The NFL playoff picture is an absolute mess.
Rather than provide clarity, Week 15 clouded the situation even further. Regardless of whether the Redskins win or lose tonight, there will still be a ton of questions heading into the final two weeks of the season.
Comparing the conferences, things are much murkier in the NFC. The Lions could either get a bye or miss the playoffs entirely. The Buccaneers are in a tough spot, but they’re still right in the thick of the Wild Card race, and could possibly still win their division. At 10-4, it’s still technically possible for the Giants to miss the NFL’s postseason tournament if they lose out.
In the AFC, playoff positioning is still very much up in the air, but a pair of teams appear to find themselves on the outside looking in.
Let’s look at two teams who suffered possibly detrimental outcomes relative to their playoff dreams in Week 15.
Heading into Sunday, the Colts’ playoff chances weren’t all that high. But, as the first set of games played out, everything appeared to be breaking their way.
Both Kansas City and Jacksonville held leads over the Titans and Texans in the fourth quarter. If both Tennessee and Houston lost, the Colts would find themselves in a 1st place tie for the AFC South lead.
However, that’s not how it panned out. Tom Savage replaced $72 million quarterback Brock Osweiler and led the Texans to a dramatic victory over the Jags. Simultaneously, Marcus Mariota made big throw after big throw in the frigid cold in Kansas City, putting the Titans in field goal range with just seconds to go trailing 17-16.
The first kick came up short:
Tennessee Titans Stun Chiefs With Second Kick After Andy Reid Iced Ryan Succop pic.twitter.com/nKmUhN8JD2
— SportsCast (@SportsCast_THN) December 18, 2016
— Green Machine (@99RaiderNation) December 18, 2016
What must break their way now?
Everything must break the Colts’ way for them to make the playoffs moving forward. First and foremost, it starts with Indy finding a way to beat the 11-3 Raiders in Oakland.
The Raiders are coming off the high of clinching their first playoff spot since 2002. The atmosphere in Oakland will be both rabid and emotional, with it potentially being the last regular season home game with a potential move to Las Vegas on the horizon.
The Raiders are also playing for a division title and a bye. The Colts will have to play the game of their lives to take this one.
From there, Indy needs the Texans to lose to the Bengals, and the Titans to lose to Jacksonville. If that all happens, the Colts will then need a Week 17 victory over the Jags combined with a Tennessee win over Houston. That would put Indy in a tie with the Titans, who they’ve beaten twice this season.
At worst, the Texans will finish with a 5-1 division record and two wins over the Colts. If they find themselves tied with the Colts, Titans, or both at the end of the season, they own the tiebreak for the AFC South title.
Sorry Colts fans, but your season is all but over.
Unlike the Indianapolis, the Broncos have a few different avenues to the postseason. But, their path is still quite perilous.
In losing to the Patriots yesterday afternoon, Denver fell to 8-6. The defense performed admirably, making Tom Brady uncomfortable for much of the afternoon while holding New England to just 16 points. The issue, as it has been for much of the year, was the offense.
The Broncos only managed to score three points against a Patriots defense ranked first in points against, but just 20th in defensive DVOA. They were completely unable to run the ball, and while Trevor Siemian managed 282 yards, he wasn’t able to finish a single drive.
Denver didn’t receive any help from the rest of Week 15’s slate, either. The Dolphins, Texans, Titans, Ravens, and Steelers all won, dropping the Broncos’ playoff expectancy quite a bit (currently at 17.2%, according to Football Outsiders). Even Buffalo‘s victory over the Browns has the potential to factor in if they win out.
If Denver is going to get a chance to defend their Super Bowl triumph in this year’s postseason, a lot has to break right.
What must break their way now?
Their final two games are at Kansas City and then at home against the Raiders in Week 17. Denver doesn’t control their own destiny, but winning both of those games tremendously raises their chances.
If the Broncos finish 10-6, they’ll get in if both the Dolphins and the Ravens lose a game apiece. With Matt Moore under center, Miami faces the Bills in Buffalo before hosting the Patriots. Baltimore travels to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers before finishing at the Bengals.
The Dolphins are the one team the Broncos hold a tiebreak over. According to ESPN’s Playoff Machine, the Ravens, Steelers, and a hypothetical 10-6 Chiefs team all hold tiebreakers over the Broncos.
If the Ravens win out, Denver would still get in with a Dolphins loss as long as the Steelers lose to the Browns on the final Sunday. So, basically, they need Miami and Baltimore to lose.
If Denver loses a game…
Beating both Kansas City and Oakland is a tall task. Denver has already lost to both, and while they’re certainly capable of topping their divisional rivals, it’s more likely that the Broncos lose at least one of those games. If that happens, their playoff hopes decline even further.
If Denver finishes 9-7, they need both the Dolphins and the Ravens to lose their remaining games. On top of that, they need some help from the AFC South.
If both Houston and Tennessee win in Week 16, Denver’s out with a 9-7 record. If both lose, the scenario in the previous paragraph gets Denver in.
Here’s where it gets confusing. If only the Texans or the Titans win next week, whoever that winning team is also has to win Week 17’s Tennessee-Houston matchup. If the team who loses in Week 16 wins that game, both the Titans and Texans would finish 9-7, and they both own tiebreakers over the Broncos. The Texans would take the division, and the Titans would get the final wild card spot.
Essentially, the message here is that Denver needs to win both of their remaining games. If they don’t, only utter chaos will land them a playoff berth.