NFL: 10-Win Team Could Earn A Playoff Bye Week For First Time In A Decade
You may have noticed that 2016 has been a weird year. Donald Trump is the President-elect, iconic celebrities are prematurely dying at what feels like an unprecedented rate and the biggest news story of the year is about how a concerning amount of people don't fact-check the fake news stories on their Facebook timelines.
So why wouldn't the NFL be kind of a hot mess as well?
There have really only been two teams that have looked worthy of winning a Super Bowl this season: the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots. At 13-2, both squads are the clear superiors in their respective conferences, but the race is certainly tighter in the AFC than in the NFC.
While the Patriots are still fending off the Raiders for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Cowboys have sealed the deal on their side; and so the race for No. 2 could very possibly end up in the hands of a 10-win team.
There are scenarios in which the Seattle Seahawks, the Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions could all possibly end up with the No. 2 seed in the NFC and earn a playoff bye in the process. If that happens, it would be the first time that a 10-win team landed the 2nd seed and a playoff bye since the 2006 season.
The only NFC teams that currently have the chance to finish 11-4 are the New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons. The Giants are a wild card team no matter what because the Cowboys have already won the NFC East, meaning that all Atlanta has to do to lock up the No. 2 spot is win this week at home against the New Orleans Saints.
As we've seen though, anything can happen in the final week of the season; particularly against division rivals that still have pride and bragging rights to play for.
If the Falcons fall to the Saints, then the team that ends up with the No.2 seed and first-round playoff bye will be either a 10-6 Falcons team, a 10-6 Lions team or a 10-5-1 Seahawks team, depending on how everything shakes out.
The last time a team with 10-wins was handed a playoff bye week was in 2006, when the 10-6 New Orleans Saints beat out the 10-6 Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 2 seed. That was the same year that the Rex Grossman-led Chicago Bears went 13-3 and made it to the Super Bowl, and the 8-8 Giants made the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. So that should put the season into perspective.
A combination of weak conference and divisional competition allowed the fatally-flawed Bears an easy path to the Super Bowl that year, where they were promptly crushed 29-17 by Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. While the Cowboys are undoubtedly stronger contenders than the Bears were a decade ago, it looks as though they could have a very similar journey to a Super Bowl appearance.
There is one caveat to that, though.
The one thing realistically standing in the way of the Cowboys is the team that has handed them their only two losses of the season: the New York Giants.
It might be the NFC's only compelling narrative, but it's also an incredibly likely one. So while it's been a rough year of football on that side of the league, it still has the potential to hand us one of the greatest NFC Championship games in recent memory.
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