Between the two conferences, there are a total of nine teams I think have a shot at making the dance. The NFC is a three horse race and will come down to the final week. While the AFC has all the drama of your grandma’s favorite soap opera, it’s unpredictable in a way because of the many different variables involved. However, I am up to the challenge and willing to take a shot at it.
Check out my thoughts and predictions below on who I think will have the prestigious honor of getting into the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
NFC Wild Card
As of right now, the race is rather boring. Only three teams really have a shot at making a run for the last two spots in the playoffs. Those teams are Seattle (6-5), Carolina (6-5) and Minnesota (6-4-1). Though Washington is still in the running based on their record, they will drop off quickly with backup Colt McCoy at the helm. I also think the Cowboys will collapse, with the Eagles go 4-1 in the final stretch to finish 9-7 to win the NFC East.
Barring a major, MAJOR, let down, the Seahawks are all but a lock for the fifth seed. They have, in this order, games against the 49ers, Vikings (Home), 49ers, Chiefs (Home) and Cardinals. If you have a keen eye as I do, then you will see the Seahawks honestly have a legit shot at winning out because of the effect the 12th man will have when Minnesota and Kansas City come to town.
The only two losses they’ve had at home came from the Rams and Chargers, who are heading to the playoffs most likely. They were both close games coming down to the wire. Also the best clutch quarterback in the game right now plays in Seattle. I am realistic though. I expect the Seahawks to cruise to a 4-1 record in the last five (losing to the Chiefs), and clinching the fifth seed with a 10-6 record.
The remaining playoff spot will come down to defensive play between two very good units, Carolina and Minnesota. In order for the Panthers to stay in the thick of things, they have to at least steal one of the two remaining games against the Saints. Then they have to take the home game against the unpredictable Falcons. After that they’ll have to take one of the three remaining away games on the schedule (Tampa Bay, Cleveland or New Orleans). With three of the remaining five games away and a 1-5 record on the road, the home games against the Saints and Falcons are must win in order to stay alive. I predict the Panthers to finish 2-3 in the last five games, going 8-8 on the season.
Minnesota’s remaining schedule does not help their chances either. They have road games against the Patriots (next week), Seahawks (Week 14) and Lions (Week 16). Then they have home games against playoff contenders in the Dolphins (Week 15) and NFC North division leading Bears (Week 17). The Vikings will need stellar play from not only their defense, but also Kirk Cousins, who is notoriously bad in big game situations. Every game is big going forward and I only foresee two wins in the next five. Those come against Miami and Detroit, finishing 2-3 in the last five and a 8-7-1 record.
I didn’t forget about the Cowboys, who I think will end 8-8 as well, but lose a tie breaker to the Panthers because they lost to them in Week One.
Prediction: Fifth seed goes to Seattle and sixth seed goes to Carolina.
AFC Wild Card
Looking at the AFC playoff picture, only one team stands out from the rest. The other five teams will fight for the last spot.
The Chargers at 8-3 are in sole possession of the fifth seed. As cheesy as it may sound, they control their own destiny. Even if they go 2-3 in the last five, they are still in the running for a playoff spot. They do have a tough road ahead, with road trips to Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Denver. They then welcome the Bengals and the Ravens to their home field. With hard road contests, wins at home, especially against the Ravens, are a must. I expect them to finish 10-6 and hold on to the fifth spot.
The sixth seed is where the fun starts. The Colts, Ravens, Dolphins, Titans and Bronco’s all have a legit shot at clinching that final spot. The Titans and Dolphins are the first ones to be mathematically eliminated. Miami still has the Patriots at home, though favorable will still be a loss, and then they go to Minnesota. They also have two games against the Bills, in which I think they lose both with Josh Allen now back in the Bills’ lineup.
I love the Titans and their identity, but they just do not have the talent to hang with the rest. I expect losses against the Colts and Giants in two of the last three weeks to knock them out of contention. The Ravens lose a big matchup to the Broncos in Week 16, which knocks them out. To pour salt on their wins, they’ll end the season with a loss to the Browns.
That leaves me with the Colts and Broncos. One is an obvious choice, but the other may be a surprise. The Colts are automatically a threat because of Andrew Luck. Combine that with a favorable final schedule, I think they really put the pressure on the Broncos to keep up with them on a weekly basis. The Colts are on the road the next two weeks, at Jacksonville and Houston, but finish up at home with three straight games against Dallas, New York Giants and Tennessee. Watch the Colts finish up with a 3-2 record in the last five, losing to both Texas teams, opening the door just a little for the Broncos finishing 9-7.
The Broncos I think will be the surprise in the AFC at the end of the season. The last four weeks saw losses to the division leading Chiefs (7 points) and Texans (2 points), followed by two straight wins over the Chargers and Steelers. If they can keep that momentum going and continue playing great defense, the Broncos could easily run the table.
They have to travel to Cincinnati and San Francisco, then go home for the Browns, go to Oakland and wrap it up with the Chargers in Denver. Though foreseeable to run it with the way they are playing, I think the Broncos trip up in both their home games. They have been surprisingly pedestrian at Mile High Stadium with a 3-3 record. They finish 3-2 in the last five, going 8-8 on the season and just narrowly missing the playoffs.
Prediction: Fifth seed belongs to the Chargers and sixth seed goes to the Colts.