Week 10: NFL Playoff Picture
We are at the midpoint of the NFL season and teams have shown us enough information to categorise who might be good! Supposedly. Things can change pretty quickly, a couple of big wins or big losses can shake up the playoff picture. Below is a quick rundown on the contenders as things currently stand, as we move towards the back end of the regular season. As ever strength of schedule and injuries will play key roles in determining home-field advantage and who is still playing football come February 2022.
AFC playoff standings
|SEED||TEAM||RECORD||WEEK 11 MATCHUP|
|1||Tennessee Titans||8-2 (1st AFC South)||vs. HOU|
|2||Buffalo Bills||6-3 (1st AFC East)||vs. IND|
|3||Baltimore Ravens||6-3 (1st AFC North)||@ CHI|
|4||Kansas City Chiefs||6-4 (1st AFC West)||vs. DAL|
|5||Pittsburgh Steelers||5-3-1 (2nd AFC North)||@ LAC|
|5||New England Patriots||6-4 (2nd AFC East)||@ ATL|
|7||Los Angeles Chargers||5-4 (2nd AFC West)||vs. PIT|
On the bubble: Cincinnati Bengals (5-4), Las Vegas Raiders (5-4), Indianapolis Colts (5-5), Cleveland Browns (5-5), Denver Broncos (5-5).
The Tennessee Titans may have lost their best player, RB Derrick Henry, and 7-time pro bowl WR Julio Jones to injuries, however, they found a way to win their sixth straight game to sit comfortably atop the AFC standings. They’re still winning. With defense. Which is impressive in itself. If the injuries to Henry and Jones start to have a significant impact on the Titans their remaining softer schedule could go some way to mitigate it with two games against the Texans (1-8), one against the Jaguars (2-7) and Dolphins (3-7).
Remaining Schedule: vs. Texans, at Patriots, vs. Jaguars, at Steelers, vs. 49ers, vs. Dolphins, at Texans.
The Bills got back to winning ways against the worst defense in football, the Jets. Bills QB Josh Allen spread the ball among eight different receivers, keeping the Jets on their heels all game. The Bills continue to be league leaders however in turnovers, and with both of their divisional matchups against the red hot second place New England Patriots remaining how much they continue to maximise WR Stefon Diggs and spread their offense will go a long way to determine their playoff seed.
Remaining Schedule: vs. Colts, at Saints, vs. Patriots, at Buccaneers, vs. Panthers, at Patriots, vs. Falcons, vs. Jets.
As bad as their 22-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins was, they didn’t lose out in the AFC standings thanks to the Steelers (5-3-1) tie against the winless Lions (0-8-1), the Browns (5-5) loss to the surging Patriots (6-4) and the Bengals (5-4) being on a bye. This won’t paper over the Ravens issues on defense, too many blown coverages allowing the opposition to gain big yards, or their slow starts on offense and lack of an explosive running game when J.K Dobbins and Gus Edwards went down with season-ending injuries. Baltimore has some issues to address and they still have to play both of their divisional matchups against the Steelers. The Bears (3-6) are the only team left with a losing record on their schedule.
Remaining Schedule: at Bears, vs. Browns, at Steelers, at Browns, vs. Packers, at Bengals, vs. Rams, vs. Steelers.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes regained their swagger this week with a complete 41-14 victory over the Raiders. Mahomes threw for 406 yards and 5 touchdowns and zero turnovers, snapping himself out of a funk which was the worst five game stretch of his career. If the Chiefs can sustain this level of form (especially if other teams choose to forego the two-high safety coverages as the Raiders curiously did) the AFC West is there for the taking.
Remaining Schedule: vs. Cowboys, vs. Broncos, vs. Raiders, at Chargers, vs. Steelers, at Bengals, at Broncos.
