The penultimate round of the NFL regular season sealed some divisions and left a few other spots up for grabs in the last week. Here’s how each division and conference is shaping up after Week 16.
The New England Patriots went business as usual home in Gillette Stadium with a 41-3 destruction of division rivals the New York Jets. The Patriots didn’t need to win here, but they put an exclamation point on the closing section of their season.
In a nail-biting game for all Miami fans, the Dolphins managed to snag a victory in overtime against the Buffalo Bills. Although losing here wouldn’t have meant the Fins’ elimination from the playoffs, it would have shifted things out of Miami’s control. With the Broncos losing to the Chiefs, the Dolphins clinched a wildcard spot in the AFC. This will be the Dolphins’ first time in the playoffs since 2008.
The Pittsburgh Steelers rallied for a huge fourth-quarter win against the Baltimore Ravens, scoring 21 points to put them ahead 31-27. This six-game win streak secured them a spot in the playoffs, as well as foiling the chances of Baltimore getting a wildcard spot.
The Texans squeaked by into the playoffs with a .600 record in the worst division in the NFL. The Colts were shut down by the Raiders, despite Derek Carr breaking his fibula in the third quarter.
The Raiders and Chiefs are both going to the playoffs, but are now competing for the first-round bye. Derek Carr’s injury is going to have huge implications for the Raiders at the most untimely part of the season, whereas the Chiefs are playing some of the best football they have played in years.
If the playoffs started today
The Patriots and Raiders would get some breathing time in a first-round bye. Both teams are plagued with injuries, but it is unlikely a week’s break will do anything more than rest up the squad unless sports medicine evolved to fix Gronk’s back and Carr’s leg in a few days.
The sixth-seed Dolphins would face off against the third-seed Steelers in what would be a huge game if Miami were able to pull off the win. The AFC North has shut down Miami from advancing in the playoffs for almost two decades. The Dolphins were able to beat the ailing Steelers mid-season, but post-season Ben Roethlisberger is an entirely different monster.
The fifth-seed Chiefs would stomp the fourth-seed Houston Texans.
The Cowboys are coasting with the first seed, and the Giants sealed the deal for the wildcard spot. The Cowboys are genuinely good, and the Giants made it to the playoffs by default. I hope for Giants fans that Eli Manning starts to play as playoffs Eli and not regular-season Eli in the postseason.
There is only one more game left that could determine the NFC North champion. If the Lions slip up, they could very well be caught by the Green Bay Packers and lose their third-seed spot.
The Atlanta Falcons started off the season bombing every team they faced but tapered off mid-season. Luckily, they won enough games to be able to cruise into the second-seed spot. The Saints and Panthers are eliminated, and the Buccaneers are fighting for a wild card.
The Seahawks were upset by the Arizona Cardinals and were subsequently knocked out of the #2 seed. The Seahawks are one of the injury-laden teams that could have really used an extra week of rest, but will have to defend themselves against a wiry wildcard situation against either the Packers, Lions or Giants.
If the playoffs started today
The Cowboys and Falcons would enjoy a nice bye week and watch the rest of the NFL duke it out for the remaining spots.
The sixth-seed Packers would face off against the third-seed Lions, in what would be an intense divisional rivalry game in the postseason.
The fifth-seed New York Giants would have off against the fourth-seed Seattle Seahawks.