For the first time in the 2015 season, there was a chance for teams to clinch a spot in the postseason on Sunday. The Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots, both undefeated, had a chance to clinch but after the morning slate of games, the Patriots can no longer do so until Week 13. Carolina still has a shot, though.
UPDATE: Carolina cannot clinch thanks to Seattle's win over Pittsburgh, as well as wins by the Vikings and Cardinals. Here's how the full playoff picture shapes up with one game left to play on Sunday.
The Patriots went into Sunday with a five-game lead over the Jets and Bills, and the most simple clinching scenario for them was for the Jets to lose to the Dolphins while they themselves would beat the Broncos. They also could have got in with a win and a Chiefs loss, or a win paired with Steelers and Bengals losses. Unfortunately, the Jets dominated the Dolphins, the Chiefs beat the Bills and Cincinnati downed the Rams.
Clinching scenarios aside, the Patriots' game against the Broncos is an important game for seeding in the AFC playoff bracket, assuming both teams continue on their current paths to win the AFC East and AFC West. While New England looks to be headed for a first-round bye, Denver is tied with the Cincinnati Bengals at 8-2 for the second-best record in the AFC.
By beating the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, the Panthers improved to 11-0 and improved their already great chance at a first-round bye in the playoffs. With the Atlanta Falcons five wins behind the Panthers and two matchups between the teams still on the schedule, the NFC South can't be won on Sunday, but there are a few scenarios that clinch a spot in the postseason for Carolina.
Assuming no ties in Week 12, the Panthers could have clinched under three scenarios on Sunday: 1) The Seahawks and Buccaneers both lose, 2) The Seahawks and Falcons both lose, or 3) The Buccaneers, Vikings and Cardinals lose. The Buccaneers and Falcons did both lose, but the Seahawks are playing in the afternoon. Minnesota won their game, eliminating the third scenario.
In the NFC, the most important games of the week were an NFC East battle between Washington and the New York Giants that will decide the division leader and a game between the Vikings and Falcons that was crucial in both the NFC North and NFC Wild Card races. An upset victory for the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving opened the door for the Vikings to recapture the NFC North lead, despite losing to the Green Bay Packers in Week 11.
The Vikings were able to snag the division lead, meaning a fourth consecutive loss for the Falcons, who have opened the door for the Buccaneers and Seahawks, among other teams, to contend for a Wild Card berth.
Similarly, the AFC Wild Card race is wide open thanks to recent slides by the Jets and Raiders. That made a battle between the 5-5 Bills and 5-5 Chiefs one of the AFC's most important matchups, while teams like the Texans and Jaguars were fighting to stay in the thick of the race. Houston took down the Saints in a dominant game, but the Jaguars fell to the Chargers. As noted above, the Chiefs had no issue beating the Bills.
With five weeks left to play after Sunday, these are the current favorites to win the Super Bowl through Week 11, according to Football Outsiders:
|No.||Team||Super Bowl win|
|1||Carolina Panthers||25.7 percent|
|2||New England Patriots||23.2 percent|
|3||Arizona Cardinals||16.1 percent|
|4||Cincinnati Bengals||15.4 percent|
|5||Denver Broncos||4.4 percent|
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SB Nation presents: The Falcons' ridiculous fumble against the Vikings