NFL Playoff Picture Week 14: With loss at Miami, Patriots' bye on shaky ground
The NFC is going to be a blast to watch down the stretch, but don't sleep on the Patriots' Monday loss
The Patriots just made things harder for themselves when it comes to the playoff picture by shockingly losing to the Dolphins as double-digit favorites Monday night. But that only matters if they can't go into Pittsburgh next week and get the win; if they beat the Steelers, that'll even up the race for the No. 1 seed in the conference and home-field advantage in the AFC, with the Pats having the head-to-head tiebreaker.
But if they lose to the Steelers ... goodness. Not only would Pittsburgh then be a shoe-in for the top seed, but the Patriots would then be behind the 8-ball for even the No. 2 seed. That's because if the Jaguars take care of business next week against the Texans, they would then be tied with New England at 10-4 and hold the conference-record tiebreaker over the Pats.
Basically, the Patriots' loss to the Dolphins could mean absolutely nothing (if they beat Pittsburgh) or virtually everything (if they lose to the Steelers). The pressure is certainly on now.
The NFC playoff race continues to be the most exciting thing about the 2017 NFL season, and that didn't change in Week 14. Things got started with a wild Saints-Falcons game Thursday and things got really shook up when Carson Wentz left the Eagles' 43-35 victory over the Rams with what was determined to be a knee injury.
The Eagles areand if that's the case, it throws the NFC playoff race into a blender on the same day they clinched the NFC East and a playoff spot.
Wentz has been one of the top MVP candidates through 13 weeks of the season and was his typical impressive self against Los Angeles. He was dodging tacklers, making throws into really tight windows and running the ball like a linebacker. And then, when Wentz plunged into the end zone for a touchdown that would be called back, he took a huge shot to the knee and everything changed.
You can argue the Eagles could still make a Super Bowl run with Nick Foles -- multiple people have tried to do that since the Wentz injury -- and that's a thing that could happen, but it seems unlikely given the defenses Philadelphia will have to beat in the playoffs to get that far.
So who's the best team in the NFC now? The Vikings are the highest seed outside of Philadelphia, but they just lost to Carolina (granted the game was close and it was a third straight road game). The Saints have looked a lot less explosive the last few weeks and really need Alvin Kamara out on the field to be as dangerous on offense. The Rams just lost to the Eagles, even though they got a quarter of Nick Foles.
The Panthers have played well, but they're up and down and got swept by New Orleans. The Falcons are intriguing but they aren't consistent on offense. The Seahawks are just too beat up. The Cowboys and Packers need a lot of help to get to the playoffs, but they would be scary if they got there.
Maybe the best team in the NFC is still the Eagles? That wouldn't be my choice, but they are a dangerous team even with Foles thanks to the defensive line and running game.
There's no easy answer -- the move is probably to default to the Vikings, but everything could change next week when Rodgers comes back or if the Saints look dangerous again. The NFC was going to be wild down the stretch no matter what, but the Wentz injury just created a ton of chaos.
Here's how the rest of the NFL playoff picture looks, as well as a snapshot of some games that could impact what it looks like after Week 14 and beyond.
AFC: Who's in
1. (y) Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)
The Steelers clinched the AFC North on Sunday night with their victory over the Ravens. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't easy but it was a win and the Steelers cashed on the over for their season win total while also hurting their rivals shot at making the playoffs. Next up are the Patriots, with homefield on the line.
2. New England Patriots (10-3)
Didn't see that loss coming, but here we are, and the Patriots just lost to the Dolphins in Week 14 in Miami. They seem to lose to the Dolphins a lot to be honest, but that doesn't make them any more happy about it. Beat the Steelers and they're probably still hosting playoff games in Foxborough, but this was not a good effort.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4)
What an effort from the Jaguars at home against the Seahawks, with Jacksonville putting itself in position to try and snare a bye if it can win out. The Jaguars nearly let Seattle back in the game, but ultimately prevailed and looked, once again, incredible on defense. The door is cracked open for the Jags' to get a first-round bye.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)
The Chiefs bounced back from a rough stretch in a huge way, absolutely destroying the Raiders -- don't let the score fool you, they were not close to losing this game at any point. And they should have scored more points, but Alex Smith got victimized by a lot of drops. Kansas City controls its destiny in the AFC West with a matchup against the Chargers next week and probably shot down the Raiders' chances of making a run.
5. Tennessee Titans (8-5)
The Titans were lethargic against the Cardinals, losing an ugly 12-7 game in Arizona that suddenly puts their once guaranteed playoff status straight up in jeopardy. Tennessee's offense can't get going and they have a really difficult schedule remaining, not to mention a tightening AFC wild card situation.
