The Young Lions vs. The Old Guard In NFL Playoff Race
All of a sudden we are over halfway through the NFL season. With seven weeks to go, some familiar patterns are emerging; the Patriots appear ready to defend their title, sitting atop the AFC East at 7-2. And, a couple of AFC teams, (Pittsburgh and Kansas City), will provide various levels of competition; until the Pats ultimately end up in Minneapolis on February 4th.
The picture is completely different in the NFC. Through this week, 10 teams are over .500: only six will make the playoffs. Currently, the Eagles have the top seed with an 8-1 record. Each of the other current division leaders all sit at 7-2, with the Vikings, Saints, and Rams all sharing that record. If the season ended today, the two wild card teams would be the 7-3 Panthers, and 6-3 Seahawks. The other four teams over .500 are all 5-4, with the Falcons, Packers, Lions, and Cowboys all outside in the cold, trying to climb their way into the playoffs.
Based on the landscape of the remaining schedule it may be tough to break through. These 10 teams have 69 remaining games to play, and of those, 38 are against each other; so in a way, EVERYONE controls their own fate. Let’s analyze the situation, and start with the 5-4 teams, to see if any have a realistic chance. It’s unlikely any will win their division since they are all at least two games behind the leaders, although none are mathematically eliminated yet. The most likely path for them will be as a wild card team. The sixth seed is currently the Seahawks with their 6-3 record, so each of the four are only one game behind.
Of the four, the Packers are the most unlikely to make a push. Unfortunately, the die was cast the second Aaron Rodgers went down injured during a loss to the Vikings on October 15th..(although there is talk that he’ll be back sometime in the middle of December). Two points: first, who knows how rusty he’ll be if and when he does return; and second, by the team he does return, it will be too little too late.
The Cowboys are in a world of turmoil. Between Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension until Week 16 and the newest court drama with owner Jerry Jones threatening to sue the league, the Cowboys seem a bit distracted. They will not make the playoffs.
The Falcons should be better than 5-4. They have basically the same core returning from their Super Bowl team last year…and they SHOULD be hungry considering how that game turned out. But something is missing this year. Matty Ice doesn’t have the same spark that he had last season, and it’s showing in the stats. Last year’s number one offense is only ranked eighth this season, and they are only 15th in scoring average. They are the definition of mediocre. Add to that, five of their seven remaining games are against these above .500 teams. On one hand, that means they control their destiny; but on the other hand, that means their remaining schedule is brutal. The combined record of their remaining opponents is 37-24. That is too much to overcome. They are out.
The final of the four is the Detroit Lions. Aside from being only one game behind the Seahawks, they are only two games behind the division leading Vikings. And, in their one meeting so far this season they defeated the Vikings 14-7…and they play them again. If they can win that game, they’ll have swept the season series and only be one game behind in the standings, and in control of the tiebreaker with Vikings. Add to that, only two of their remaining seven games are against teams with records over .500. They, by far, have the easiest remaining schedule of this group. If any of the four teams make a run, it will be the Lions.
If we look to the six teams currently holding playoff spots, there is an interesting chasm emerging. Three of the teams have young quarterbacks, while the other three are led by veterans who’ve each appeared in a Super Bowl. This is still a quarterbacks league, so of the six teams, (Eagles, Vikings, Saints, Rams, Panthers, Seahawks), I admit, I’m biased towards the Saints led by Drew Brees, Panthers led by Cam Newton, and Seahawks led by Russell Wilson. Maybe the new wave of quarterbacks is coming, (Goff, Wentz, Mariota, Winston, Watson…etc), but I’ll stick with the old guns.
The Seahawks will prevail in the NFC West and overtake the Rams. The winner of the December 3rd match-up between the Panthers and Saints will win that division. The Saints already defeated the Panthers once this season, at Carolina. This game will be played in New Orleans. And, since their 0-2 start, the Saints have rattled off seven impressive victories in a row, averaging 32.7 pts while only giving up 14.2 pts.
When the smoke settles, it will be the Saints versus the Seahawks in the NFC title game.
And, two weeks after that, it will be 39 year old Drew Brees facing off against 40 year old Tom Brady; in a Saints-Patriots epic Super Bowl LII, which will end with Brees raising his second Lombardi Trophy.
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