NFL playoff picture through Week 9
The NFL season is halfway over, and the playoff picture is starting to take shape. Some divisions already look sealed, while others are still in the air.
We are into the downhill portion of the NFL regular season, but there is still plenty to be determined in the final nine weeks leading up to the post season. There may be more than two months remaining until the playoffs, but it’s never too early to start thinking about who is in and who is out.
This just in: The Bills are not going to have it as easy as many people thought in the AFC East. Buffalo (5-3) went to the AFC Championship last year, were expected to be shoe-ins in to win their division and make another run to get to the conference title game again. They play in a division that has two teams with rookie quarterbacks, and the Miami Dolphins who have been bottom dwellers of the NFL for a handful of years. But the New England Patriots seem to have found their feet and Bill Belichick’s side look like they may give the Bills a run for their money. After a 1-3 start, Mac Jones and the Pats have won four of their last five and are in prime position to pull what would be the shock of the NFL season and win the division.
If one thing is clear in the AFC West, it’s that nothin is clear in the AFC West. The Los Angeles Chargers are at the top of the division at the moment, but that’s because they have won both division games they have played over the Chiefs and the Raiders. After a hot start the Chargers seem to be cooling down, just as the reigning AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs look to be warming up. All four teams have five wins though the first nine weeks of the season, and this division looks like the winner will be crowned on the final week of the regular season. Don’t be surprised if at least one team in this division wraps up a Wild Card spot at the end of the season.
For the majority of the first nine weeks of the season the Baltimore Ravens( 6-2) looked like the cream of the crop in the AFC North. Lamar Jackson and Baltimore won five of their six games and it seemed that John Harbaugh’s men were a lock to win the division. The Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3) have been surging after a bumpy beginning to the season. Big Ben and Mike Tomlin have rattled off four straight wins and the Steelers are back in contention for the division. Cincinnati (5-4) opened some eyes by winning their first five of seven, but two straight losses has brought Joe Burrow and the Bengals back down to Earth. If the Cleveland Browns (5-4) can stay healthy they could make a run for the division title as well, despite the inevitable departure of Odell Beckham Jr.
It looking like the AFC South will be a one horse race as the Tennessee Titans (7-2) are clear cut favorites to win the division. The Indianapolis Colts (4-5) will be the only source of competition as the Jaguars (2-6) and Texans (1-8) are locked at the bottom in a battle of futility. The Titans didn’t show any signs of slowing down even after losing their MVP candidate Derrick Henry after Week 8, so that means the Colts are going to need to find some consistency soon if they have any chance of taking the AFC South from the Titans.
The Patriots will need to keep pace with the teams in the AFC West and the AFC North for the next couple months if they want to taste the post season for the first time in the post Brady era. The good thing for New England is the those teams will all have to battle each other over the course of the next nine weeks while they are in a division at features the Jets and the Dolphins. The Colts are also in the hunt sitting at four wins, just a game back from the seven teams in the West and the North with five wins on the year.
I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the Dallas Cowboys (6-2) would have the first half of the season they had. Dak Prescott came back from injury and won six of their first seven and they have put themselves in poll position to take the NFC East. They have a comfortable lead over the Eagles (3-6) and the New York Giants (3-6) and Washington has just two wins out of eight. Despite Dallas’ crushing defeat to the Broncos last week the Cowboys look like they will roll into the playoffs as the winners of the NFC East.
The Arizona Cardinals (8-1) have looked like the league’s best team since the start of the season, but that doesn’t mean they will have it easy in their division. The Los Angeles Rams (7-2) look like they will have the Cardinals looking over their backs during the second half of the season as Kyler Murray and Matt Stafford’s sides lock horns over for the next two months. The Seahawks (3-5) could have an outside shot if the top teams in the division start to slide, especially with Russel Wilson coming back from injury this weekend. The same can’t be said for the San Francisco 49ers (3-5) who look like they are going in opposite directions.
The Green Bay Packers (7-2) don’t look like they’ll have too much to worry about in the NFC North. They may have lost to the Chiefs on Sunday, snapping their seven game win streak, but they still have a comfortable lead over the Minnesota Vikings (3-5) and the Chicago Bears (3-6). Meanwhile the Lions (0-8) are busy trying to avoid the infamous winless season.
The Tampa Bay Bucs (6-2) were always going to be favorites to win the NFC South after their Super Bowl season last year. Things might be a little tighter than expected in the division after a bright start from the New Orleans Saints (5-3), who trail the Bucs by just a game and currently have the tie breaker over Tampa Bay. The Atlanta Falcons (4-4) have been making some noise, winning three of their last four, and they sit just two games back of the Bucs, but do they and the Carolina Panthers (4-5) really have the staying power to competing with Tampa Bay towards the second half of the season?
Right now it would be the Rams, Saints, and Falcons moving on to the post season, but the Panthers have just as many wins as the Falcons, while there are seven teams at three wins sitting just a game behind the Atlanta for that third and final Wild Card spot.