As the calendar turns to December, it starts to become clear who the legitimate Super Bowl contenders are. Every team has five games left, and no team still has a bye. Not one team is clearly locked into one spot, so it should make for some exciting finishes in the final month.
The teams that are essentially eliminated from playoff contention are the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, New York Giants, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers Oakland Raiders.
With this, let us take a look at the tight races down the home stretch of the NFL season.
The Patriots are in control of the AFC East for the 50th straight year and are currently the two seed in the AFC. They have a showdown with the Steelers in a few weeks, who are currently fourth. The Texans have quietly won nine straight and are the three seed. The Colts are two games back in the win column and they play each other on the ninth. The Texans won the first matchup in overtime; Frank Reich’s decision to go for it on fourth down looks stupider and stupider by the minute. The Chiefs are the only two-loss team left in the AFC and are the current one seed.
The Chargers are 8-3, and it would take a massive choke job for them not to get at least a wild card. The Chiefs won the first meeting in week one and they will face off again on the 13th. The Chargers would need to win out and hope the Chiefs lose one more game for Los Angeles to win the division. The Ravens are the current six seed, at 6-5, and still have a small chance of winning the AFC North. The Colts, Titans, Dolphins, and Broncos all have a chance to catch them, and the Bengals just placed Andy Dalton on injured reserve.
The Titans are currently 5-6 and needed a win over the Texans to have any hope of winning the division. They still have a chance of getting a wild card, but they will need to start playing more consistent football. Tennessee has a relatively easy schedule, and finishing 10-6 is a possibility for Mike Vrabel’s team.
The Saints control their own destiny to clinch home field throughout the NFC playoffs and have a four-game lead over the Panthers for the NFC South. The Rams control their own destiny for a bye and could get home field advantage if the Saints are upset in the final five games. They have a four-game lead in the division over the Seahawks, who are currently the seven seed. Washington is currently the six seed, but they have fallen apart since Smith’s season-ending injury. The Bears have a 1.5 game lead over the Vikings for the NFC North. The two teams meet each other in week 17, and the Bears won the first matchup in Chicago. The winner would likely be the three seed, needing a lot of help to clinch a bye.
The NFC East winner will be one who is simply not deserving. The Redskins do not have a quarterback, the Cowboys are currently leading the division but are nothing special, and the Eagles are the defending world champions, but a natural Super Bowl hangover and injuries have them at 5-6. The Panthers are the seven seed, but they have to play the Saints twice. Carolina most likely needs to win at least one of those games to get in.
Finally, the Packers are 4-6-1, falling way short of everyone’s expectations. It seems like Mike McCarthy is on his way out.