2011 is coming to an end, and so is the NFL regular season. Next week the playoffs will be upon us, and there are lots of scenarios of who will be in and who will be out. So, being the good Samaritan that I am, I will break down all the different possibilities of who can get in and who will be watching from home in 2012.
Starting in the AFC, the Patriots have clinched the East and a bye in the first round, but a win over the Bills this week would mean that the road to the Super Bowl would have to run through Foxboro. So don’t expect Belichick and Brady to sit back and let this one slip by – they want home field advantage. How else will they film the other team’s signals? The Patriots could lose Sunday and still get home field throughout, but the Steelers and Ravens would both have to lose.
Speaking of the AFC North, Baltimore is in the driver’s seat with two wins over the Steelers. If the Ravens win, they have a first round bye. If the Steelers lose, Baltimore gets a first round bye, but nobody likes leaving those things to chance. If Baltimore wins and the Patriots lose, the Ravens would have the number one seed. There are a lot of ways this one could play out, but basically if the Ravens win they are guaranteed at least one home playoff game.
The Steelers, on the other hand, could take the AFC North if they win and the Ravens lose. The Steelers could also leap frog into the number one seed and have home field advantage if they win and both the Ravens and Patriots lose. This scenario doesn’t seem likely, and let’s hope it doesn’t happen, as I don’t want to see those Terrible Towels in the AFC Championship game. I suspect that all three of these teams win this week, making New England the one, Baltimore the two and Pittsburgh the top wild card team.
Cincinnati can still get in as the third AFC North team. If they win they are in, but seeing as how they are playing the Ravens this week and Baltimore has everything to play for, let’s assume that doesn’t happen. The Bengals could still get in with a Jets loss combined with a Raiders loss, or with a Jets loss combined with a Denver loss. Normally I like the teams with that can control their own destiny, but it seems like a tough road to hoe for the Bengals.
In the AFC South, Houston has already wrapped up the division, but they are guaranteed to be the three seed. They will have a home game in the first week of the playoffs but will most likely be on the road for any further rounds. The Titans can still get in, but they need some help. Stay with me here, because this one gets confusing. First and foremost the Titans have to win – a loss means they are out. Along with winning they need a Cincinnati loss combined with an Oakland loss and a Jets win. They could also get in with a Cincinnati loss combined with a Denver loss and a Jets win, or a Cincinnati loss, a Jets loss, and an Oakland and Denver win. Long story short – don’t plan on seeing Chris Johnson in the playoffs.
Alright, let’s look out West. The Broncos can control their destiny with a win and take the AFC West, and an Oakland loss would also give them the division. The Broncos are pretty much in the playoffs one way or another, so folk’s – get ready – it’s Tebow Time. The Raiders still have a shot as well – a win and a Denver loss would give them the division. They could also grab the wild card spot with a win and a Cincinnati loss along with a Tennessee loss, or with a win, a Cincinnati loss and a Jets win. Best case scenario for the Raiders: take care of things against the Chargers this week and let things play themselves out.
Last but not least, the Jets still have a shot but need a little help. They need to beat the Dolphins, Cincinnati needs to lose, Tennessee needs to lose, and either the Broncos or Raiders need to lose. Sounds like a long shot, but the Jets have a better chance than you would think of making it to the post season.
There is a little more clarity on the NFC side of things. Due to their unbelievable run, the Packers have sealed up the number one seed, and if you want to make it to the Super Bowl you are going to have to stop them in Lambeau. I would say they have earned it.
The two seed is still up for grabs. The 49ers can make it theirs with a win and make any of the wild card teams have to travel at least halfway across the country to play in a playoff game. We all saw how that worked out for the Saints last year in Seattle, didn’t we? However, the Saints could overtake that second spot if the Niners were to trip up and the Saints beat the Panthers Sunday. Don’t look for Drew Brees and company to make things easy for Carolina.
The Falcons and Lions, despite what happens on Sunday, have already sealed up the two wild card spots and would love to play spoiler to one of the divisional champs without a bye next week.
That leaves with the NFC East, and the big one on Sunday night. The Cowboys and Giants game is for all intents and purposes a playoff game. Win and you are in, lose and you go home. The last Dallas and New York game was decided by a blocked field goal, and I don’t expect anything less than an instant classic Sunday night. If there is only one game you can watch on Sunday, make it this one.
I can’t wait to sit back with a big bowl of collards greens, some black eyed peas, and probably multiple gallons of water to rehydrate myself on Sunday and watch all the scenarios play out. Thank you to all the people who have kept up with my blog in 2011, and expect many great things in 2012. Happy New Year’s, everyone.