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Looking Ahead at the NFL Playoff Chase

This is my first post on this site and before I begin I want to thank the people who asked me to write on here.  I look forward to writing here and have a good time doing so.

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Today we look at the scenarios of the NFL playoff as we are in the final week of the season.  Currently we have 15 teams still mathematically available for the playoffs.  We have two teams in the AFC vying for homefield throughout with the Steelers and Patriots.  We have a unique situation in the NFC where the 2nd seed is still up for grabs with the current 2nd seed Vikings and the 5th seed Panthers.  IF Minnesota loses, New Orleans loses, and Carolina wins, then the Panthers steal a first round bye.  So things are a bit odd in the NFC.

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We will start with the AFC however with the Wild Card chase:  The Ravens and Titans hold the final two spots heading into the final week while the Bills and Chargers still have a fighting chance of getting in.  It seemed like a foregone conclusion the Titans would take the first spot 3 weeks ago when they were sitting at 8-4.  However, struggles on defense and inconsistencies with Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense have kept them from clinching their first playoff spot since 2008.  Baltimore, who was seemingly left for dead in early November, has won 5 of 6 and face the Bengals at home.  The Bills have been a rollercoaster all year.  being red hot with the top defense to begin the year, only to fall flat on their face midway through as Sean McDermott made a rookie coaching mistake benching Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman, who imploded in his only start to throw 5 picks against the team that is also fighting for the playoff, the Chargers.  Buffalo, feeling screwed from a no TD call last week to New England (and rightfully so) won 3 of their last 5 (only two were to the Patriots).  But they will need help from either the Ravens or Titans losing.  It means that they hope the Jaguars play intense ball and not necessarily Preseason Week 4 as Jacksonville can’t move up or down in the standings.  And it also means they need a Bengals team to play spoiler like they were last week against Detroit, knocking the Lions out of playoff contention.   I’m not sure if doing it to Baltimore will happen though.  But Buffalo will need to beat Miami to even stand a chance.  But the team to keep an eye on is the Chargers, who have won 8 of their last 11 games after crashing & burning early on.

So let’s look at the meaningful Wild Card games.

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Bills @ Dolphins:  Miami has been another oddball team, holding wins over New England and Atlanta this year and also beat the Chargers and Titans earlier in the season as well.  The Dolphins aren’t a team that will roll over and play dead.  They want to bring down Buffalo as it is a rivalry game.  I think the anger and frustration from last week’s loss to New England will play a factor, but not in a good way for Buffalo.  DOLPHINS 24, BILLS 17

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Raiders @ Chargers: This will not be a true home game (much like every other home game) for the Chargers this year.  The Raiders, LA’s true home team, visits the Stubhub! Center.  However, this isn’t last year’s Oakland team.  They seem to be very combustible this year.  Is it because of adding Marshawn Lynch?  I don’t know, but something is missing from the Raiders and both teams have gone in opposite directions since the middle of the season.  I think the Chargers will silence their own hometown fans and take down the Raiders as the trends continue.  CHARGERS 34, RAIDERS 20

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Jaguars @ Titans: Jacksonville may use their starters for the first half of the season….or do they look at it as a playoff of sorts despite being already in?  From the looks of it, if the Titans win, they are in and more than likely will face Jacksonville the week after.  However, while the Jags would have a home game, they have yet to beat Tennessee this season.  And Jags AND Titans fans remember the last time these teams met in the playoffs…..That said, I don’t know if the Jaguars want to play the “well, we need to take Tennessee out now instead of next week” only to see somebody get injured in the 3rd quarter and then have the Chargers/Bills/Titans thump them in Jacksonville.  They may play the starters for a half and that’s it.  Then I think the Titans use homefield to get the W.  TITANS 23, JAGUARS 20

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Bengals @ Ravens:  Many threw in the towel for the Bengals last week against Detroit and then Cincinnati beat the Lions, knocking Detroit out.  But Baltimore is no Detroit and this game is in Baltimore, not Cincinnati.  I think the Ravens and Joe Flacco go for the jugular early and take down a mentally weak Bengals squad early.  RAVENS 27, BENGALS 3  

Titans & Ravens in, Bills and Chargers out.

For the AFC homefield, unless something crazy happens, it may just be a formality, but who knows?

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Jets @ Patriots:  The Jets to their credit turned some heads this year though the team is 5-10.  It really was the beginning of the end however for New York when Josh McCown got injured and Bryce Petty came in.  The only thing I wonder though is that the Patriots haven’t looked as dominant as they were last year and the years before.  Yes, they are still winning games, but it seems like something is missing.  But do you really go against Brady in a must-win game against a team far less talented?  No way.  PATRIOTS 35, JETS 10

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Browns @ Steelers: Had this game been played later on or later than the Patriots game, you could see this game being competitive as Pittsburgh would rest their starters.  But until they see that there is little-to-no-chance for the top seed, I think the Steelers will jump on Cleveland to no end, early and often, thus making the Browns join the 2008 Lions by going 0-16.  STEELERS 37, BROWNS 13

Patriots get the top seed, Steelers get the 2nd seed.

