Are you ready for some football? As we enter Week 15, this is the situation in what is shaping up to be one of the most insane endings to a season that the NFL has ever seen: 48 games left, 24 teams in the hunt for 12 playoff spots and zero postseason tickets punched.
That’s correct -- with just three weeks remaining, not a single team can take its foot off the accelerator and start preparing for January, because we are in the midst of the most unpredictable playoff race in 35 years. According to CBSSports.com, this is the first time since 1979 that no playoff spots have been clinched with three weeks left to play in a non-strike year.
The pressure is mounting exponentially for teams on the bubble with just a handful of games left to shift the musical chairs of the playoff picture and earn one of the final seeds. The muddled bunch of six seven-win teams in the league (Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers) have officially entered must-win territory as we head down the stretch, with 10 wins likely needed for a wild card spot in both conferences.
NFL Playoff race heating up
Thankfully the NFL schedule gods have set us up for a memorable Week 15 filled with tons of marquee matchups that have huge postseason and division title implications. We’ve got a whopping 11 divisional games, including four games between teams ranked 1-2 in the standings.
The AFC playoff field could get a lot clearer after this week’s slate -- three of the four divisions can be clinched with a win by the first place team over the second place team. The Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts each face off against the team chasing them in the AFC West (San Diego Chargers), East (Dolphins) and South (Texans), respectively, and can wrap up the division title with a win or tie on Sunday.
Our panel of experts favors each of those division-leading teams this week, though it looks like Houston is the likeliest team to pull off the upset with three of them taking the Texans on the road.
The AFC North is the conference's only division that cannot be decided in Week 15, and that is no surprise given how tight the standings have been all season long. The Cincinnati Bengals appeared to have some breathing room after beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 13, but they imploded at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, and it's now a wide-open race once again with three teams separated by a half game.
The Browns' postseason hopes are probably on life support now as they sit in the AFC North basement with a 7-6 record, but they can sneak back into the division race with a win at home against the Bengals on Sunday -- a result that six of our eight experts predict will happen.
Over in the NFC, there are no division-clinching scenarios this week. Things are a lot tighter at the top of the standings, with six teams at nine wins or better jockeying for playoff position. Unfortunately, one of these contenders -- Arizona Cardinals (10-3), Green Bay Packers (10-3), Philadelphia Eagles (9-4), Seattle Seahawks (9-4), Detroit Lions (9-4), Dallas Cowboys (9-4) -- will definitely miss the playoffs because the wretched NFC South is required to have a representative in the postseason party.
Following the Atlanta Falcons' loss to the Packers on Monday night, the strangest division race in NFL history is guaranteed to produce a division winner that has a .500 record or worse. Somehow the Falcons are still atop the division with a 5-8 record.
As a reminder, these are picks to win the game (not against the spread), so choose wisely and do your research before making your own predictions this week:
|Week 15||Ryan Van Bibber||Stephen White||Joel Thorman||David Fucillo||Danny Kelly||PFT Commenter||Matt Ufford||OddsShark Computer|
|ARZ @ STL||STL||STL||ARZ||ARZ||STL||STL||STL||STL|
|PIT @ ATL||PIT||PIT||PIT||ATL||ATL||ATL||ATL||PIT|
|WAS @ NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG|
|MIA @ NE||NE||NE||NE||NE||NE||NE||NE||NE|
|OAK @ KC||KC||KC||KC||KC||KC||KC||KC||KC|
|HOU @ IND||HOU||IND||IND||IND||IND||IND||HOU||IND|
|JAX @ BAL||BAL||BAL||BAL||BAL||BAL||BAL||BAL||BAL|
|GB @ BUF||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB|
|TB @ CAR||CAR||CAR||CAR||CAR||CAR||CAR||TB||TB|
|CIN @ CLE||CIN||CLE||CLE||CLE||CLE||CLE||CIN||CLE|
|NYJ @ TEN||TEN||NYJ||NYJ||TEN||NYJ||TEN||NYJ||NYJ|
|DEN @ SD||DEN||DEN||DEN||SD||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN|
|MIN @ DET||DET||MIN||DET||DET||DET||DET||DET||DET|
|SF @ SEA||SEA||SEA||SEA||SEA||SEA||SEA||SEA||SEA|
|DAL @ PHI||PHI||DAL||DAL||PHI||PHI||DAL||PHI||PHI|
|NO @ CHI||CHI||CHI||NO||CHI||CHI||CHI||NO||NO|
Our panel consists of: David Fucillo, SB Nation's fantasy guru; Danny Kelly, SB Nation NFL contributor; PFT Commenter, SB Nation's hot takes expert; Joel Thorman, SB Nation NFL blogs manager; Matt Ufford, editorial producer, SB Nation studios; Ryan Van Bibber, SB Nation's NFL editor; and Stephen White, retired NFL defensive end and SB Nation NFL contributor.
Our panel's record last week and for the season: