Four NFC playoff spots taken today, more to be determined
The image of the NFC playoffs is starting to get clearer and clearer. Green Bay were the first to land a playoff berth when they won NFC North following their victory over the Ravens last week. Today, four more NFC teams were able to ensure their seasons stretch beyond Week 18.
Tampa Bay won the NFC South for the first time since 2007 with a 32-6 victory over the Panthers. While NFC West does not yet have a champion, they nabbed two playoff spots today following the Rams’ 30-23 victory over the Vikings. The Cardinals have had the opportunity to clinch a playoff berth in their last three games, but haven’t been able to do it themselves, losing all three games to the Rams, Lions and Colts. Defeating the Vikings ensures that the Cardinals will end up in a wild card position, at worst. Last but not least, the Cowboys were able to win the NFC East following the AFC West contest between the Raiders and the Broncos. Due to the Raiders’ win over the Broncos, the Cowboys now hold a strength tiebreaker over the Eagles, securing at least one home playoff game in January.
That leaves two wild card spots available in the NFC between six teams still in contention. The Lions (2-12-1), Giants (4-11), Seahawks (5-10), Bears (5-10) and Panthers (5-10) have already been eliminated from the playoffs. The teams still in contention for these last two places are the 49ers (8-7), the Eagles (8-7), the Saints (7-7, play tomorrow night), the Vikings (7-8), the Falcons ( 7-8), and the football team (6-8, play tonight). The only division that has not been decided is the NFC West, where the Rams and Cardinals, who will make the playoffs, will play a home game in the playoffs.
The other professional football conference is much more open. The only team to land a playoff berth to date are the Chiefs, who won the AFC West today with a convincing 36-10 victory over the Steelers. Only three teams were eliminated from the playoffs: the Jaguars (2-13), the Texans (4-11) and the Jets (4-11).
The AFC East is currently a race between the Bills (9-6), Patriots (9-6) and Dolphins (7-7), who play tomorrow night and are looking to extend their six-game winning streak. If the Dolphins were to lose tomorrow night, they would still be vying for a wild card spot, but they couldn’t win the AFC East as the Bills have the tiebreaker against them.
The AFC Sud is a little simpler, with the Titans (10-5) and the Colts (9-6). The Titans hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against Indianapolis, so just one win in their final two games (against the Dolphins, @ Texans) would win the division. The Colts would need Tennessee to lose both games and win their last two (vs. Raiders, @ Jaguars) to win the division.
AFC North is still completely in the air. All four teams are still in contention to win the division. The Bengals (9-6) swept away the Ravens and Steelers, so they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against both teams. Due to their two-game record difference against the Browns, Cincinnati can take the division with just one win in their last two games (vs. Chiefs, @ Browns). Even if the Bengals lose the last two games, they could win the North if every other team in the division splits their last two. All other teams in the division can win the North if the Bengals lose their last two games and win their last two. The second-place Ravens (8-7) face the Rams (11-4) and Steelers, the third-place Steelers (7-7-1) face the Browns and Ravens, and the fourth-place Browns (7- 8) finish with the Steelers and the Bengals.
Although the winner of the AFC West has already been determined, the remaining three teams are all eligible to reach the playoffs. The Chargers (8-7) and Raiders (8-7) likely control their own destiny, but the Broncos (7-8) would need help getting in, even if they win their remaining two games.
With the second year of the expanded playoffs and the first year of an extra non-conference regular season game, the 2021 NFL season is poised for an exciting ending. At the time of writing, only 2 of the 34 remaining 2021 regular season games will have no direct effect on the playoffs. These two Week 17 games between the Giants-Bears and the Lions-Seahawks will only influence the strength of victory tiebreaks for the teams still in the race. In addition to these, each remaining game will have implications for the playoff standings or the playoff standings. Buckle up and stay tuned for a biting conclusion to the regular season.