Handicapping the NFL Playoff Races
by Trevor Whenham - 12/20/2012
Three teams are tied at 8-6, so this one should be absolutely fascinating to watch. The Giants play at Baltimore and against the Eagles. Given the recent struggles of the Ravens, they are positioned to run the table and wind up 10-6, but first they have to rebound from a terrible performance last week at Atlanta. Washington should be able to beat the Eagles this week, and Dallas can beat a frustrated and irrelevant Saints team at home. That would set up a massive game between the Cowboys and Redskins on the last day of the season. Assuming Washington wins this week, the winner of that showdown would be 4-2 in the NFC East. The Giants would wind up 3-3 in the division, so they would lose as a result. In other words, the playoffs could start a week early for the Redskins and Cowboys. In order, it is easiest to trust the Redskins, then the Cowboys then the Giants here. I can’t believe I am actually writing that about the Redskins considering the issues facing them at the start of the season. That’s what you get when you hit the jackpot twice on rookie quarterbacks, I guess. That is certainly reflected in the futures odds at Bovada: Washington is -120 to win the division, with Dallas at +150 and the Giants at +450. Griffin-mania has undoubtedly inflated those odds, but the order is correct.
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There is an early playoff game in this division as well. On Sunday night the 49ers visit the Seahawks. If the Niners win they wrap up the division. If Seattle wins, though, then things get interesting. Seattle closes at home against the Rams, while San Francisco hosts Arizona. Seattle would need to win and hope that the Niners lay an egg to clinch the division. Regardless, San Francisco has already clinched a playoff spot, and the Niners are very well positioned to win the division. San Francisco is -2500 at Bovada, with Seattle at +1000, so it is clear what the oddsmakers expect.
NFC wild card
This is a total mess at this point, with Seattle leading the way at 9-5, and the Giants, Redskins, Cowboys, Vikings and Bears all at 8-6. Besides the Seahawks, the best-positioned team in terms of tiebreakers right now is the Vikings, but they finish at Houston and at home against Green Bay, so they are in tough to hold on to their position. Chicago is limping badly with losses in five of their last six, but the Bears remaining games couldn’t be easier — Arizona and Detroit. If the Bears can win both — albeit on the road — and Minnesota loses one, then the Bears are positioned to make it because of their tiebreaking advantage. The Giants are in the worst position because they lose tiebreaks to every team, so they need to have a clear advantage in the division or the wild card to get through. In other words, repeating is a big uphill battle for them at this point.
Baltimore sits at 9-5 and has clinched at least a wild card berth despite having lost three straight behind some really lousy play from Joe Flacco. Cincinnati is a game behind at 8-6. Baltimore has a much better record against the division, and the Ravens already beaten the Bengals once, so they only need to wind up tied with the Bengals to win the division. They host the Giants this weekend before traveling to Cincinnati to close it out. A win over the Giants would clinch it. If they lose and the Bengals win at Pittsburgh this weekend then the winner of the game at Cincinnati would be the champion. The Steelers are still technically alive, but they need a lot of help to win the division. They need all three teams to finish 9-7, so they need to win out, and have the Ravens drop both. Justifiably, Baltimore is heavily favored by Bovada at -350, with Cincinnati and the Steelers both at +500.
AFC wild card
The Colts haven’t technically clinched yet, but all they need to do is win or tie against the Chiefs and they will, so they functionally have. The Bengals can secure at least a wild card if they beat the Steelers this week or the Ravens in the final week. The Steelers would be in if they win out, or they could also be in if they go 1-1 as long as they beat the Bengals and the Ravens do, too, and Miami loses a game. The Dolphins are the only other team that is still alive, but they need to beat Buffalo and New England, have Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati and Baltimore beat Cincinnati. That way Miami, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh would all be 8-8 and Miami would have the tiebreak.
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