Onto the NFC, which at this point has 5 games total to pay attention to:  Bears at Vikings 49ers at Rams,Saints at Buccaneers, Panthers at Falcons, and Cardinals @ Seahawks.  The NFL, making sure that the playoff teams “don’t throw the games” by benching the starters, put all 3 games at the 4:00 window so there isn’t a “well, New Orleans won therefore we have nothing to play for” with Carolina which means Seattle’s game would become a formality as well if the Falcons play 2nd string Panthers players, so all the games will have meaning at once. Hello Redzone for me!

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Bears @ Vikings: Chicago is that team nobody wants to see down the stretch because they have pride to play for.  But Minnesota is just vicious and the lone loss since the beginning of the year was more of a mistake-laden game on their part against Carolina.  I think the Vikings defense will get after Trubisky while Case Keenum will have a good day throwing the ball.  VIKINGS 31, BEARS 17

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Cardinals @ Seahawks: Everybody is thinking this game is already a done deal that Seattle will win.  They won the first meeting in Arizona and of course, they have Russell Wilson, the MVP of all football gurus evidently.  But remember this, Arizona stunned Seattle in Seattle late in the season last year which was really the death blow as the Seahawks relinquished the 1st round bye to Atlanta.  Will we see a repeat?  I don’t know.  Arizona is a meager 2-5 away from their home, but Seattle is a surprising 4-3 in the Land of the 12’s this year with losses to Washington, the Rams, and Atlanta.  But the Cardinals aren’t even those teams at all.  If it is an upset win by the Cardinals, my finger will be pointed at Wilson himself because how he’s played down the stretch to me was more harmful than helpful.  But I think the Seahawks will do just enough to take down the Cardinals, but it will be uncomfortably close again.  SEAHAWKS 17, CARDINALS 13

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49ers @ Rams: who would have thought this game in Week 17 pits the two hottest football teams in the league?  The Rams offense is on all cylinders while the 49ers have strung 4 in a row thanks to Jimmy Garoppolo coming over from New England and establishing character to a 49ers team that has been dead in the water for the last few years.  However, the Rams defense has been more and more improved as the weeks gone on and I don’t know if anybody can stop Todd Gurley at this point.  It will be close, but the Rams hang on.  RAMS 31, 49ERS 27

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Saints @ Buccaneers: New Orleans can’t go higher than 3 or lower than 4 in the playoffs with a win.  They could also fall out of a divisional title if they lose and Carolina wins in Atlanta, meaning regardless, they need the Falcons to win if the Saints aren’t winning.  Tampa Bay is an interesting situation.  The last two weeks the Bucs have fallen short of a field goal to their divisional rivals (at home to Atlanta and at Carolina).  However, it seems like Jameis Winston has gone back to his old combustible ways at Florida State, losing his cool at the end of the Panthers game.  Tampa always seems to give New Orleans fits though and the Bucs haven’t given up their season as the last couple of weeks showed.  I think the Saints for the most part are the best-rounded team they’ve had since the 2009 season but I also think the youthfulness they have may hurt them here with so much riding on the line here.  I’m calling an upset as Winston & Co. pick apart the Saints defense in Tampa Bay.  BUCCANEERS 20, SAINTS 17

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Panthers @ Falcons: This game may practically decides who wins the NFC South (Panthers) and who gets the last playoff spot (Falcons).  Funny how Atlanta that a possible 10-6 or a 9-7 record is a massive disappointment given their past history, but after a Super Bowl run last year where the defense showed great improvements and already a stout offense had many Falcons fans thinking Super Bowl repeat, hasn’t materialized.  Atlanta’s defense has been solid actually and NOT the problem.  The record-setting offense from last year, however has underachieved.  Dropped passes, fumbles, blown line coverages, poor running routes, miscommunication, etc.   However, for the Falcons, the two games that were “must-win” for them as fans had been ragging them on the local radio shows leading up to it, they won (the win over the Jets and Dallas).  I know it is a lot to ask from the 2017 Falcons this year, but I expect them to come out firing on all cylinders on Carolina and get to Cam a few times, somewhat taking him mentally out of the game.  But that means Atlanta has to play as a flawless of a game on offense as possible. That may be too much.  I do think Atlanta steps up and do what’s necessary to win this game.  FALCONS 23, PANTHERS 17

Falcons in, Seahawks out.

Minnesota gets the 2nd seed.

Los Angeles gets the 3rd seed

New Orleans gets the 4th seed.

Enjoy the games this weekend!

-The Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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