Taking Stock of a Surprisingly Clear NFL Playoff Picture

For most NFL teams, there are 6 regular season games remaining.  The final month of the season is vastly approaching.  It’s a time when contenders are playing their best and the bubble teams either rise to the surface or pop and fade away.  This year, only half of the divisions are still tightly contested where just 2 games or less separate the leader from the pack.  In the remaining divisions, it doesn’t take an expert to predict who will take home the division crown.

Down to the Wire

AFC South

The Jacksonville Jaguars currently have a one game lead over the Titans in what some consider to be the surprise team of the 2017 season.  With a defense loaded with talent, the Jaguars lead the NFL in sacks and are the number one ranked unit in terms of yardage.  The Jags also lead the NFL in rushing with over 160ypg that takes a lot of pressure of Blake Bortles and the offense.  The Titans hold a 6-4 record but have yet to be the dominant team in the trenches that many thought this offseason.  They have yet to post a signature win and the running game looks to have taken a step back from last year.  The Titans do, however, have the most talented team in the division.  Look for them to make a year ending run and take the division.

Most Important Game Remaining: Wk 17 – Jax @ Ten

Winner: Tennessee Titans, Marcus Mariota will not be denied.

AFC West

The Kansas City Chiefs began the year as the NFL marquee franchise going 5-0.  They have since slipped dropping 4 of their last 5.  They hold a 1 game lead over the LA Chargers after their convincing victory over the same Cowboy team that ran all over the Chiefs earlier this month.  The Chargers look to be trending in the other direction and with a soft remaining schedule (vs CLE, vs WAS, @ KC, @NYJ, vs OAK) they could sit atop the division come January 1st.  While DEN and OAK still have a shot at the division, they would both likely need to win the remainder of their games.  Oakland has the best shot of the two, but unless they can somehow fix their porous defense they will hold a top 10 pick in next year’s draft.

Most Important Game Remaining: Wk 15 – LAC @ KC

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs, KC fixes their leaky defense and Andy Reid’s squad finishes strong.

NFC South

There is not a hotter team in the NFL right now than the New Orleans Saints.  Dennis Allen has this defense playing at a very high level, something he was never able to do while head coach of the Raiders.  They are playing fast and forcing turn-overs.  The offense has a different look to them as well.  Drew Brees no longer has to throw 40 times a game to put up points.  This two-headed running game of veteran Mark Ingram and rookie of the year candidate Alvin Kamara are a large part of the leagues number one offense.  The Carolina Panthers go as Cam Newton goes.  He’s been a wildly inconsistent QB over the course of his career.  Newton won the 2015-16 NFL MVP award but has struggled to remain healthy over the past two seasons.  The Panthers, as usual, have a top 5 defense, but lack the offensive weapons to give Newton the help he needs to win on a week-to-week basis.  Last year’s NFL South champion Atlanta Falcons have strung together a few wins and look to be climbing back into the race.  With two games against the Saints remaining, they could make up the necessary ground to make a run at another Superbowl appearance.

Most Important Game Remaining: WK 16 – ATL @ NO

Winner: New Orleans, Drew Brees heads back to the post-season for the first time since 2013 thanks the defense.

NFC West

What a job Sean McVay has done.  After coming over from Washington as the Redskin’s offensive coordinator, McVay has turned Jared Goff into an MVP candidate – something he was never able to do for RGIII.  The Rams are averaging over 30 points per game good for second in the league.  The defense is top ten in points allowed and have gotten by with a “bend but don’t break” mentality.  Sitting alone in second place are the Seattle Seahawks.  Russell Wilson may be playing the best football of the year.  It’s truly an amazing thing watching this offense play.  The offensive line acts like they were trained by the Canadian Border Patrol as they seem to let just about anything through.  Each game Wilson comes through with one of those “how the hell did he just do that” kind of play that keeps the Seahawks alive.  If you haven’t seen a Seattle game yet this year, make it a point to do so as you likely won’t get a chance after the regular season.

Most Important Game Remaining: WK 14 – PHI @ LA

Winner: Los Angeles Rams, wonder if anyone in Los Angeles will even care?

Consider it a lock

AFC East

Nothing has changed in this division over past 15 years.  The Patriots hold a 3 game lead over the Bills who are in the midst of a QB controversy…in week 12.  Tom Brady is playing some of the best football of his career…at age 40.  The Miami Dolphins are committed to…Jay Cutler.  And the New York Jets are…the New York Jets.  Que the fat lady.

Most Important Game Remaining: WK 15 – NE @ PIT

Winner: New England Patriots…obviously.

AFC North

Even with an aging QB and a team full of prima-donnas, the Pittsburgh Steelers look in position to lock up this division in the next week or two.  While the Baltimore Ravens defense is no joke they just don’t have the offensive fire-power to make a run.  The Steelers have lost an important piece of their offensive line in Marcus Gilbert over the next 4 weeks.  Gilbert was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy – we’ll see if it is enough to narrow the gap between the Steelers and Ravens.

Most Important Game Remaining: WK 14 –BAL @ PIT

Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers, but maybe closer than some think.

NFC East

It’s week 12 and the Philadelphia Eagles are 4 GAMES UP on the next place team Dallas Cowboys.  Carson Wentz is making the Eagles front office look like a bunch of Bill Belicheks after they traded up for him in the 2016 draft.  They are stout in the trenches and play inspired football behind Doug Peterson’s tutelage.  The number one overall seed is theirs to lose but face a tough remaining schedule with games against Seattle, Los Angeles Rams, and Dallas twice.  Wentz must continue to perform at a high level for them to obtain a first-round bye.

Most Important Game Remaining: WK 14 – PHI @ LA

Winner: Philadelphia Eagles, while securing the number one seed in the NFC.

NFC North

The loss of Aaron Rodgers proved to many exactly the worth of the star QB.  The Packers have gone from NFC contender to a .500 club in a matter of just a few weeks.  The Vikings, meanwhile, have been able to withstand the loss of Sam Bradford thanks to the play of Case Keenum.  Keenum has a completion percentage of over 66 with 14-5 INT:TD ratio.  WR Adam Thielen is an undrafted gem, posting the first 1,000yd receiving year for the Vikings since 2009.  Detroit made a game of it last Thursday night, but were ultimately outmatched by the Vikings defense.

Most Important Game Remaining: Wk 14 – MIN @ CAR

Winner: Minnesota Vikings, Keenum leads the charge into the playoffs as the NFC’s 2 seed.

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