The Colts are 5-1. That sounds fine and dandy, but the NFL playoffs start with at least four teams. Here’s why: The AFC and NFC Playoff Picture is colored blue:
With this week’s record, these teams are contenders in the AFC, if not division leaders.
In the AFC, these teams are contenders: Indianapolis (5-1), Houston (5-1), Kansas City (4-2), Cincinnati (4-2), and New England (4-2).
In the NFC, these teams are contenders: Minnesota (5-1), Philadelphia (4-2), Carolina (5-1), Washington (5-1), Los Angeles Rams (5-1), and New Orleans (5-1).
The 49ers (0-6) are borderline.
Which is the logical, calm and rational approach. But it’s not really the right one, in my opinion.
Here’s what seems correct: With the win, the Eagles (4-2) now have two games left on the road (and a road-trip win to Atlanta, for good measure) to pull within two games of the second-place Vikings, who have three games left on the road. An Eagles loss to the Vikings in Week 13 in Minnesota would force a division tiebreaker, with each team having two games to play in the other division. But let’s not be too crazy and go through all that.
Regardless, the Eagles have the division lead (albeit with just one game left against the Giants in Week 13) and they’ve done enough to deserve some breathing room — they look like the most impressive of the contenders right now. (And, if you look back, they looked like the most impressive of the contenders a few years ago, including on Monday night, when Nick Foles’ game-winning TD pass completed the NFC championship. P.S. Coach Chip Kelly? But why ruin this win, Patrick? That Kelly kid. He knows how to turn the playoff race around.)
With a rematch next week against the Saints in New Orleans (plus a game in Tampa Bay), the Eagles can lock up the division.
Does it matter that the Patriots own a game in Miami (plus a game in Buffalo)? Do the Patriots really care about not having to play the third-place Dolphins and Bills? Brady really is all about wins.
Quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots are off to their best start in 40 years. Earlier in the year, New England appeared to be on the outside looking in. But now, after their convincing win over the Niners last night in Foxborough, it appears that the Patriots will keep every team at bay until Week 17 (and then if the magic repeats).
Here’s the deal: It’s 1-0 in all three divisions with every team still above .500. (You get the idea, don’t you?) And with the Eagles and Patriots separated by just one game, the wild card is wide open right now. The Chiefs are 5-1, but they have four away games left (and a home date with San Diego). So Kansas City, as well as the Patriots, might not even control their own fate (see? I’m not crazy).
If the Vikings win out, they will have (at least) four more games remaining on the road. So the Vikings, Colts, Saints, and Eagles are equal now. They all go undefeated in their final four games on the road (probably regardless of who wins their Week 13 rematch with the Rams). So three of those four teams are undefeated on the road in the final four games, for those who were thinking the Patriots might be the favorite to win the Super Bowl. (Those “outsiders” are on fire, right now.)
But let’s make things interesting.
So who would have a better shot at a Super Bowl title if one of the four top teams each lost in their last four games?
The Eagles went undefeated in their last four games on the road, and the Vikings went 2-0. Houston went 0-2 on the road in its last four games. So, those who flip the situation, the Vikings go 3-0 and the Texans go 1-2.
Uh oh. The Vikings lost at Pittsburgh the next week. And the Texans lost in Denver, losing to the third-place team in the AFC West by a score of 21-14. That final game is an extra-large road game for the Vikings, meaning that if the Vikings lose they’re behind the Colts, who went to Pittsburgh and defeated the previously unbeaten Steelers.