NFL Playoff Projections: Seahawks win NFC West, Vikings get top seed over Eagles
If you were hoping that Russell Wilson was going to miss out on the postseason for the first time in his career, we have some bad news for you: We don’t think it’s going to happen.
In our latest NFL playoff projection, not only do we have the Seahawks punching their ticket to the playoffs, but we have them getting in as the champion of the NFC West (Sorry, Rams). After the Seahawks dominating win over the Eagles on Sunday, it’s become pretty clear that the regular season is just a 17-game preseason for Wilson and that his season doesn’t actually start until the Seahawks are in the playoffs.
The other big winner this week was the Vikings, who might not have to leave Minnesota at all starting December 24. If the Vikings were to get the top seed in the NFC, not only would they get home-field advantage for the playoffs, but they also could get it for the Super Bowl, since that game is being played in Minneapolis.
Alright, let’s get to this week’s playoff projection and to see how everything else shook out. As always, we’ll be including data from number-cruncher Stephen Oh of SportsLine.com in these projections.
One more thing: We’ll totally understand if Browns, Bears, Giants and 49ers fans all want to stop reading now since this story is about the playoffs and reading about the playoffs will probably only make you feel worse about the fact that your team is already eliminated from postseason contention. On the other hand, you can also keep reading and fantasize about what it would be like to the fan of a team that actually’s still alive for a playoff berth.
Note: Remember, this is a projection based on how we think the regular season will play out. If you want to see the current playoff standings,of what the playoff race looks like as we head into Week 14.
AFC Playoff Projection
(Team, projected record after 16 games, strength of schedule listed if in top-five easiest or hardest)
1. Patriots (14-2), AFC East champion: The Patriots will be playing on the road in each of their next two games, which is usually a bad thing for most NFL teams, but probably not for the Patriots because they seem to prefer it. At 6-0 away from home, the Patriots are the only team in the NFL that’s still unbeaten on the road. It’s kind of starting to look like the Patriots are never going to lose again.
Remaining schedule: At Miami, at Pittsburgh, Buffalo, at N.Y. Jets (26-22 combined record)
2. Steelers (13-3), AFC North champion: After losing Ryan Shazier to , it will be interesting to see how the Steelers respond. If they play as inspired as they did during the second half of their 23-20 win over the Bengals, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Pittsburgh pull off an upset win over the Patriots in Week 15 and eventually clinch home-field advantage in the AFC.
Remaining schedule: Baltimore, New England, at Houston, Cleveland (21-27 combined record)
3. Jaguars (11-5), AFC South champion: We have some good news for you Jaguars fans: The computer has officially punched your ticket to the playoffs. Although the Jags haven’t technically qualified for the postseason yet, SportsLine is giving them a 100 percent chance of making it, which means the computer doesn’t think it’s mathematically possible for them to be left out. By nature, computers are smarter than us, so let’s go ahead and pencil the Jaguars into the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Remaining schedule: Seattle, Houston, at San Francisco, at Tennessee (22-26 combined record, tied for fifth-easiest remaining schedule)
4. Chargers (10-6) AFC West champion: The AFC West is like a game of musical chairs that no one wants to win. There’s only one chair remaining, and although that chair will be going to the playoffs, no one seems to want to sit in it. We love the Chargers to win the division, but the computer doesn’t exactly feel the same way. According to SportsLine, the Chargers have a 33.4 percent chance of winning the AFC West, which is less than the Chiefs (52 percent), but more than the Raiders (14.7 percent). On a completely unrelated note, the computer hates the Broncos.
Remaining schedule: Washington, at Kansas City, at N.Y. Jets, Oakland (22-26 combined record).
5. Titans (10-6), wild card: The Titans have struggled against bad teams on the road this year — they lost to the Dolphins in Week 5, only beat the Browns by three in Week 7 and only beat the Colts by four in Week 12 — and all of that has to be mildly concerning for a team that’s facing two bad teams on the road over the next two weeks. If the Titans slip up against in Arizona or San Francisco, we might end up projecting them right out of the playoffs.
Remaining schedule: At Arizona, at San Francisco, L.A. Rams, Jacksonville (24-24 combined record).
6. Ravens (10-6), wild card: The Ravens would have to almost implode down the stretch not to get to 10 wins. Even if they can’t beat the Steelers on Sunday night, they still get to end the season with the Browns, Colts and Bengals, which is currently the easiest strength of schedule for any team over the final three weeks of the season.
Remaining schedule: At Pittsburgh, at Cleveland, Indianapolis, Cincinnati (19-29 combined record, tied for second-easiest remaining schedule).
Tiebreakers: The Titans finished ahead of the Ravens due to a head-to-head win over Baltimore back in Week 9.
Chiefs (9-7): At this point, the computer might be the only thing on earth that still likes the Chiefs chances of making the playoffs. According to SportsLine, the Chiefs have a 56.9 percent chance of making the postseason, which is higher than both the Chargers (35.9 percent) and Raiders (16.3 percent). Even the computer might give on the Chiefs if they lose this week and that’s mainly because it would give the Raiders a season sweep over Kansas City, which means Oakland would take home the division title if the two teams were to finish the season tied for first.
Remaining schedule: Oakland, L.A. Chargers, Miami, at Denver (20-28 combined record, tied for fifth-easiest remaining schedule).
