards coming from Dion Lewis. Yes, Bill Belichick continues to find guys we never heard of, and they still win games.
Oakland Raiders (11-3): the Raiders punched their postseason ticket with a comeback win over the San Diego Chargers. They trailed the Chargers 16-13 in the fourth quarter before Derek Carr led a couple of field goal drives to send the Raiders to they 19-16 win. Right now the Raiders are in first place in the AFC West, thanks to the Chiefs losing to Tennessee.
Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1): The Seahawks clinched the NFC West on Thursday in a 24-3 beatdown of the Rams. The NFC West sucks. The Cardinals were overrated all year, and the Seahawks, in spite of some obvious flaws on both sides of the ball are still the Seahawks.
Dallas Cowboys (11-2): These guys clinched a playoff spot couple weeks ago, but haven't played great in several weeks. Right now they are playing Tampa Bay. We'll see how this goes, but Dallas is still trying to inch closer to a division title. The Giants win over Detroit complicates things for the Boys. The Boys could still lose the NFC East to New York, should the Giants win out and the Cowboys lose two of their last three.
On the Bubble:
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5): The Steelers inched closer to a division title with a 24-20 win over the Bengals on Sunday. They can clinch the AFC North outright on Christmas Sunday when the host the inconsistent Baltimore Ravens. Keep in mind, Baltimore still has a shot here, and they are unbeaten in the division. Nothing is a given here for Pittsburgh.
Kansas City Chiefs (10-4): They blew their chance at clinching a spot on Sunday. They had a 17-7 lead on the Titans heading into the fourth quarter and watched Tennessee come all the way back to win it. It appeared that KC got a huge break when Mike Mularkey made a hideous mistake when he decided to let his Titans go for two after they scored a touchdown to cut the Chiefs lead to 17-16. However, the Chiefs went three and out on their next drive, giving the Titans and Marcus Mariota more then enough time to win it. Mariota hit Delanie Walker for 15 yards to the Chiefs 35 and that was all they needed to set up the winning kick. The Chiefs need a win next week at Denver in order to clinch at least a wild card berth.
Atlanta Falcons (9-5): The Falcons destroyed the 49ers 41-13 on Sunday to improve to 9-5. If they get some help on Sunday night in Dallas with a Buccaneers lose, they can inch closer to a division title. Otherwise it will get interesting in the final two weeks.
New York Giants (10-4): The Giants can clinch a berth on Thursday if they win at Philadelphia. This unlikely group has won games with strong defense and bad offense. Eli Manning has been inconsistent this season, but it hasn't stopped the Giants top ranked defense from shaking things up. Landon Collins has been the leader of the Giants D, racking up turnovers and tackles for Big Blue. If they get some help they can win the NFC East, but they'll happily take the wild card as long as they don't see the Green Bay Packers in the wild card game.
Could Go Either Way:
Green Bay Packers (8-6): The Packers have won four straight including a last second win in Chicago on Sunday. This run by Green Bay is starting to look like and feel like their run to a Super Bowl title six years ago when they came out of nowhere to finish 10-6 and run through the playoffs. They need to beat Minnesota on Saturday to set up a win-and-your-in scenario with Detroit. That game could also determine a division winner.
Detroit Lions (9-5): The Lions are in a tough spot. The looked helpless on Sunday against the Giants and now face the Cowboys and Packers in the next two weeks. They need one win to likely assure themselves a better shot at the division title, and would need wins and lots of help just to assure a wild card backdoor. Injuries to Matthew Stafford and many others doesn't bode well.
Tennessee Titans (8-6): The Titans are impressive, and have wins over Green Bay, Denver and Kansas City this year. Would love to see them in the playoffs but they need either a collapse by Houston or Miami and Denver in order to assure themselves a spot in the playoffs. The game against Houston in two weeks could determine either a division title or a wild card spot.
Houston Texans (8-6): Don't trust these guys. They won a game they could have lost to the Jaguars on Sunday, and needed their back-up quarterback in order to win the game. Brock Osweiller is a total bust, and had the Texans lost on Sunday, we would be talking about Bill O'Brien being on the coaches hot seat.
Miami Dolphins (9-5): Right now the AFC's number six seed, but that could change with a loss and wins from Tennessee, Denver and Houston down the stretch. The Dolphins dismantled the Jets on Saturday, but face tricky tests the next two weeks. The Bills will play hard for Rex Ryan in his final home game at Buffalo, and the Patriots might need the final game of the season in order to clinch home field over a team like Oakland. No gimme the Dolphins make it.
Baltimore Ravens (8-6): They got lucky by the Eagles own stupidity on Sunday, otherwise they could have lost that game. The Ravens are too inconsistent to think they will make it. They play a season definer on Sunday against Pittsburgh. Win and they should win the division. Lose and the season is likely curtains for the birds.
Denver Broncos (8-6): The Broncos are falling apart. Their defense is not what it was a year ago, and this team has no help at quarterback and the running game is non-existent. I bet Broncos fans miss a hobbled Peyton Manning. The Broncos face the Chiefs and Raiders the next two weeks. Both of those teams are battling for a division title. It looks bad for Denver, especially next week against a pissed-off Chiefs team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5): The Bucs are playing Dallas right now and are tied at three in the second quarter. If the Bucs win vs. Dallas (unlikely) they will be alive in the NFC South. A loss and they drop into the mix for the sixth seed with Detroit, Green Bay and Washington.
Washington Redskins (7-5-1): Remember them? Yeah, well if they win on Monday night against Carolina they would stand at 8-5-1 and would hold a slight edge over Detroit, Green Bay and Tampa Bay for the final wild card spot. The Skins do own a tiebreaker with the Packers.