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NFL Playoff scenarios: Cowboys on the brink heading into Week 13

NFL Playoff scenarios: Cowboys on the brink heading into Week 13

Updated Dec. 2 at 10:00am ET

Welcome back NFL Playoff fans! As we head into Week 13 of the 2016 NFL season, I want to announce that my annual playoff scenario and tiebreaker analysis blog and associated videos have a new home! Since I now head up Content Strategy for NBC's Regional Sports Network in the "DMV" (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) known as CSN Mid-Atlantic, I have moved the discussion from CBSSports.com, my home for the past 14 years, to CSNMidAtlantic.com. This information may also find its way to other NBC Sports/Yahoo properties as we move forward.

As veteran readers and comment participants in this blog already know, the playoff scenarios and related tiebreaker analysis you will find here each week is must-read material for NFL fans, teams/players and media members for the next five weeks. CSNMidAtlantic.com is your official home for NFL playoff scenarios as we will release the scenarios here every week prior to the NFL releasing the information. We are in this position as I am entering my 25th year of figuring out the official NFL playoff scenarios for all teams (along with incredible co-pilots from Elias Sports Bureau) and ultimately delivering the final product to the NFL each week.

WEEK 13 NFL PLAYOFF SCENARIOS

2016 has not had any single team significantly break out of the pack in their division, thus the lack of playoff clinching scenarios until Week 13.

We already have two teams eliminated from playoff contention this year, Cleveland on Week 11 and San Francisco on Week 12. Cleveland's elimination after week 11 made them the 5th team out with six weeks to play since the 2002 NFL realignment (Miami '07, Detroit '08, Carolina '10 and Oakland '14).

San Francisco's exit this past week with five weeks to play is only the second time since 1990 that the 49ers have been eliminated this early (2005).

That leaves us with 30 teams in Super Bowl contention with five weeks to play, which is the 4th most since 2007... largely due to record "bunching" in the middle (NFC has 11 of 16 teams between 7-4 and 4-7) and overall parity.

We do have our first playoff clinching scenario this week as the 10-1 DALLAS COWBOYS can secure a playoff berth with:

  1. TAMPA BAY loss or tie
  2. WASHINGTON loss

Update: Dallas' win on Thursday night leaves just the need for either of the scenarios above to occur for the Cowboys to clinch a playoff spot.  If both Tampa Bay and Washington lose this week, Dallas will be at least the #5 seed in the NFC.

Week 14 early scenario:  Dallas' win means that the Cowboys can clinch the NFC East division title with a win next week at the NY Giants, regardless of the Giants result at Pittsburgh this week.  This is based on a season split, equal division record at worst for Dallas and Dallas beating the Giants on record against Common Opponents 10-2 to 9-3 at best for NYG.

There are also a few teams that can be eliminated from playoff contention this week that would join Cleveland and San Francisco on the "maybe next year" list.

JACKSONVILLE will be eliminated from playoff contention with:

  1. LOSS
  2. TIE + HOU Win or Tie
  3. TIE + INDY Win

CINCINNATI will be eliminated from playoff contention with:

  1. LOSS + PIT Win + BALT Win + DEN Win

NY JETS will be eliminated from playoff contention with:

  1. LOSS + MIA win/tie
  2. LOSS + DEN win/tie
  3. LOSS + BUF win/tie
  4. LOSS + CIN win + PIT win/tie
  5. LOSS + CIN tie + SD win/tie
  6. LOSS + CIN loss
  7. TIE + DEN win
  8. TIE + MIA win
  9. TIE + MIA tie + BUF win

The Jets scenario is interesting in many ways but mostly since 3-7-1 Cincinnati plays so heavily in their loss scenarios. That's because the Bengals has games left with teams the Jets need to lose along the way like Houston, Baltimore and Pittsburgh and the only real scenario keeping the Jets alive if they lose is for Cincinnati to end 6-8-2 (effectively 7-9) and beat out Pittsburgh at 7-9 and beat other 7-9 teams in multi-team tie on conference record.

