It’s hard to believe but there are only 7 weeks left in the NFL Season. Technically no teams have locked up the playoffs and no teams are eliminated but some teams have some serious work to do. Here’s a look at what teams I expect to make the playoffs and who’s going to miss out.
New England Patriots (7-2)
The main thing that we keep hearing about the Patriots is how off Brady has looked this year with his new set of WRs. It’s because of that that it is surprising to see the Patriots at 7-2. The only impressive win they have to date is the comeback victory over the Saints in week 6. The next best team they played was the Bengals who they lost to. To be fair to the Patriots, their running game has been very impressive (8th in the league) and their passing defense has really stepped up but Patriot fans probably aren’t too excited about how their playoff run will end with how the team is playing right now.
Looking Forward: Yes the Patriot’s schedule has been easy, but it doesn’t get much more challenging during the second half. The only tough matchups they have is week 11 @ Carolina, week 12 vs. Denver and maybe week 16 @ Baltimore. Even if the Patriots were to lose 5 of their last 7 games, finishing 9-7 is probably good enough to make the wild card.
Prediction: Patriots finish 11-5 and win the AFC East.
New York Jets (5-4)
Before the season started, I expected the Jets to be one of the worst teams in the NFL and I was far from alone in that prediction. Geno Smith has been inconsistent but he’s been the boost the Jets needed to be competitive. The Jets defense has been dominant (#1 in the NFL in rush defense) and their running game has been surprising (#9 in the NFL). Like the Patriots, they did benefit from having an easier schedule but they won the games they were supposed to and had their yearly split with the Patriots.
Looking Forward: The Jets go on the road against Carolina and Baltimore plus both games against the Dolphins still have to be played. The other three games are @ Buffalo, vs. Oakland, and vs. Cleveland. Although none of these games are huge mismatches, the Jets really don’t play a single easy game either. The Jets are also 4-1 at home compared to 1-3 on the road, meaning the 4-3 split in favor of road games is not ideal.
Prediction: Jets finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins (4-5)
The Dolphins have been the Jekyll and Hyde team so far this season. After starting 3-0, including a win against the Colts, the Dolphins are 1-5 including a loss to the previously winless Bucs on Monday Night. Some of their disappointment can be explained by the misuse of their RBs (or desire to avoid the run all together in many games) and injuries to the offensive line. Tannehill has been good (on pace for almost 4,000 yards and 25 TDs) but not great (10 INTs and 8 fumbles so far). Mike Wallace has only 495 yards and 1 TD on the season, much of that coming in 1 week. The defense has been very average and that is basically how this team feels this season.
Looking Forward: The Dolphins get to play the Panthers at home, where they also host the Chargers, Patriots and one game against the Jets. They go on the road to play the Steelers, Jets, and Bills. The Dolphins have a lot of work to do but maybe if they can balance their rushing attack a bit more (they have 195 rushing attempts to 333 passing attempts) it can give them a shot. Also Lamar Miller is averaging 4.5 YPC and has 4 rushes over 20 yards compared to Daniel Thomas’ 3.3 average and 0 rushes over 20 yet Miller only has 100 carries while Thomas has 64; this needs to change.
Prediction: Dolphins finish 9-7 and make the playoffs as a Wild Card.
Buffalo Bills (3-7)
The Bills had a big loss when EJ Manuel got hurt after scrambling because he had been getting in tune with his WRs. His absence helped the Bills on their way to being the 4th worst passing attack in the league. What is surprising is that CJ Spiller is being outperformed on every level by Fred Jackson but rather than hurt the Bills, this has led to the 7th best rushing game in the league. The Bills have no been dynamic enough to win games this year and they will need Manuel to turn the team around to win a few games on their way to yet another disappointing year (or as Bills fans call them, “season”).
Looking Forward: The Bills would need to win out to have a shot at making the playoffs. Of all the AFC East teams, they have the schedule most conducive to doing this since they play the Jets, Falcons, Bucs, Jaguars, Dolphins, and Patriots. The only road games are the Bucs, Jags, and Patriots so if the Bills really stepped up, winning out is actually possible, not that I think they will.
Prediction: It only makes sense for the Bills to give their fans some hope before crushing them once again. Bills finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs.
