The Broncos are rising fast in the AFC, while the Seahawks take control in the NFC. Breakout Live breaks down the wildcard playoff races heading into week 14 of the NFL.
The Los Angeles Chargers aren’t really interested in talking wildcard right now. At 9-3, they’re only a game back of the Chiefs for the division and the AFC’s top seed. And after a huge comeback win against the contending Steelers, the Bolts have their sights set on much bigger things. But as a point of fact, the Chargers are presently a wildcard team and in command of the #5 seed in the AFC. They maintain a 2-game lead on the Ravens for that seed and a full 3-game lead for any kind of wildcard slot. In short, the Chargers are in. It’s just a matter of where.
Behind the somewhat shaky leadership of rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, the aforementioned Baltimore Ravens are a game ahead of the field for the final wildcard spot in the AFC. Winners of three in a row, the Ravens’ road is about to get a lot tougher with road battles against the Chiefs and Chargers in the next three weeks. We’ll see if Lamar’s legs keep the Ravens upright after that stretch.
From here, there’s a mess of teams sitting a game out of the wildcard at 6-6 and looking to make a move, yet all of them bring an aura of unpredictability. The Indianapolis Colts looked well on their way to turning around their season and making a playoff run after winning five straight. But a shutout loss to the struggling Jaguars on Sunday threw their season into doubt. Now a tough Texas 2-step against the Texans and Cowboys will largely determine their wildcard fate.
The Denver Broncos had lost 6 of 7 and were a mile away from wildcard discussions just a few short weeks ago. But after winning 3 in a row, including victories against the playoff-bound Chargers and Steelers, the Broncos now find themselves a mere game out of the wildcard with the 49ers, Browns and Raiders on deck. It might be time to start penciling this team into the playoffs. UPDATE: Broncos leading wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is out for season after hurting his Achilles in practice. That’s a big blow to their wildcard chances.
The Tennessee Titans are a mercurial bunch, having beaten the Texans, Eagles, Cowboys and Patriots, but having lost 5 out of 7 prior to their tight Sunday win over the lowly Jets. I’m still not a believer in the Titans, but with the next three against Jaguars, Giants and Redskins, the Titans can’t be overlooked.
The Miami Dolphins have had a similar stretch to the Titans, having lost 4 out of 5 before squeaking by a bad Bills squad. But unlike the Titans, the Dolphins face stiff competition the next couple of weeks, as they host the Patriots and then head to Minnesota to face a Vikings team playing for its playoff lives. Don’t expect to see the Dolphins in this column a couple of weeks from now.
The Seattle Seahawks have won 5 out of 7, and their last three losses were close games to the Rams (twice) and the Chargers. Such an impressive stretch has landed the Hawks at 7-5 atop the NFC wildcard race and in control of the #5 seed. It doesn’t get any easier though, with the Vikings and Chiefs on deck in the next three weeks.
A half-game behind the Seahawks and currently in possession of the #6 seed sits the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are thankful for the unearned tie that came as a result of a bogus roughing-the-passer call back in week two, as that tie keeps them from being lumped in with a slew of 6-6 teams in the NFC. But the Vikings head into Seattle on Monday night in a game that will either put the Seahawks in firm command of the top wildcard slot or create an even tighter race in the NFC.
Three teams sit a half-game behind the Vikings for the final wildcard spot in the NFC. The Philadelphia Eagles seem to be the most promising of the three, coming off divisional wins against the Giants and Redskins. But Philly is still not looking like the dominant team that won it all last year. If they’re going to put it together, they’ll have to do it fast. Road games against the Cowboys and Rams are on deck, followed by a home tilt against the Texans. Yes, three games in a row against division-leading teams for the Eagles, who seemed destined to fall amongst the ranks of Super Bowl champions who failed to make the playoffs the following year.
The Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins are hanging on for their playoff lives at this stage. The Panthers have dropped 4 straight after looking like division contenders at mid-season, and now Cam Newton is having arm-strength issues, Greg Olsen is heading to IR, and Ron Rivera is shaking up his staff in a desperate move to save his own job. Meanwhile, the Redskins are in free fall after losing their starting and backup quarterbacks to season-ending injuries.