Welcome to December football in the NFL, where we separate the men from the boys and the pretenders from the contenders. Each team has four games left to determine their postseason fate -- will they playing golf or watching film in January?
The final month of the season is shaping up to be one of the wildest and most competitive in recent memory, with zero playoff spots clinched entering Week 14 and 26 teams still mathematically alive to make the postseason. Every game down the stretch is a critical one, with little or no margin for error. Bring it on!
If you thought the definition of chaos was the chance that a five-win team could host a playoff game as the NFC South champion, how about an ending where we have eight 9-7 teams in the AFC? It's a still a possibility, and would take about a million tiebreakers to sort out who makes the playoffs.
This unprecedented parity in the league has left us with a ridiculous logjam of six (!) 7-5 teams in the AFC, each tied for the final wild card spot. The Miami Dolphins currently own that coveted sixth seed, but no team can be counted out in a tight race that will likely not be decided until the final game of Week 17. According to the playoff odds at Football Outsiders, the Kansas City Chiefs have the best chance of those seven-win AFC teams to make the playoffs (54.8%), but face one of the more difficult schedules down the homestretch.
For the first time this season, we have playoff-clinching scenarios in Week 14 that could begin to clear up this muddled playoff field. The Indianapolis Colts can win the AFC South title and become the first team invited to the postseason with a victory on Sunday over the Cleveland Browns combined with a loss by the Houston Texans versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. Our experts favor the Colts to get the job done in Cleveland, but don't think the Jags can pull off the upset against Houston. The Denver Broncos can also clinch a playoff spot, but they need a win and a lot of help by other teams.
Although the NFC doesn't have as many strong contending teams as the AFC, the playoff picture is even more unsettled over there. How crazy is the NFC right now? The 2-10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still alive in the NFC South race (three games back with four to play), yet also sit one game behind the Oakland Raiders for the first overall draft pick. The top two teams in each division are separated by no more than one game, and because the league backloads the schedule with divisional matchups, it means that we have a ton of meaningful games to play over the next four weeks.
The current division leader in the NFC that could be in the most trouble is the Arizona Cardinals, who have seen their NFC West lead dwindle to a single game over the Seattle Seahawks. The offense has been abysmal the last three games with Drew Stanton at quarterback, and the schedule does them no favors in December.
This week they host a dangerous 7-5 Chiefs team that is in must-win mode, and most of our experts are predicting a third straight loss for the Cardinals. They finish with three divisional games -- at St. Louis Rams, vs. Seahawks, at San Francisco 49ers -- and there are certainly no gimme wins in that stretch. If the Cardinals were to somehow miss the postseason, they'd be the first team in the Super Bowl Era to do so after starting the season with nine wins in their first 10 games.
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 14||Ryan Van Bibber||Stephen White||Joel Thorman||David Fucillo||Danny Kelly||PFT Commenter||Matt Ufford||OddsShark Computer|
|DAL @ CHI||DAL||DAL||DAL||DAL||DAL||CHI||DAL||DAL|
|PIT @ CIN||PIT||PIT||CIN||CIN||CIN||PIT||CIN||PIT|
|STL @ WAS||WAS||STL||STL||WAS||STL||STL||STL||STL|
|NYG @ TEN||TEN||NYG||NYG||TEN||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG|
|CAR @ NO||NO||NO||NO||NO||NO||NO||NO||NO|
|NYJ @ MIN||MIN||MIN||NYJ||MIN||MIN||MIN||MIN||MIN|
|BAL @ MIA||MIA||MIA||BAL||MIA||MIA||BAL||MIA||MIA|
|IND @ CLE||IND||IND||IND||IND||IND||IND||CLE||IND|
|TB @ DET||DET||DET||DET||DET||DET||DET||DET||DET|
|BUF @ DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN|
|HOU @ JAX||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU|
|KC @ ARZ||KC||KC||KC||ARZ||KC||ARZ||KC||KC|
|SEA @ PHI||SEA||SEA||SEA||PHI||SEA||PHI||PHI||PHI|
|SF @ OAK||SF||SF||SF||SF||SF||SF||SF||SF|
|NE @ SD||NE||NE||NE||SD||NE||NE||NE||NE|
|ATL @ GB||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB|
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: