Just when you thought it was going to stay tight in various NFL divisions, 2016 Week 13 came along.
We saw the Dallas Cowboys gain a firm three-game lead in the NFC East, the Detroit Lions jump out to a two-game lead over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, the Seattle Seahawks maintain its three-game lead in the NFC West and the New England Patriots vault to a three-game lead in the AFC East.
Other division races remain either tied (NFC South, AFC North and AFC South) or within one game at the top (AFC West).
That separation in various divisions has us looking at three division title clinching scenarios this week. The Cowboys and Patriots can clinch first-round playoff byes, with Dallas also having a shot at claiming homefield advantage throughout the playoffs as the #1 seed.
Before we get to those scenarios and one involving the Oakland Raiders gaining a playoff berth, let's recap Week 13.
With the Cowboys' win over the Vikings last Thursday and the Redskins' loss at the Cardinals, Dallas clinched a playoff berth.
Week 13 is the earliest the Cowboys have clinched a playoff spot since 2007 when they clinched playoffs in Week 13, division title in Week 14, a playoff bye in Week 15 and homefield advantage Week 16. That was also the year the 10-6 New York Giants beat the 13-3 Cowboys on the road in the Divisional Round 21-17.
Two teams were also eliminated from playoff contention during Week. The Jacksonville Jaguars' loss to the Denver Broncos elimianted the Jags from the playoffs. The same applies to the New York Jets following their loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.
Jacksonville has failed to make the playoffs since 2007 and the NY Jets haven't seen Postseason since 2010. That leaves 28 teams in Super Bowl contention with four weeks to play which is 5th best in last 9 years, but 3 off last year's record number of 31 teams in contention.
QUIZ TIME: Which NFL team hasn't made the playoffs in ANY YEAR since the League realigned in 2002? Answer Below (and it might surprise you).
HERE ARE YOUR 2016 WEEK 14 OFFICIAL PLAYOFF SCENARIOS:
Dallas clinches division title:
1) DAL win
Dallas clinches a first-round bye:
1) DAL win + DET loss or tie
2) DAL win + SEA loss
Dallas clinches homefield advantage throughout NFC playoffs:
1) DAL win + DET loss or tie + SEA loss
Seattle clinches division title:
1) SEA win + ARI loss or tie
2) SEA tie + ARI loss
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
New England clinches division title:
1) NE win + MIA loss or tie
2) NE tie + MIA loss
New England clinches a first-round bye:
1) NE win + MIA loss or tie + PIT loss or tie
Oakland clinches a playoff berth:
1) OAK win + MIA loss or tie
2) OAK win + DEN loss
3) OAK tie + MIA loss + BAL loss or tie
4) OAK tie + MIA loss + PIT loss or tie
The Raiders' situation is interesting since they have two-team tiebreaker advantage over both the Patriots and Miami Dolphins (whichever one doesn't win the division when looking at playoff berth clinching scenarios).
You then have to look to see if either the Dolphins or Patriotrs can use the Kansas City Chiefs or Denver Broncos to jump over the Raiders in this exercise.
Miami loses tiebreaker to Denver based on common opponents and can't use Kansas City since there is no scenario where the three-way KC-OAK-DEN tie ends with the Broncos finishing first, Chiefs second and Raiders third. Kansas City would win the AFC West in that tiebreaker in this scenario no matter what happens in future games after this Thursday.
However, the Dolphins can use the Chiefs if the Broncos ties this week instead of loses and the Broncos win the division at 11-4-1 and Cheifs and Raiders tie at 11-5. New England can beat Kansas City and jump Oakland in that same Denver division winner scenario. Thus. .. the need for a Denver loss with Oakland win as one clinching option this week.
TIEBREAKER NOTES AND ANECDOTES:
- If the Cowboys were to clinch the #1 seed this week, not only will it be interesting to see what they do with playing time for Tony Romo and the rookies, but it will also mean that Dallas won't have "must-win" motivation when they face the Buccaneers in Week 15 and the Lions' Week 16... two teams firmly in the playoff hunt.
- If the Patriots clinch the AFC East title this week, it will be their eighth consecutive division title and 13 titles in the last 14 years. Amazing.
- If the Cowboys were to clinch the #1 seed in week 14, it will be the earliest any NFL team has accomplished that since the 2009 Indianapolis Colts (who also did the same thing in 2005). No NFC team has clinched the #1 seed with three weeks to play since the 1985 Chicago Bears. Super Bowl Shuffle anyone?
We also have five teams that can be eliminated from playoff contention this week with two teams in the AFC (that would add to Cleveland, Jacksonville and NY Jets already gone) and three teams in the NFC (potentially adding to San Francisco that exited week 12).
Cincinnati will be eliminated from playoff contention:
1) CIN loss
2) CIN tie + DEN win or tie + PIT win
3) CIN tie + DEN win or tie + BAL win
4) CIN tie + DEN win or tie + PIT tie + BAL tie
5) PIT win + DEN win + BAL win
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
San Diego will be eliminated from playoff contention:
1) SD loss + DEN win or tie
2) SD tie + DEN win
Chicago will be eliminated from playoff contention:
1) CHI loss or tie
2) WAS win
3) ATL win or tie + TB win or tie
4) ATL win or tie + ARI win
5) MIN win or tie + GB win
6) MIN win + GB tie
7) NO win + ARI win + CAR win
8) NO win + ARI win + CAR tie + WAS tie
Carolina will be eliminated from playoff contention:
1) CAR loss + WAS win
2) CAR loss + ATL win or tie
3) CAR loss + MIN win or tie + GB win
4) CAR loss + MIN win + GB tie
5) CAR loss + CHI win + WAS tie + MIN win
6) CAR loss + CHI win + WAS tie + GB win
7) CAR loss + CHI win + WAS tie + MIN tie + GB tie
8) CAR tie + TB win + ATL win
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Los Angeles will be eliminated from playoff contention:
1) LA loss
The need for the Washington tie elements in the Carolina elimination scenario revolve around giving Washington a second tie and having the Redskins finish 6-8-2 (equal to 7-9) at worst and tying the Panthers at 7-9.
When you couple that with a Chicago win and the Bears playing Washington, Green Bay and Minnesota to finish the year, it creates a scenario where Washington losing out would give the Bears another win in addition to Carolina needing the Bears to beat Minnesota and Green Bay and Carolina can't use the potential head-to-head win against the Redskins to their advantage for the #6 seed.
QUIZ ANSWER: The Buffalo Bills have not made the playoffs since realignment in 2002 (only NFL team) and haven't made the playoffs since 1999 which be remembered as the year Buffalo lost to Tennessee in the Wild Card Playoffs 22-16 in what is known as the "Music City Miracle". Can you say Frank Wycheck?
PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS FOLLOWING WEEK 12:
- New England Patriots
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Houston Texans
- Oakland Raiders
- Denver Broncos
- Dallas Cowboys
- Seattle Seahawks (jumps ATL for #2)
- Atlanta Falcons
- Detroit Lions
- New York Giants
- Washington Redskins (need to go 3-1 vs. TB 2-2)
Enjoy Week 14 and best of luck to your favorite team!