NFC Playoff Projection
(Team, projected record after 16 games)
1. Vikings (14-2), NFC North champion: With the Super Bowl being played in Minnesota this year, the NFL’s road to Minneapolis might actually go through Minneapolis if the Vikings can earn home-field advantage. Forget home-field advantage though, just getting to the playoffs when your city is hosting the Super Bowl is nearly unprecedented. Only seven teams in NFL history have made the playoffs in a season where their city was hosting the Super Bowl — the Dolphins (1970, 1978, 1994, 1998), Buccaneers (2000), Cardinals (2014) and Texans (2016). No team has ever won the game in their home city.
Remaining schedule: At Carolina, Cincinnati, at Green Bay, Chicago (23-25 combined record)
2. Eagles (13-3), NFC East champion: After rolling to a 10-1 start, the Eagles are all of the sudden in a precarious position after losing to the Seahawks on Sunday. If the losing streak continues in L.A. this week, the Eagles could end up choking away a potential first-round bye.
Remaining schedule: At L.A. Rams, at N.Y. Giants, Oakland, Dallas (23-25 combined record)
3. Saints (12-4), NFC South champion: Although the final four weeks of the regular season could turn into a dogfight in the NFC South, the computer, which is apparently pacifistic and doesn’t like animal violence, doesn’t see that happening. According to SportsLine, the Saints have an 82.8 percent chance of winning the division which is more than quadruple the Falcons (9.2 percent) and Panthers‘ (8 percent) chances combined (17.2 percent).
Remaining schedule: At Atlanta, N.Y. Jets, Atlanta, at Tampa Bay (23-25 combined record)
4. Seahawks (12-4), NFC West champion: At this point, the Seahawks should probably just change their names to the Seattle Russell Wilson’s because he’s basically been willing them to victory every week. If Wilson can somehow will the Seahawks to a win in each of the next two weeks, Seattle will be in the driver’s seat to take home the NFC West title and Russell Wilson seems like a guy who likes driver’s seats.
Remaining schedule: At Jacksonville, L.A. Rams, at Dallas, Arizona (28-20 combined record, tied for fourth-toughest remaining schedule).
5. Rams (12-4), wild card: Finishing 12-4 is usually a good thing in the NFL, but it could turn out to be a bad thing for the Rams. In our projection, we have the Rams hitting the road and playing a wild-card game in Seattle, despite finishing the season with a 12-4 record. If the Rams did finish 12-4 and end up with a wild card, they’d be just the third team since 2012 to accomplish that, and somehow, all three teams would have been from California. The 49ers (2013) and Raiders (2016) are the other two teams to get stuck with a wild-card recently after finishing the season with 12 wins.
Remaining schedule: Philadelphia, at Seattle, at Tennessee, San Francisco (28-20 combined record, tied for fourth-toughest remaining schedule)
6. Falcons (10-6), wild card: The reason we’re not writing off the 7-5 Falcons is because they were also 7-5 last year then ended the season on a four-game winning streak that they rode all the way to the Super Bowl. Of course, things are slightly different this time around because the NFL schedule-maker was apparently taking crazy pills when he put together the final four weeks of Atlanta’s season. Not only do the Falcons have the toughest remaining schedule, but they’re the only team on the projection list that will be closing the season with four straight games against divisional opponents.
Remaining schedule: New Orleans, at Tampa Bay, at New Orleans, Carolina (30-18 combined record, tied for toughest remaining schedule).
Tiebreaker: With three teams at 12-4, the tiebreakers actually get a little complicated here. First, we’re projecting the Seahawks to beat the Rams in Week 15, which would give Seattle a season-sweep over Los Angeles and therefore, the division title. After that, the Saints would take the three spot over the Seahawks due to best win percentage in common games.
As for the final wild card spot, the Falcons would take it over the Panthers based on best win percentage in division games. In our projection, the Falcons finish 4-2 in the NFC South, while the Panthers finish 3-3.
Panthers (10-6): For the third straight week, the computer loves the Panthers and for the third straight week, we’re still projecting them out of the playoffs. Although the computer is giving the Panthers the sixth-best postseason odds in the NFC — behind Philly (100 percent), Minnesota (100 percent), the Rams (97.4 percent), New Orleans (97.4 percent) and Seattle (74.3 percent)– we still think they’re going to miss out on the playoffs due to a Week 17 loss to Atlanta. Based on our projection, the season finale between Atlanta and Carolina will be a de facto playoff game with the winner going to the postseason. The Panthers might also have to face Aaron Rodgers in Week 15, which could add another obstacle to their playoff push.
Remaining schedule: Minnesota, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, at Atlanta (27-21 combined record)
The Aaron Rodgers factor: One thing that’s impossible to account for in these projections is Aaron Rodgers. We have no idea if he’s going to return this season, but it’s starting to look more and more like that’s a distinct possibility, especially if the Packers beat the Browns on Sunday. Rodgers has said he’ll only return this year if it makes sense and it will definitely make sense if the Packers are in playoff contention, which will happen with a win on Sunday. If the Packers don’t beat the Browns, they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs, so it’s almost fitting that Rodgers’ return basically hinges on this week’s game against Cleveland.
Also, Rodgers will be running the Packers’ scout team this week, which means he’s now healthy enough to play, which means every team in the NFC playoff race should be rooting for the Browns this week.
You can see our wild-card round projections below. As things stand now, three of the four wild-card games would be a rematch from the regular season.
(Based on this week’s projections)
(5) Tennessee at (4) L.A. Chargers
(6) Baltimore at (3) Jacksonville
Byes: New England, Pittsburgh
(5) L.A. Rams at (4) New Orleans
(6) Atlanta at (3) Seattle
Byes: Minnesota, Philadelphia