CHICAGO will be eliminated from playoff contention with (Updated after MIN loss on Thursday night):

  1. LOSS
  2. TIE + NO win/tie
  3. TIE + PHI win
  4. TIE + TB win/tie
  5. TIE + CAR win
  6. WAS win + DET win/tie
  7. TB win + ATL win/tie + NO tie

Here are some early tiebreaker notes and things to watch in the weeks ahead:

  • New England currently holds tiebreaker over Oakland for #1 AFC seed due to an extra conference game, but if both teams end up at 14-2 the RAIDERS would win the #1 seed based on record against common opponents (5-0 vs. 4-1).  The difference would be the Patriots week 4 loss at home to Buffalo.  Rex Ryan strikes again.
  • DETROIT has a one-game lead at 7-4 with 5 games to play, BUT if the Lions win their next two (@NO, CHI) and Minnesota loses next week (@JAX) and Green Bay loses their next two (HOU, SEA), then the DETROIT LIONS will be NFC North Champions.  Lions have swept the Vikings which is key.
  • The earliest a division can be clinched this year is week 14 as New England, Dallas, Detroit and Seattle have that goal in their sights.

As I like to do on this blog each week, here's a likely misguided early prediction of playoff seedings based on remaining schedules, current playing strengths and potential tiebreakers:

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS FOLLOWING WEEK 12:

AFC                

  1. New England Patriots        
  2. Kansas City Chiefs        
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers        
  4. Houston Texans            
  5. Oakland Raiders            
  6. Denver Broncos (battle w/MIA)    

NFC

  1. Dallas Cowboys
  2. Atlanta Falcons
  3. Seattle Seahawks
  4. Detroit Lions
  5. New York Giants
  6. Washington Redskins (win over MIN is key)

The beauty of this blog is that it's intended to be interactive. The comments area below is an opportunity to ask questions about any team and their playoff chances. "Are the Jaguars eliminated with a loss this week?" "What if the Patriots and Raiders both end up 14-2?" Sometimes the answers will come from me but they will often come from a great collection of tiebreaker enthusiasts that put a solid amount of work into their feedback and insights.

In addition, I will be participating in a Facebook Live interactive broadcast each Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. ET on CSN Mid-Atlantic's Facebook page ("Like" it now so you get notified each week). You can also get live updates throughout each weekend from me on Twitter @JoeNFL and @NFL_Tiebreakers where you can also ask key scenario questions about your favorite teams on the fly.  

Best of luck to your favorite team and enjoy the ride for the next five weeks!

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Don't expect the Patriots' early-season slip up to come against the Redskins

Don't expect the Patriots' early-season slip up to come against the Redskins

When the weather outside becomes cold and the calendar turns to November or December, there's probably no team NFL opponents would rather avoid than the New England Patriots. The dominant franchise and defending champions always seem to get stronger as the season goes on. However, in the opening weeks, they sometimes show a vulnerability we're not used to seeing.

In recent years, New England has been prone to dropping an early-season contest that makes you go "Really? They lost to that team?" or "You just don't usually seem the Patriots play like that." In 2018 it was a Sunday night loss to the Lions that dropped them to 1-2. They followed that up with six consecutive wins. The year prior, a surprise last-second loss to the Panthers in Week 4 put the Patriots at 2-2. The team then won 11 of 12 games to close out the regular season.

Keep going back, the trend remains the same. In the end, New England always figures it out and rights the ship, but it shows that the formula to taking down the power of the NFL could just be getting a lucky draw on the schedule.

That's where the Redskins come into play. Slated to face the Patriots at home in Week 5 following four tough games to open up the season, Washington could most definitely use an upset no matter their record. 

Being that it is a relatively early-season game, and adding in the fact that New England does have a lot of questions to answer despite coming off yet another Super Bowl, there is reason to think the Redskins could be this year's "slip-up" game for the Patriots. Yet according to NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry, they may be one week too late.

"Unfortunately for Redskins fans I would say almost 100 percent of the time by Week 5 they have it figured out," Perry said on the Redskins Talk Podcast. "It's the first four weeks that have at times been a disaster."

Based on past showings, that does seem to be the case for the Patriots. New England hasn't lost a Week 5 matchup since 2013, and they entered that contest already sitting at 4-0. Perry also used the "We're on to Cincinnati" moment in 2014 to show how much of a swing their season takes once they hit Week 5. In that season, the Patriots rebounded from a rough showing against the Chiefs on Monday night to beatdown the Bengals and then rattle off six more wins. 

So, as much as Redskins fans want to believe that their team is in prime position to pull off the shocking win against the Patriots, the timing doesn't seem to be quite right. As Perry put it, there's always a point in the season where the switch is flipped. More often than not, "it's usually by Week 5."