It should have been a simple matchup, but with QB Mason Randolph starting in place of QB Ben Roethlisberger, who tested positive for COVID-19, the Steelers could only manage a tie against the lowly Detroit Lions (0-8-1). Having not lost since week 4, they have found a way to win games - run the ball as much as they throw it, if not more as they did with last week’s win over the Chicago Bears. Why did the Steelers go away from their winning formula against better defenses over the past month? Who knows. This will be something to keep an eye on for their remaining schedule.
Remaining Schedule: at Chargers, at Bengals, vs. Ravens, at VIkings, vs. Titans, at Chiefs, vs. Browns, at Ravens.
New England Patriots
Don’t look now, but the Patriots are playing winning football and collected their fourth and most impressive win in a row over the Cleveland Browns (5-5). The Patriots offensive line was excellent and raises their playoff ceiling if they continue in the same vein. Rookie QB Mac Jones delivered his most complete game of the season as he went 19 of 23 for 198 yards and 3 touchdowns. Right now the Patriots belong in the conversation with the Titans and Bills for among the best teams in the AFC. Right now. Their upcoming schedule will certainly test the growing optimism surrounding the Patriots recent performances.
Remaining Schedule: at Falcons, vs. Titans, at Bills, at Colts, vs. Bills, vs. Jaguars, at Dolphins.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers appeared to have turned a corner offensively against the Eagles (4-6) the previous week, but then took a step back last weekend against the Minnesota Vikings (4-5). Inconsistent offense has plagued them, with the margin for error decreasing due to their mediocre run defense this season so far. The Chargers have now lost three of their last four games and have some competitive playoff deciding games coming up.
Remaining Schedule: vs. Steelers, at Broncos, at Bengals, vs. Giants, vs. Chiefs, at Texans, vs. Broncos, at Raiders.
Bubble Teams: Cincinnati Bengals (5-4), Las Vegas Raiders (5-4), Indianapolis Colts (5-5), Cleveland Browns (5-5), Denver Broncos (5-5)
Each of the teams above have less than 50% chance to make the playoffs according to fivethirtyeight but will be in the thick of the action with respect to the AFC standings as their records have them bunching up behind the Chargers. The Colts especially will have a say in the playoff race with three of their next four games against tough opponents the Bills (6-3), Bucs (6-3) and Patriots (6-4).
NFC Playoff standings
|SEED||TEAM||RECORD||WEEK 11 MATCHUP|
|1||Green Bay Packers||8-2 (1st NFC North)||@ MIN|
|2||Arizona Cardinals||8-2 (1st NFC West)||@ SEA|
|3||Dallas Cowboys||7-2 (1st NFC East)||@ KC|
|4||Tampa Bay Bucs||6-3 (1st NFC South)||vs. NYG|
|5||Los Angeles Rams||7-3 (2nd NFC West)||BYE|
|5||New Orleans Saints||5-4 (2nd NFC South)||@ PHI|
|7||Carolina Panthers||5-5 (3rd NFC South)||vs. WSH|
On the bubble: Minnesota Vikings (4-5), San Francisco 49ers (4-5), Atlanta Falcons (4-5), Philadelphia Eagles (4-6).
Green Bay Packers
In the last three games, the Packers have faced teams quarterbacked by Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson. That’s three of the best quarterbacks in the NFL; the Packers defense held these three stars to 21, 13 and 0 points respectively. Green Bay’s defense is legit despite missing LB Za’Darius Smith and CB Jaire Alexander and rank third in the NFL in points (18) allowed per game. With QB Aaron Rodgers returning from COVID-19 protocols they’ll only get better as he settles back in.
Remaining Schedule: at Vikings, vs. Rams, vs. Bears, at Ravens, vs. Browns, vs. Vikings, at Lions.
The Cardinals managed to survive against the 49ers without star QB Kyler Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins but came unstuck against a resurgent Carolina Panthers (5-5) who made the Cardinals look overmatched with a 34-10 loss. Due to their strong start, the Cardinals can afford to lose a few games but they’re going to need their stars to return soon if they hope to remain on top of the NFC West. Especially with the Rams breathing down their necks.
