NFL Playoffs Wild-Card Scenarios
by Trevor Whenham - 12/12/2013
As we get closer to the NFL Playoffs, there is a bit of clarity emerging in the wild-card races. There are still a lot of things that can happen, but at least we are at the point where we can begin to understand what is at stake and what is likely to happen. Teams embroiled in wild-card races can elevate their game or crumble under the pressure depending on their makeup. Bettors need to know which teams are in races, and what they need to do, so they can assess the meaning of games and the potential for motivation.
Here’s how the races shape up in both conferences:
The divisions are essentially wrapped up in the AFC. Indianapolis has already clinched the South, and it would take a major collapse for New England, Cincinnati and Denver not to eventually do the same. Kansas City can still theoretically catch the Broncos in the West, but they won’t. It would take an incredible series of events for them not to take a wild-card spot, though — and they all but have the fifth seed wrapped up. That means that there is effectively only one spot available.
While there is a lack of quantity in this race, the quality of the race is high. The only team technically eliminated from playoff contention with three weeks remaining is Houston — the second-favorites to win the conference before the season in a lot of eyes. Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Oakland could all still make it, but the chances of it are so low — all one percent or less — that I’m not going to bother covering them. If things change in the next week or two, I promise I will write again and give these teams more respect.
The leaves four teams — the Dolphins and Ravens at 7-6, and the Jets and Chargers at 6-7.
The Ravens control their own destiny. They beat Miami this year, so they own the tiebreaker. If they finish with the same record as the Dolphins, they will move on. That’s the good news. The bad news is that their schedule is absolutely brutal. They play at a Detroit team fighting for a playoff spot, host the Patriots, who could be fighting for home-field advantage, and then they travel to Cincinnati, which could be looking to grab the second seed by then. No relief. For that reason, though they have destiny on their side, they are only the second most likely team to advance.
Miami needs to have the best record to move on, but their schedule sets up well for them. They get the Patriots at home this week in what will be a very tough test. After that, though, they play at Buffalo and then close out at home against the Jets. If they play like they are capable of, and have during their two-game winning streak, then they will advance.
The Jets have lost to Baltimore, so they need to have a better record than the Ravens. The status of the tiebreak against the Dolphins is uncertain because the two teams meet in the season finale. Basically, though, the Jets need to win out — tough with games at Carolina and Miami — or hope that Miami and Baltimore falter. Either way, it will almost certainly be absolutely crucial that the Jets beat the Dolphins to give them any hope.
The Chargers are in trouble. They have the tiebreak against the Jets, but they lost to Miami and don’t have the tiebreak against the Ravens. They need to win the spot outright, and with a trip to Denver, then home games against Oakland and Kansas City, that is going to be tough.
When it comes strictly to the wild-card races, things are just not that interesting in the NFC. There are just three teams really in the battle for the two spots. Carolina and San Francisco both sit at 9-4. Neither is likely to win their division, but they could be tough to dislodge from the wild card. The Niners play Tampa Bay and Atlanta next, and two wins would make them hard to beat. Then they close at Arizona, which could make things interesting as we’ll see later. Carolina also has two very winnable games against the Jets and Falcons, with a second shot at the Saints as well. They could theoretically beat the Saints for the division if they win two more than New Orleans, but if that happened New Orleans would still be in strong position for the wild card. Both teams control their own destiny, though the Niners have a better chance of success,
The only other team with a legitimate wild card shot is Arizona. They sit at 8-5, so they need to win more than either San Francisco or Carolina. They already beat the Panthers, so they have a tiebreak advantage there. They lost to San Francisco, but that season-ending game against the Niners could be huge. Unfortunately, they play at Tennessee and Seattle before then, so it’s a tough road for them.
The Eagles and Cowboys are in a dogfight for the NFC East, and the Lions and Bears are tied atop the NFC North. While the losers of both fights could theoretically gain a wild card spot, they would have to run the table and hope that San Francisco, Carolina and Arizona all falter. Don’t hold your breath. It’s basically all or nothing in both races.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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