Kansas City Chiefs (9-0)
From worst to first! The Chiefs have been nothing sort of shocking this season and it’s not surprising that fans are just waiting for them to blow it and reveal their true talent level. The Chiefs have had the benefit of one of the easiest schedules in the league so far but they have not allowed a single opponent to score over 17 points and that includes the Cowboys who put up the most impressive losing effort on the season when they played the Broncos. Their defense is easily the best in the league and although the passing attack leaves much to be desired, Jamaal Charles is for real.
Looking Forward: The Chiefs schedule gets much more challenging as they play the Broncos and Chargers twice plus the Colts. They also have games against the Redskins and Raiders. The Broncos will challenge the Chiefs to see just how good their defense is and if their offense can compete when they need to put up big numbers. We’ll know a lot more about the Chiefs after this week.
Prediction: Chiefs finish 13-3 and make the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
Denver Broncos (8-1)
The Broncos are basically the opposite of the Chiefs. Last week when they scored 28 points, it was the lowest they’ve scored all season. However, the flip side is that the Broncos have held their opponents under 20 only once. The Broncos really haven’t played all that many good teams but considering they are winning by 15 points on average, it’s easy to give them a pass for their schedule. Peyton will likely set quite a few records this season, he has scored almost 4 TDs per game and only needs around 2.5 per game to break Brady’s record.
Looking Forward: The two games against the Chiefs and one against the Patriots are likely the only chances for Denver to lose again this season and I’m not convinced they will lose any of those either. We’re watching history right now.
Prediction: Broncos finish 14-2 and go to the playoffs as the #1 seed.
San Diego Chargers (4-5)
Don’t call it a comeback! Rivers bounced back in a big way this season but unfortunately, that hasn’t translated into wins for the Chargers. They had some surprising wins (Colts and Cowboys) but couldn’t beat teams they really should have (Texans, Titans, Raiders, Redskins) showing the inconsistency. The real issue is the defense which is allowing 22.4 PPG.
Looking Forward: Two games against the Chiefs, one with the Broncos, and one with the Bengals is tough to see. Even their “easy” games are against the Dolphins, Giants, and Raiders which are far from guaranteed wins. It’s really hard to bet on the Chargers for any of these games.
Prediction: Chargers finish 6-10 and miss the playoffs.
Oakland Raiders (3-6)
No one expected the Raiders to compete at all this season but using Terrelle Pryor has been surprisingly effective so far this season. Pryor’s mobility has helped the Raiders to the 5th best rushing team in the league but his recent games have been ugly in terms of passing numbers, leading to the 2nd worst passing game.
Looking Forward: The Raiders end with the 3 divisional games and before that play the Titans, Cowboys, and Jets. It’s entirely possible they don’t win another game this year. They have some good parts to build on but they are not one of the teams who will make a second half run.
Prediction: Raiders finish 4-12 and miss the playoffs.
If the Dolphins are the Jekyll and Hyde of teams, Andy Dalton is the Jekyll and Hyde of players. At times, he’s looked like one of the better QBs in the league, and other times we wonder how he’s playing in the NFL. The result is a team that’s won against the Packers and Patriots but has lost to the Dolphins and Browns. The Bengals defense is very good; top 10 in yards/game and PPG and the dual attack of BJGE and Gio Bernard has looked dominant, plus the Bengals have a ton of receiving talent in AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Mohammed Sanu, Tyler Eifert, and Jermaine Gresham.
Looking Forward: The Bengals need some consistency out of Dalton if they’re going to be a serious contender in the playoffs. They only have two road games, against the Chargers and Steelers and play four home games against the Browns, Colts, Vikings, and Ravens. Since the Bengals are 2-4 on the road and 4-0 at home, that’s a pretty strong looking schedule.
Prediction: Bengals finish 10-6 and win the AFC North.
Cleveland Browns (4-5)
The Browns got a full makeover only a few weeks into the season when they traded Richardson and started Brian Hoyer. It’s only natural that Hoyer would leave for the season after looking not only competent but talented, forcing the Browns to go back to Weeden, and now use Jason Campbell. However, the Browns have looked good, especially on defense, even though their only statement win was against the Bengals.
Looking Forward: Maybe Jason Campbell really is the answer for the Browns. He played well against a tough defense but will have plenty of challenges the rest of the season, playing Pittsburgh twice, New England, Cincy, Chicago, and the Jets (and 1 game against the Jaguars). The defenses just don’t get easier so Campbell will really need to be on his game to lead to more wins.
Prediction: Browns finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens (4-5)
It’s not at all shocking to see the Ravens struggling after getting rid of half of their Super Bowl winning team. What is surprising, is that Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce have combined to make the Ravens the 3rd worst rushing team in the league. Rice has only 289 yards (2.5 YPC). Torey Smith is having a great, under the radar season, but Flacco is playing far removed from hi playoff run last year. The defense has survived the loss of Reed and Lewis, still ranked top 10 in points allowed per game, but the high powered rushing attack is gone, leaving the Ravens looking weak.
Looking Forward: The Ravens get three weak opponents at home (Jets, Steelers, Vikings) but also play the Patriots at home and go on the road against the Bears, Lions, and Bengals. These teams are not kind to the running game and it doesn’t like Ray Rice is going to have an easy time moving forward.
Prediction: Ravens finish 6-10 and miss the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers (3-6)
The Steelers were expected to struggle this year since they are aging and didn’t have a running back to carry the load. It’s not surprising that their running game is 6th worst in the league. However, Ben has done a great job using his below average cast to get the Steelers to the 11th best passing attack. Also, the defense has been good against opposing QBs but they have no ability to stop the run, leading to 24.2 points allowed per game.
Looking Forward: Although this is a bit of a lost season for the Steelers, Bell has been decent enough that once the Steelers fix their offensive line problems they should be a good team again. There are some tough games (DET, BAL, CIN, GB) and the easier games are far from easy (CLE x2, MIA). The 6-1 stretch the Steelers would likely need to make the playoffs seems a bit out of reach.
Prediction: Steelers finish 6-10 and miss the playoffs.
Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
Many pegged the Colts as a regression team this season after Luck’s late comebacks last season. The Colts have looked great so far and have many big wins including victories over the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos. Trenth Richardson has not been particularly useful and Reggie Wayne’s injury puts a damper on the passing game but as long as the embarrassing loss to the Rams was a fluke, the Colts should be fine.
Looking Forward: The Bengals and Chiefs are the only tough teams left on the schedule for the Colts so they should be able to keep up the pace.
Prediction: Colts finish 10-6 and win the South.
Tennessee Titans (4-5)
The Titans defense has been pretty good but really went downhill in the past few weeks. Add in the injuries and lack of offensive playmakers and the Titans are really a sub par team that is able to beat the bad teams (Jaguars excluded). Chris Johnson looks like he’s never going to get back into 2,000 yard form.
Looking Forward: The Titans have some real hope for when Locker gets back. Their defense was looking good, the young WRs are talented and Locker was playing well. Since he’s not in, the Titans aren’t going to have much luck this season, especially since 3 of their last 7 games are against the Colts (twice) and Broncos.
Projection: Titans finish 6-10 and miss the playoffs.
Houston Texans (2-7)
The good news for the Texans is that their pass defense is top of the NFL. The bad news is pretty much everything else. After winning the first two games, the Texans lost the next 7 while playing QB musical chairs and losing Foster and Daniels for the rest of the season.
Looking Forward: Tate and Keenum aren’t the combo that Texans fans imagined for this season but as far as backups go, they could do a lot worse (looking at you Packers QBs). There’s a lot to like in Hopkins and Graham and the defense has still been playing well so the Texans can possibly hang in there for some games this year.
Projections: Texans finish 6-10 and miss the playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)
Hey the Jaguars won a game! MJD’s decline is in full force and the Jaguars defense is easily the worst in the league. To make matters worse, the Jaguars only good aspect, the passing game, was limited when Blackmon got suspended indefinitely. The good news, if there is any, is that the Jaguars will get great pick and Cecil Shorts is talented enough to build around.
Looking Forward: The Jaguars do play a handful of teams that are struggling so they can get a few more wins but with virtually nothing good going for them, it’s hard to imagine many more.
Prediction: Jaguars finish 2-14 and get the first pick in the draft.
Standings (Based on my Projections)
1. Patriots 11-5
2. Dolphins 9-7
3. Jets 8-8
4. Bill 7-9
1. Bengals 10-6
2. Browns 8-8
3. Ravens 6-10
4. Steelers 6-10
1. Broncos 14-2
2. Chiefs 13-3
3. Chargers 6-10
4. Raiders 4-12
1. Colts 10-6
2. Titans 6-10
3. Texans 6-10
4. Jaguars 2-14
Playoffs (first round)
#1 Broncos – bye
#2 Patriots – bye
#3 Colts vs. #6 Dolphins
#4 Bengals vs. #5 Chiefs