Remaining Schedule: at Seahawks, at Bears, vs. Rams, at Lions, vs. Colts, at Cowboys, vs Seahawks.
The Cowboys made a statement in week 10 demolishing the Atlanta Falcons (4-5) 43-3, erasing their poor showing the week prior to the Denver Broncos. Dak Prescott was near perfect, throwing 24-31 for 296 yards, two touchdown passes plus his first rushing TD of the season. The Cowboys will be looking to use this momentum as they head into one of GW11 best matchups against Mahomes and the Chiefs. They will look to prove another point that they are championship contenders especially as they lead the NFC East by four games and still have two remaining games against Washington Football Team (3-6).
Remaining Schedule: at Chiefs, vs. Raiders, at Saints, at Football Team, at Giants, vs. Football Team, vs. Cardinals, at Eagles.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay suffered one of the biggest upsets of week 10, having lost 29-19 at Washington Football Team. Tampa Bay has now lost two in a row for just the second time since Tom Brady joined the Bucs. Brady threw two early interceptions and his performance epitomized how the day went for the Bucs against a team with the NFL’s worst pass defense. Luckily for the Bucs the 2nd place Saints (5-4) also lost over the weekend so they still remain one game ahead in the NFC South with the second easiest remaining schedule coming up.
Remaining Schedule: vs. Giants, at Colts, at Falcons, vs. Bills, vs. Saints, at Panthers, at Jets, at Panthers.
Los Angeles Rams
New acquisitions Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. failed to right the ship as the Rams lost their second game in a row on Monday night, 31-10 to the San Francisco 49ers (4-5). The Rams QB Matthew Stafford had another ugly outing and their defense had no answer for the 49ers run offense and WR Deebo Samuels, who caught all 5 of his targets for 97 yards and a touchdown while carrying the ball 5 times for 36 yards and a second touchdown. The Rams may be heading into their bye week on a two game losing streak, however they’ll need to find some consistency and chemistry if they are to make an impact in the playoffs.
Remaining Schedule: at Packers, vs. Jaguars, at Cardinals, vs. Seahawks, at Vikings, at Ravens, vs. 49ers.
New Orleans Saints
They have now lost two straight games with their backup quarterback and any room for errors is disappearing. Against the AFC’s current top seed Titans (8-2) the Saints missed extra points, jumped early for a false start on a 2-point conversion and fumbled the opening second half kickoff. After visiting the Phillies in GW11, they’ll have to play the Bills (6-3), Cowboys (7-2) and Bucs (6-3) as part of a pretty rough four game stretch.
Remaining Schedule: at Eagles, vs. Bills, vs. Cowboys, at Jets, at Bucs, vs. Dolphins, vs. Panthers, at Falcons.
The Panthers must have hoped that QB Cam Newton would add a spark to an offense that had been spluttering having lost five out of six before last Sunday against the Cardinals (8-2). He may not have played much, but his impact was certainly felt as Newton accounted for a pair of 2-yard touchdowns, one running and one throwing. Cam is back! Just in time for the Panthers as they will be finishing the regular season on a pretty tough four-game stretch that includes trips to the Bills (6-3), Saints (5-4) and both of the Panthers divisional matchups with the reigning champions, the Buccaneers (6-3).
Remaining Schedule: vs. Football Team, at Dolphins, vs. Falcons, at Bills, vs. Bucs, at Saints, at Bucs.
Bubble Teams: Minnesota Vikings (4-5), San Francisco 49ers (4-5), Atlanta Falcons (4-5), Philadelphia Eagles (4-6)
Unlike the AFC playoff race where many teams are bunching up and jostling for position, there is a clearer divide in the NFC. However, according to fivethirtyeight the Minnesota Vikings (41%) and San Francisco 49ers (35%) have a roughly equal chance of making the playoffs as do the current 7th seed, the Carolina Panthers (35%). There is still a lot of football to be played out.