Tony Romo has a chance to be a hero in Dallas on Sunday against Indianapolis.
Only two weeks remain in the NFL regular season and that means we can start to make it easy on ourselves when looking at the playoff race. Without overcomplicating things by breaking down every team’s current standing and clinching scenarios, I’ll try to make a jumbled mess of teams simple to picture. In the NFC, only the Cardinals have clinched. We don’t know what seed they’ll get yet, but they’re in. The NFC South is going to give us another team. From that division, pick one: Saints, Falcons, or Panthers. That leaves us with four spots for five potential teams, all with a record of 9-5 or 10-4. Like I said, a jumbled mess. Pick one of these five to miss the playoffs: Lions, Packers, Cowboys, Eagles, or Seahawks. To sum it up, one pretty solid team is going to be watching from home, while an average team from the NFCS hosts a playoff game. That’s the NFC.
The AFC has more teams already in, but the picture is still not as clear cut. The Colts, Patriots, and Broncos are all in as division winners, meaning they’ll take seeds 1-3, but we don’t know what order yet. The AFC North will give us the fourth division winner. So pick one to be the 4th seed: Bengals, Steelers, or Ravens. Take the other two teams and throw them in the mix for the two wildcard spots. That will give us five teams with a real shot, so pick two: AFCN team 1, AFCN team 2, Chiefs, Chargers, or Bills. The fact that we could see three teams in from the AFC North makes things a little messy. I should note that the Browns, Dolphins, and Texans are all still alive, but need some ridiculous scenarios to go their way if they want a wildcard spot. So there’s the AFC.
As for games with playoff implications, take any game with one of the bolded teams. Even the teams that are already in are playing for a crucial bye week and home field advantage. If you want a game with major playoff implications, you may want to take a look at Atlanta vs. New Orleans, where the Falcons are eliminated with a loss. The Steelers are on the other side of the fence, only needing a win over Kansas City to punch their ticket. Again, that is their ticket to the playoffs, not necessarily the division. Seattle and Arizona play with plenty at stake in the NFC West, where Arizona can clinch the division and the 1st seed with a win. They play on Sunday night, meaning we might know if Seattle can clinch a spot with a win based on results from earlier games. Finally we have Indianapolis visiting Dallas, in the Game of the Week. Indy is fighting for one of those first-round byes in the AFC while Dallas is playing for the chance at a first-round bye, the division, or a wildcard spot. The next two games for Dallas are the difference between a top seed and elimination.
My picks below (home team in CAPS):
Last week: 13-3 Overall: 152-71
Cold Hard Lock: 8-6 Upset Pick: 10-5
JACKSONVILLE over Tennessee (Thursday)
Philadelphia over WASHINGTON (Saturday)
SAN FRANCISCO over San Diego (Saturday)
MIAMI over Minnesota
Baltimore over HOUSTON
Detroit over CHICAGO
CAROLINA over Cleveland
NEW ORLEANS over Atlanta
Green Bay over TAMPA BAY
PITTSBURGH over Kansas City
New England over NY JETS
NY Giants over ST. LOUIS
Buffalo over OAKLAND
DALLAS over Indianapolis
Seattle over ARIZONA (SNF)
Denver over CINCINNATI (MNF)
Cold Hard Lock: Denver over CINCINNATI; Cincinnati has as much to play for as anyone and they’re at home. It’s on Monday night, a huge game. And that’s exactly why I’m taking Denver as the lock. We know about the Bengals’ struggles in the playoffs in the spotlight and this regular season hasn’t shown us any different. On Sunday night against the struggling Pats, they got run over 43-17. At home on Thursday night against the Browns, they were humiliated again 24-3. A win this week puts them in playoffs, so the pressure is on. I’ve fallen for it before, but not this time. Cincy cannot win the big game.
Upset Pick: NY Giants over St. Louis; It’s awfully hard to defend the Giants after the type of season they’ve had, but I truly believe they are a better team than we think. Save for an unforgivable loss against Jacksonville, New York has only lost to one team (Niners) with under nine wins. They’ve faced brutal competition. That doesn’t mean they’re a good team, because good teams beat other good teams, but they should be able to compete in St. Louis where they are underdogs by 6.5 points. That’s a lot of points for a couple teams separated by a game, so I’ll take New York with their hot new weapon Odell Beckham Jr.
Game of the Week: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys; I mentioned it earlier, this is as big a regular season game as Dallas has had in years. Two games remain with a first-round bye and elimination equally as likely. Those other big games did not go their way. Is this a different Dallas team? If they drop this one, we’ll hear about the “same ‘ol Cowboys who always find a way to screw it up.” For the Colts, they can play loose knowing they already have a spot in the playoffs. But they would love nothing more than to have home-field advantage in the postseason. A couple of points could separate what’s at stake for these two great teams.