We are into the nitty gritty of the NFL season. There are just two weeks left, and there is a lot left to be decided in the playoff picture. There are a few things we do know for sure - Chicago is a division champ, and New England, Atlanta and Philadelphia likely will be as well. There is still a lot to be figured out, though. Here are five NFL Wild Card predictions for the teams that will make the postseason and what will happen in the Wild Card round of the playoffs:
The battle for fifth in the NFC is the biggest fight there is right now - Generally being a Wild Card team isn’t a good thing - you have to win your way to the Super Bowl on the road. In the NFC this year, though, finishing fifth is actually a pretty good thing. The team that winds up there will get to play the NFC West champion in the Wild Card round. That could be St. Louis, Seattle, or San Francisco. We don’t know which, but what we do know is that the best any team will be is 8-8. It’s more likely that the winner will be 7-9.
New Orleans or the Giants will be the fifth place team with a likely record of at least 11-5. It’s the best argument ever that divisional winners shouldn’t automatically get home field advantage in the playoffs. If New Orleans holds on then we could have another dream matchup - the Eagles hosting the Giants in a rematch of the best game of the season.
Another battle is for sixth in AFC - The Jets and Baltimore are the two likely Wild Card teams in the AFC. Right now they have the same record, but the Ravens have a tie break advantage over the Jets. Both teams ensure their playoff spot with another win.
If I was the Jets I wouldn’t want to do more than the minimum, though -- I wouldn’t want Baltimore to lose their advantage. The fifth-place team would currently be headed to Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs. No matter what problems the Colts have, avoiding a playoff game against Peyton Manning seems like a very good idea in my book -- no matter who you have to play instead. Right now that alternative would be Matt Cassel. Cassel or Manning -- not a tough choice.
Jacksonville is getting in - I know I just talked about wanting to avoid the Colts, but I actually predict that that’s not going to be an issue. Right now the Colts and the Jaguars are tied for the AFC South lead, but the Colts have the tie break. Jacksonville needs to win one more game than the Colts down the stretch to get in, then. I think they will.
They play the Redskins at home and then finish at Houston. Those are two very winnable games for a reasonably talented Jacksonville team. Indy finishes at Oakland and then at home against Tennessee. Both of those games are winnable as well, but both opponents have the ability to be surprisingly strong when they decide to be. Neither team has had the season they hoped to, but the chance to play spoiler could be a strong motivator - especially when they could spoil things for such a public team. Indianapolis is beaten and battered, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them trip up.
Kansas City is getting in - The Chargers have been, well, ‘charging’ down the stretch. It’s too little, too late, though - they aren’t going to get away with taking the first third of the season off. Kansas City is a game ahead of the Chargers, so the Chargers can’t falter, and they need to do better than Kansas City does.
San Diego plays at Cincinnati and Denver. Those two wins should be all but certain, so the Chargers will wind up at 10-6. There is a small chance that San Diego will trip up in one game since they will both be cold weather road games, but I’m betting against it. That leaves the Chargers at 10-6, so the Chiefs need to be 11-5.
Interestingly, they play the same schedule that the Colts do - Oakland and Tennessee. The Chiefs could be challenged in the same ways that the Colts could. The good news, though, is that both games are at home, and the Chiefs haven’t lost in Arrowhead this year. I’m willing to bet that they will come out on top in both and will end the undeserving reign of the Chargers.
There will be at least two Wild Card teams that win their first playoff game - Things have worked out this year so that there will be some vulnerable divisional champs - the AFC West and South, and the NFC West. There are also some very strong Wild Card teams - New Orleans is obviously built for January success, and Baltimore and the Jets are both scary. Home field will help the divisional champs, but it likely won’t be enough in every case.