6. Buffalo Bills (7-6)
AFC: Who's out
7. Baltimore Ravens (7-6): The Ravens stormed back against the Steelers on Sunday night, scoring a pile of unanswered points and somehow let Pittsburgh ... steal the game away anyway. The Ravens have to be looking over their shoulder, but with Cleveland, Indy and Cincy left on the docket, they're probably getting in.
8. Los Angeles Chargers (7-6): Don't look now but here come the Chargers! L.A. destroyed the Redskins in easy fashion on Sunday, waltzing to a victory that puts them in a two-way tie with the Chiefs for first place in the division with a Saturday night showdown coming up next weekend. L.A. is just a game out of the wild-card race now too.
9. Oakland Raiders (6-7): The Raiders looked like they were just going through the motions against Kansas City. At one point in the third quarter Kareem Hunt had more yards and points scored than the entire Raiders offense.
10. Miami Dolphins (6-7): The Dolphins kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a stunning and dominating victory over the Patriots on Monday night. Jay Cutler looked awesome and Kenyan Drake emerged as a viable feature back. Don't rule out the Dolphins just yet.
11. New York Jets (5-8): The Jets were absolutely dominated by the Broncos on Sunday afternoon and they lost Josh McCown to injury, forcing Bryce Petty into the game. Still an impressive season for this team.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8): The Bengals laid down like a team that had its heart ripped out the week before against Pittsburgh, which was the case for Cincy. They were down a lot of players to injury and it showed in their low-effort loss to the Bears.
AFC: Who's Eliminated
13. Houston Texans (4-9)
14. Denver Broncos (4-9)
15. Indianapolis Colts (3-10)
16. Cleveland Browns (0-13)
NFC: Who's in
1. (y) Philadelphia Eagles (11-2)
A bittersweet victory for the Eagles, because they clinched a playoff berth and won the NFC East, but they very well may have lost Carson Wentz for the season. Wentz reportedly may have suffered a torn ACL, or at least the Eagles are concerned that he did. Best case scenario for Philly probably involves an MCL injury and a few weeks without Wentz. Either way, they're going to the postseason but people in Philly are very nervous.
2. Minnesota Vikings (10-3)
The Vikings got banged around by the Panthers defense with some offensive linemen missing, and Case Keenum threw a couple of picks but still didn't look terrible. Minnesota can very much make a run at the No. 1 seed if Wentz is missing and the Eagles struggle.
3. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
Brutal loss at home considering the circumstances: The Eagles had to play Nick Foles for a quarter and the Rams were leading for large stretches of this game. They are secretly in danger of missing the playoffs if they only go 1-2 down the stretch and the Cowboys or Packers get hot.
4. New Orleans Saints (9-4)
The Saints are suddenly in a very interesting position, having dropped a game to the Falcons on Thursday night. There's plenty of games left to be played, but they have a dogfight to win the division.
5. Carolina Panthers (9-4)
The Panthers don't have a tiebreaker with the Saints, but they do have a tie for the division lead. That's huge because they might be the first team against Aaron Rodgers if he returns next week and still have to play the Falcons again. They're in good shape but not out of the woods just yet.
6. Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
Atlanta's Thursday win was massive -- they get a mini-bye late in the season and now close with Tampa, New Orleans and Carolina. They are still in play to win the division.
NFC: Who's out
7. Seattle Seahawks (8-5): Seattle got to look in the mirror at its doppleganger and it got beat up pretty bad by the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Russell Wilson tried to make something out of this game, but they came up short.
8. Detroit Lions (7-6): The Lions snuck by the Bucs with a banged-up quarterback and kept their playoff hopes alive.
9. Green Bay Packers (7-6): The Packers needed overtime to beat the Browns but managed to pull it off (and cover, sigh). Aaron Rodgers is coming back next week and things are going to get interesting.
10. Dallas Cowboys (7-6): The Cowboys hammered the Giants on Sunday to set themselves up for a possible playoff run if/when Ezekiel Elliott comes back from suspension. They get the Raiders next week and then Zeke returns. It's very interesting.
11. Arizona Cardinals (6-7): The Cardinals are not going to make the playoffs but they are not eliminated yet, and they keep fighting hard despite playing without their starting running back and featuring a third-string quarterback.
NFC: Who's Eliminated
12. Washington Redskins (5-8)
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9)
14. Chicago Bears (3-9)
15. New York Giants (2-9)
16. San Francisco 49ers (2-10)
Legend: (x) clinched playoff berth | (y) denotes division winner | (z) denotes first-round bye | (*) clinched home-field advantage
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