Week 16 Review/Playoff Scenarios/Ideal Playoff Matchups

Posted: 12/28/2014 by levcohen in Football

Because there was no Thursday Night Football game this week (week 17!), I didn’t do my week 16 review on Thursday. I’ll do that now and then look ahead to tomorrow later on in this post. First, my five takeaways from a week that had a bunch of nail-biters if not too many surprises:

  • I’m going to talk about the ideal possible playoff matchups in the first round later in this post, but how about Cardinals-Panthers/Falcons? Could that first round matchup be the worst ever? I mean, it’s going to be between a team with a losing record and one with Ryan Lindley or, at best, Drew Stanton as quarterback. Heck, we’re a Cam Newton injury and Panthers away from seeing Lindley-Derek Anderson in round one! Is that even possible? Anyway, last week the Panthers and Falcons both actually played well, setting up a winner-takes-all week 17. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were embarrassed at home against the Seahawks, which was their first home loss of the season. They now have a -39 point differential in six games since Carson Palmer got hurt. They are 6-0 with Palmer and 5-4 with Stanton or Lindley.
  • After a nice stretch in the middle of the season, the Colts have looked really bad recently. Because they are in a manageable division, they will still be the #4 seed in the AFC and have a matchup against either the Steelers or Bengals. But is anyone confident in a Colts team that has one scary weapon for Andrew Luck to throw to (T.Y. Hilton), no running game and a suspect defense? I know I’m not.
  • Odell Beckham is going to win rookie of the year, and he should. His current stretch isn’t just unprecedented for a rookie but up there with the best to ever play wide receiver. Given his stats (79 catches, 1120 yards, 11 TD), it’s hard to believe he missed the first four games of the season and had just 106 total yards in the next three.
  • In this pass-heavy, wide receiver friendly era, it’s amazing and shocking that Alex Smith still hasn’t thrown a touchdown to a wide receiver. The Chiefs have capsized down the stretch, and it’s easy to see why. It’s hard to come back from even small deficits if your wide receivers have combined for just 1551 yards. As a comparison point, Ben Roethlisberger, who defeated the Chiefs last week, has thrown 1570 yards and 12 touchdowns… to Antonio Brown alone. Wow.
  • There were nine games last week that were decided by a single possession, but it didn’t really feel like there were many good games. Chargers-49ers and Dolphins-Vikings are exceptions, but many of these games were yawn fests. And the two games that were supposed to be good (Colts-Cowboys and Seahawks-Cardinals) were decided by 35 and 29 points. Bummer.

I went 1-2 on my upset picks, moving to 29-34 on the season. I barely missed with the Vikings for the second straight week, as they were defeated on a block punt that ended in a safety. I won by a single point with the Patriots to move to 11-5 on locks. The Jets always seem to play the Pats close.

8-8 straight up… 155-84-1 on the season
9-7 against the spread… 124-111-5 on the season
7-8-1 over/under… 108-129-3 on the season

Now, time to focus on week 17. I’m first going to go through playoff scenarios, which means sorting out who is likely to make the playoffs their likely seeds. Let’s start with the easy stuff and then get to the more confusing, of which there thankfully isn’t much of this season.
Note: I’m assuming there are no ties tomorrow, because that could make things more confusing and is also very unlikely to happen. Ties happen once per year, and there’s already been a tie this season.

The AFC as a whole is pretty straightforward. The New England Patriots have already clinched the top seed in the AFC, while the Indianapolis Colts are locked into fourth place. Meanwhile, the Broncos clinch a first round BYE with a win… and they are home against the Raiders. Doesn’t get much easier than that. The winner of the Bengals-Steelers game in Pittsburgh wins both the AFC North and the three seed, while the loser will face the Colts. That leaves just one spot, which is where it gets more confusing. Four teams have a shot at the six seed, but this is probably coming down to two teams. If the San Diego Chargers beat the Chiefs in Kansas City, they will make the playoffs. If the Chargers lose the game and the Ravens beat the Browns at home, which they will almost certainly do, Baltimore will make the playoffs. If BOTH lose and the Texans beat the Jaguars, then we will see J.J. Watt and Houston in the playoffs. Finally, if Houston and Baltimore lose, both extreme long shots, the Chiefs will make the playoffs with a win over the Chargers. Make sense?

