After an exciting Week 15 in the NFL, the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams established themselves as contenders, while the Steelers and the Seahawks took one big step backwards.
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The list of potential playoff teams has been whittled down to a handful as Week 16 of the NFL season approaches. Most teams jockey for favorable position, while squads like the Cowboys, Lions and Chargers pray for a miracle. For the most part, the NFL playoff picture has become clear, including likely division winners and wild card teams.
The straight up picks for Week 16 offer a another snapshot of where your money should go as we enter the most exciting time of the year.
First-Round Bye Watch
Week 16 will likely determine the two teams who earn a first-round bye in the AFC. New England’s shocking loss against the Dolphins shook things up briefly, but a victory over the Steelers last week returned the conference to the expected configuration.
The Steelers had a chance to control the standings, and their own destiny, but they were unable to overcome the Patriots at home. Pittsburgh will likely still enjoy a first-round bye, but will concede home advantage if they face New England later in the playoffs.
In theory, Pittsburgh or New England could lose their next couple of games, allowing Jacksonville to sneak away with one of the two seeds – perhaps even top spot in the AFC. Of course, the likelihood of the Browns, Jets, Texans and Bills all winning is decidedly slim.
Akin to the Raiders losing Derek Carr late last season, the Eagles suffered a similar fate when star pivot Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL last week. Wentz was an MVP favorite after leading the Eagles to the top of the NFC standings. Philadelphia’s clinched their division and a first-round bye, which will help Philly and backup Nick Foles when the postseason begins. The Eagles should be happy to clinch the spot without Wentz, but playoff football will be an entirely different challenge.
The Minnesota Vikings have all but clinched their division, setting their sights on the first-round bye as the second most likely team in the NFC to earn a week off. Games against the Packers and Bears give them a chance to catch the Eagles for first overall in the NFC.
New Orleans, Carolina and the Rams remain longshots to earn one of the top two spots in the conference heading into Week 16. The resurgence of Cam Newton has turned the Panthers into a formidable threat once again, but they will likely be forced to settle for a wild card with the Saints poised to take the NFC South division crown.
Worst Division Winner
Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)
The AFC West burst wide open after the Kansas City Chiefs ended up playing like paper tigers this season. Kansas roared out of the gates with a five-game win streak, including impressive victories over the Patriots, Eagles and Chargers. The Chiefs just weren’t the same after their defeat to the Steelers beat them in Week Six, earning only two wins in nine weeks since.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, they have a relatively easy schedule with a game against the Dolphins this week, along with a key matchup against the Broncos to end the regular season. Kansas at home should be able to lock down the woeful AFC West division against one of the most disappointing teams in football.
Best Wild Card Playoff Team
Carolina Panthers (10-4)
Carolina plays in the NFC South, the toughest division in football. The Panthers have overcome stiff competition from the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints to rise to the top of the division, giving themselves a 94% chance to make the playoffs as wild card entrants.
New Orleans has the inside track for the division title after beating the Panthers twice this year. As such, the Panthers will be the best team to make the playoffs without winning their division.
In theory, the Lions and Cowboys have a shot at a wild card spot, but the main competition for Carolina will be the Falcons and Seahawks. Seattle and Atlanta possess legitimate odds to sneak into a wild card position if the Panthers swoon.
Worst Wild Card Playoff Team
Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
Baltimore, had they won against the Steelers a couple of weeks ago, would have clinched a spot. But their offense simply wasn’t able to take advantage, leading to a frustrating, one-point loss against, summing up Baltimore’s season.
The Ravens defense ranks among the top five in the NFL while the offense ranks top ten. But the Ravens average of 24.5 PPG overstates the quality of their attack. Joe Flacco has tossed 14 TDs and 12 interceptions this year, leading to a horrid 79.1 passer rating.
Meanwhile, Baltimore’s secondary ranks first with three pick sixes and the defense has added three fumble returned for TDs. As such, the Ravens defense is tied for first in TDs scored, along with the potent defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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