We’re past Week 14 now, which means there are only three games remaining for each team. It also means we have a pretty clear picture of who’s in and who’s out of playoff contention now. For example, we know the Browns are out. But we’ve known that since Week 1.
1 Seed: New England Patriots 13-3
The American Football Conference has it’s clear number one seed. They may have one game that’s losable left on their schedule – at Denver – but otherwise, they should run the table. Behind a dynamic force of Brady and whoever he’s chosen to throw to, the Patriots have looked unstoppable this year. There are weaknesses to the Patriots though – they are lacking Rob Gronkowski going forward (and perhaps into perpituity) and their defense is beatable. I would say that they are the Super Bowl favorite, but both of those two factors make this New England team a different one than past years.
2 Seed: Kansas City 12-4
Kansas City’s last remaining test is also in Denver. It’s weird that Denver ends on a three game homestand against perhaps the three best teams in the conference. It’s weirder that I expect them to win all three. The Chiefs are a defensively and special teams sound team, but their offense remains lackluster. They’re productive, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nothing special. It’s all running game and screen passes, and in the playoffs, that can be dangerous. Expect Kansas City to be a deep threat, but when they do lose, expect it to be because of their offense.
3 Seed: Pittsburgh 11-5
Pittsburgh remains the king of the North in the AFC. Having defeated the Giants, Bills, and Colts in recent weeks, the Steelers overcame their .500 record. They have one of the best chances of winning out, with their last test being at home for Baltimore. LeVeon Bell, now healthy, can take over games completely. The Steelers have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, and Roethlisberger gets to run his offense. The Steelers defense needs some work, but with one of the best offenses in the league, they have the potential for a run.
4 Seed: Houston 9-7
Yes, I think Houston can win two of their next three. Yes, I think they’ll finish with a better than .500 record. Yes, I’m talking about this year’s version of the Houston Texans. The team with Brock Osweiler and an injured JJ Watt. The team that’s not looked the same since Watt went down, that was a better team with Brian Hoyer at the helm. I’m also talking about the worst division in football, where anything over a .500 makes the playoffs (well, actually… I have Tennessee going 2-1 in the next three as well, but Houston wins the tie breaker).
5 Seed: Oakland 12-4
Having lost the tiebreaker to Kansas City, Oakland is still very much a hot team. They’ll continue to look good down the stretch, because their defense isn’t that bad and Oakland’s offense is hot. Derek Carr would win the MVP any other year, but I still have a feeling this is either Stafford or Brady’s year. The defense isn’t as weak as some of the other teams, and the offense isn’t as dominant. That doesn’t mean the young team can’t win though. It also doesn’t mean they can’t be beat – the defense still allows big plays and teams can pressure Carr.
6 Seed: Denver 11-5
Yes, Denver will win out, they have a three-game home stretch. Yes, it’s against three very good NFL teams. Yes, the Broncos are sheerly surviving based on defense, but that defense remains if not the best, then one of the best defenses in football. Von Miller can still hurt you. DeMarcus Ware remains a threat. That secondary is still scary. But a hurt, old, disintegrating Peyton Manning had this team in better position than Trevor Siemian. The offense can be shut down and then it’s over for the Broncos.
Odd Man Out: Miami 10-6
Miami will do better than many expected this season. Ultimately, it’s their offense that’ll cost them, as an over-reliance on the run and on Jay Ayaji can be expected and good run defenses can destroy this team. Week 17 will be a playoff game for the Dolphins – beat their rival Patriots and they’re in. Lose, and they’re out. And I just see them coming up short against Bill and Tom playing spoilers.
1 Seed: Dallas 13-3
Dallas just proved they’re beatable. Beatable by an average defense. Beatable by an average offense. Luckily, two of the Cowboys next three games are very winnable. But Dallas just lost for the second time to the Giants. They will not be going into the playoffs as hot as they wish they were. Especially after they lose to Detroit in two weeks – yes, they will lose to Detroit in two weeks. Prescott and Elliott are still major stars. But versus the Giants, they were on their own. And it wasn’t good enough.
2 Seed: Detroit 12-4
Detroit will win out. They have come from behind to win several times. They have come from behind many times. Versus New Orleans, they proved they can beat a team soundly. Their defense has improved, and points wise is a top 5 in the conference. Their offense is sound, great in the first half and the fourth quarter. Their defense keeps them in games during the third. Their biggest test will be against Dallas, but they just got shut down versus the Giants. Not too worried.
3 Seed: Seattle 11-4-1
Seattle should also be expected to win out. They face virtually no competition from their division, who is all they have left to face. Although, they should have faced virtually no competition from the Packers and got squashed in Green Bay. Wilson is still a premier quarterback, despite a lacking offensive line. The defense is still great, though not the unit they once were. If the Seahawks are going to win, it’ll be because of Wilson and the defense. If they lose, it’s because they’re more beatable than they once were.
4 Seed: Atlanta 11-5
The Falcons will also win out. Their offense remains the triumphant force it has been, and their defense remains problematic. When they’re beaten, and they will be, it’ll be because of that defense. Their offense simply isn’t good enough to keep their defense from losing games in the playoffs. But man, in the regular season, this team will remain fun to watch.
5 Seed: New York 11-5
New York will lose this week, but they’ll be back versus their division. I would expect them to be a deep threat again this year, because their wild card round is very winnable. Odell remains one of the best wide receivers in the league. Manning has his pick of Beckham, Shepard, and Cruz on throws. New York’s got weapons.
6 Seed: Tampa Bay 10-6
Out of nowhere, Jameis Winston will make the playoffs in his second year in the league. Honestly, if you had told me that, I wouldn’t have believed you. Tampa has an adequate defense, and their offense has found moderate success. The Buccaneers are not the best team in the playoffs, but they’re not the worst either.
Odd Man Out: Washington 9-6-1
The Washington squad barely beat out the Packers for the seventh spot because of the tie. Washington has great offensive weapons. They have a horrible defense. Kirk Cousins isn’t the player he was last year, but he’s not a bad quarterback. Washington will miss the playoffs because they still have one more game against the Giants and recently lost to the Cardinals.
There you have it. Once Week 18 rolls around, we’ll give you the winners of each playoff game. Until then, just know that a bold prediction has the Lions and the Raiders in LI. A safe one has Dallas and New England.