Over in the NFC, things are a bit more muddled, which means I’m going to make some assumptions. As well as assuming that the Packers and Lions won’t tie, I’m going to assume the Seahawks will beat the Rams. I know the Rams won their earlier meeting, but Seattle isn’t losing this game at home given the way they have been playing recently. So the Seahawks will be the top seed in the NFC, leaving the Packers-Lions winner second and the Cowboys third. The winner of the Panthers-Falcons game is locked into the four seed, Arizona will be the five regardless of whether they win or lose (unless, of course, Seattle loses, which changes everything), and the Packers-Lions loser will be sixth.

Now that the scenarios are settled, what would be the dream wild card weekend from a neutral viewer’s standpoint? Given that I will be a neutral viewer this January, I thought I’d give my subjective take:

I really want to see Pittsburgh play Indianapolis, because there would be a boatload of points in that game. Who wouldn’t want to see a shootout between Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger? I’d bet on at least two 50+ yard touchdowns given the talent at skill-positions (Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, T.Y. Hilton) and the lack of talent on each defense. Pittsburgh’s playing better right now, but they would be coming off a loss (in order to play the Colts, they must lose to the Bengals tomorrow night) and the game would be in Indianapolis. It would be a fun one.

I’m then left with Cincinnati against… Baltimore? This was a difficult one for me, because it was tough to find many juice storylines regarding the Bengals. I mean.. Andy Dalton in primetime? I guess?? But our best bet is a third game between two evenly matched division rivals, right? Actually, I remember the first two games between these two, both narrow Cincinnati wins, and they were pretty darn boring. I actually really don’t remember a Baltimore game I enjoyed watching. I’m going to change my pick to Houston. Yes, Case Keenum is Houston’s quarterback, and I’d be fascinated to see a playoff game between Andy Dalton and Case Keenum. Who would self-destruct first? But the main reason I’m picking Houston is, of course, Watt. I want to see him win the MVP, which he would have a much better chance of doing with a playoff berth, and I want to see him terrorize quarterbacks in the playoffs. I actually think Houston could win this game, which means we’d see Watt against the Patriots in the second round. That game wouldn’t go well for the Texans at all, but J.J. Watt deserves to be in round two.

The NFC is complicated by the fact that Arizona and Atlanta/Carolina are two of the teams who are likely to play on wild card weekend. They’ll likely luck into playing each other, and I’d rather see Cam Newton’s Carolina in the playoffs than Atlanta. Sure, Julio Jones would be fun, but we already saw the Arizona-Atlanta matchup. The Falcons won handily. I think the Panthers are the slightly less scary matchup for the Cardinals, so we’d see a closer game. And Newton really deserves to play in January for the second consecutive year. He hasn’t had much help this year, and his team is just 6-8-1, but the way he bounced back from the bad car crash to win last week was impressive. I hope he wins again tomorrow and leads the Panthers to a home playoff game (!) against the Cardinals.

Detroit. Dallas. The two Thanksgiving home teams, both of whom have struggled for a long time and were ridiculed entering this season. These teams both have a lot of tradition, and also both have good football teams this year. Given that the alternative is Dallas-Green Bay (I know the game would be in Dallas, but Green Bay is winning that game eight times out of 10. Aaron Rodgers against that defense? Really?), this game looks pretty appetizing. It’s strength against strength, as Detroit owns the best defense in the NFL while Dallas has the fifth best offense according to DVOA. It’s also mercurial quarterback against mercurial quarterback, with both Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford facing as many doubters as believers throughout their careers. I think this game would be close and probably come down to the final drive, where one of those quarterbacks would either be the hero or goat. Even the thought of Romo choking down 20-16 with a minute left makes me happy and excited for next Sunday.

To recap, here’s what I hope are the seeds going into the playoffs:
AFC:
#1 Patriots
#2 Broncos
#3 Bengals
#4 Colts
#5 Steelers
#6 Texans

NFC:
#1 Seahawks
#2 Packers
#3 Cowboys
#4 Panthers
#5 Cardinals
#6 Lions

Two of the games are about individuals (Newton, Watt), and two are about the matchups as a whole, but I would get excited about watching any of the four first round games.

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