We learned a few things during Week 11 of this NFL season.
The Denver Broncos are not ready to give up the AFC No. 1 seed to the previously unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. Denver now has the tiebreaker advantage against Kansas City with a head-to-head win, but also heads into a tough gauntlet over the next two weeks at New England and then at Kansas City. Needless to say, we'll know a lot more about the top seeds in the AFC after Week 13.
In the AFC East, despite a Week 11 loss to Carolina, the New England Patriots have a two-game lead and a tiebreaker advantage with a 3-1 division record that includes a split with the N.Y. Jets.
Denver and Kansas City are headed for a clash to determine the AFC West title and likely homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. They meet again in two weeks in Kansas City after Denver has to head to New England to face an angry Patriots team and Kansas City hosts San Diego. As for clinching scenarios, I have a couple of highly unlikely and crazy scenarios for both Denver and Kansas City to clinch playoff berths listed below. Anyone ready for Tie game Mania!?
We also learned the battle for the last Wild Card spot in the AFC will likely be a rollercoaster ride. The Jets blew a chance to create some room between them and the rest of the AFC wild card hopefuls with their loss at Buffalo. We now have nine teams within 1.5 games of each other from 5-5 to 4-7, with six teams at 4-6. The Jets and San Diego both have woeful conference records at 2-5 and that might ultimately cost them come tiebreaker time, not to mention the Jets have head-to-head losses against Pittsburgh and Tennessee and the Chargers have lost to Tennessee, Oakland and Miami. Miami and Oakland are the only two contenders in that bunch with winning conference records at 4-3.
Indianapolis (three-game lead over Tennessee) and Cincinnati (2.5 game lead over the rest of division) created some breathing room for division titles with Week 11 wins over division rivals. Indy can clinch the division title with wins over the next two weeks (details below). Cincinnati has a bye this week, and will need to see who of Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland and then Pittsburgh at Baltimore (Week 13) try to make a run at them.
On the NFC side, New Orleans came up with a big win at home against San Francisco and remains spotless in the NFC with a 6-0 conference record. Carolina can potentially keep pace with the Saints. San Francisco's loss also gave Seattle a 3.5 game lead in the NFC West and a further leg up on the NFC No. 1 seed. San Francisco does have a perceived advantage in the schedule department ahead as they face Washington, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Atlanta in four of their final six games (combined 11-29 record).
Chicago's key overtime win over Baltimore in horrible Windy City weather knotted the top of the NFC North as Detroit fell at Pittsburgh. Pending Aaron Rodgers' return in Green Bay, the NFC North race will likely be very tight with Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay all one game apart. Detroit has an advantage in the race with a season sweep of Chicago and better division (3-1) and conference (5-2) records, although they do have a head-to-head loss to Green Bay back on Week 5.
The NFC East is turning into a bit of a quagmire with the N.Y. Giants trying to make an historic run and Philadelphia staking claim to the division lead for now, with Dallas on a Week 11 bye. Dallas has an edge in tiebreakers as they are 3-0 in the division with a win against each division foe and 5-2 in conference. Philly is also 5-2 in the conference but has two division losses against New York and Dallas. Philadelphia's only remaining division game is a Week 17 clash at Dallas whereas the N.Y. Giants have key games the next two weeks against Dallas and at Washington. Hard to see a team pulling away in this division prior to Week 16-17.
SCENARIOS TO WATCH:
- DENVER can clinch a playoff berth this week with a win + San Diego loss or tie + Pittsburgh-Cleveland tie + Oakland-Tennessee tie + EITHER Baltimore-NY Jets tie OR Baltimore loss and Miami loss or tie.
- KANSAS CITY can clinch a playoff berth this week with a win + Pittsburgh-Cleveland tie + Oakland-Tennessee tie + EITHER a Baltimore-NY Jets tie OR Baltimore loss + Miami loss or tie OR Baltimore loss + New England loss. The New England scenario is added here as, without the Miami loss or tie, the only way the NY Jets beat out Kansas City is by winning the division. New England must lose to Miami and Buffalo to get to 3-3 in division (same as Jets) and if they lose to Denver this week they would have to win against Houston, Cleveland and Baltimore negating the Jets common opponents advantage against New England. Then, New England would beat Jets in two-way tie on conference record after Miami drops out on common opponents. This would leave the Jets exposed on conference record against the Chiefs. Safe to say this is a highly unlikely outcome.
- INDIANAPOLIS can clinch the AFC South division title with wins over the next two weeks at Arizona and vs. Tennessee. The wins would get Indy to 9-7 at worst and would limit Tennessee to 9-7 at best with a Colts sweep of the Titans, included giving Indianapolis its first division title since 2010.
- SEATTLE is on bye this week before hosting New Orleans on Week 13 and traveling to San Francisco on Week 14. By winning both of those games, Seattle will clinch the NFC West division title and, with a loss/tie by Detroit, a first-round playoff bye. The Seahawks can also clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs by Week 14 if they win Weeks 13 and 14 plus any Detroit loss/tie and New Orleans loses to Atlanta (Week 12) and Carolina (Week 14) [one of the Saints losses could be a tie] and Carolina loses to either Miami (Week 12) or Tampa Bay (Week 13). Seattle needs Detroit to lose/tie to avoid losing to the Lions on conference record, and that also avoids three-way tie with either New Orleans or Carolina, which could negate Seattle's head-to-head win over both of those teams. FYI...New Orleans and Carolina still have to play each other twice (on Weeks 14 and 16) which could help Seattle down the road.
As I've done in years past, here is my current projection of playoff seeds based on potential tiebreaker scenarios and on-field performance ("eyeball test").
Projected Playoff Seeds at end of 2013 season:
NFC - 1) Seattle, 2) New Orleans, 3) Philadelphia, 4) Detroit, 5) Carolina, 6) San Francisco
AFC - 1) Denver, 2) New England, 3) Indianapolis, 4) Cincinnati, 5) Kansas City, 6) Baltimore