While the Redskins may not catch the Patriots on their worst day in 2019, that isn't to say there is no chance Washington can come out on top. New England is entering the season with some things that still need to be ironed out, especially on the offensive side. Even if it is the daunted Week 5, Perry thinks that some of these problems may still be around.

"I think there are legitimate issues offensively for the Patriots this year both at receiver and tight end," Perry said. "I don't know if they're necessarily past those questions being answered by the time that Redskins game rolls around."

With Rob Gronkowski in retirement and Josh Gordon indefinitely suspended, some big weapons will be missing. That hasn't stopped the Patriots from getting production before, but Brady may not have as much to work with as he had in year's past. N'Keal Harry could emerge at the position, but he'll only have four games with Brady under his belt at that point.

When the teams meet in Week 5, Brady may just be working with one reliable target, and Perry believes that is an advantage for Washington.

"Outside of Julian Edleman, that receiver group is pretty weak," Perry said. "That would be the path to success for the Redskins I would say would be to really limit the passing game and keep it close that way."

Part of shutting down the passing game relies on getting pressure on Brady and giving him less time to sit in the pocket and pick apart the defense. With a strong front unit on their defense, the Redskins have a chance to do just that. But, it won't come easy against New England's offensive line.

"The offensive line up the middle is really good. It's been about as strong as it's been," Perry said. "That's one of the strongest parts of their team in all honesty."

Perry feels that if the Redskins are going to get to Brady, their best bet is to put a powerful and athletic body across from the smaller-sized center David Andrews and win that matchup.

If Washington can do that, there's a chance the passing game takes a hit, as Brady had some struggles last season when being pressured.

"He was bailing out of throws on pressure up the middle and that was forcing him into a lot of mistakes," Perry said of Brady during stretches of last season. "A lot of throwaways, some interception-worthy types of throws. So that's the kind of thing that the Redskins should be trying to do to make life difficult for them."

Week 5 promises to be an important one for Washington, and an upset win over New England could change the direction of the season. But, they can't bank on getting the Patriots off-game. Like always, a win against New England will be tough.

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10 Training Camp questions: Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

10 Training Camp questions: Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

9) Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

8) Want better offense? Get more out of the tight ends 

Josh Norman will lock up one of the Redskins starting cornerback positions. Quinton Dunbar will hold the other. Landon Collins will run the secondary from one of the safety spots, and the Redskins better hope Montae Nicholson can command the other side of the deep field. 

In the base 3-4 defense, those four guys will make up the Redskins secondary. But Greg Manusky deploys Washington defense in their 3-4 base less than 40 percent of the time, and that usually means there is a fifth secondary man on the field, usually another cornerback in the nickle package. 

Last year, that was Fabian Moreau. In 2018, he played all 16 games, made 58 tackles and grabbed one interception. He wasn't great, but he was good, and the league noticed. 

For Moreau though, a rangy corner taken in the 3rd round in 2017, he might be best suited to play on the outside. Unfortunately for him, Norman and Dunbar have those roles locked up, and that means Moreau has to keep battling smaller, quicker receivers on the inside rather than using his length and speed on the outside. 

Outside of a devastating, and incorrect, pass interference call against Moreau late in a Week 16 loss against the Titans, the corner played well in his first significant NFL action. But what happens if another player is better suited for the slot corner role?

That player could be seventh-round pick Jimmy Moreland.

The Redskins drafted two players in the first round this year, and somehow, Moreland might have gotten more attention than both during minicamp. He's undersized at 5-foot-11 and 180 lbs, and he played locally at FCS James Madison in college, but none of that has mattered so far.

He grabbed five interceptions during minicamp and was talked about by coaches and players every day. 

"He’s always around the ball, excellent ball skills, that’s what drew us to him and he’s proven to be quite the athlete," Washington coach Jay Gruden said during the offseason practice sessions. "He’s picked up the system very well. He's playing inside and outside. I’ve been very impressed with him."

Could Moreland really push Moreau for his job? Richmond will be the scene for one of the more interesting position battles in a while. 

One thing to keep in mind is that Moreland's highlights came before players had pads on. He's undersized, and the physicality of the NFL could be a major surprise, especially against the run. Moreau proved he would do his part against the run, which isn't always about making a tackle, but occupying space on the second level. 

Moreland was a great story in OTAs, but training camp is a different beast. It will be fun to see is he's ready for the next level, or if Moreau maintains his spot. 

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