Churchill: Hawks, Niners, Saints, Pats To Win
While the college football scene takes a break between the regular season and the bowl schedule, I’ll be focusing on the NFL this week. There aren’t a lot of big-time matchups, but from here on out every game is huge in jockeying for the playoffs and home field advantage.
There are several close races for playoff berths and for seeding, so before we get to the picks, let’s take a look at the current NFL playoff picture in each conference. The Chargers win over the Broncos Thursday night has certainly made things interesting at the top in the AFC.
No. 1: Denver Broncos (11-3)
No. 2: New England Patriots (10-3)
No. 3: Cincinnati Bengals (9-4)
No. 4: Indianapolis Colts (8-5)
No. 5: Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)
No. 6: Baltimore Ravens (7-6)*
* Also 7-6: Miami Dolphins
The Ravens own the tie-breaker over the Dolphins due to a 26-23 win at Miami in October.
The Chargers, with their win Thursday night over the Broncos, are at 7-7. In a tie-breaker scenario between Miami, Baltimore and San Diego, the Bolts lose out as they dropped a Week 11 matchup at Miami, haven’t played the Ravens but own just a 4-6 conference record versus Baltimore’s 6-4 mark. Miami owns a 6-3 conference record.
The Jets at 6-7 and the 5-8 Titans and Steelers are still alive for Wild-Card berths.
If the playoffs started today, Denver and New England would have bye weeks.
The Wild-Card matchups would be Cincinnati hosting Baltimore and Indianapolis hosting Kansas City.
The lowest-seeded winner would play at Denver with the other Wild-Card week winner taking on the Patriots in Foxboro.
No. 1: Seattle Seahawks (11-2)
No. 2: New Orleans Saints (10-3)
No. 3: Philadelphia Eagles (8-5)
No. 4: Detroit Lions (7-6)
No. 5: Carolina Panthers (9-4)
No. 6: San Francisco 49ers (9-4)
Dallas and Chicago are each closer to winning their division — both sit one game back — than they are to a Wild-Card spot. Arizona, at 8-5, sits one game back of the 49ers and Panthers.
Carolina hosts New Orleans next week. A Panthers win creates a tie in the NFC South, but the Saints would win that tie-breaker due to a better common-games and conference record. For the Panthers to win the South, they need the Saints an additional game, either this week at St. Louis or in Week 17 versus Tampa Bay, while winning their final three — versus the Jets, versus New Orleans, at Atlanta.
Carolina would lose a tie-breaker to Arizona based on head-to-head — the Cardinals defeated the Panthers week 5 in Phoenix 22-6.
The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West with a win and a 49ers loss and need two more wins to clinch everything — the division, a first-round bye and home field advantage.
Green Bay at 6-6-1 is still alive for a Wild-Card spot.
If the playoffs began today, the Saints and Seahawks would have first-round byes with Seattle claiming home field advantage.
The Wild-Card matchups would be San Francisco at Philadelphia and Carolina at Detroit.
Here are this week’s picks:
I like the NFC’s Big Four all to come away with victories, while Kirk Cousins’ first start gets Washington its fourth win of the year. I like the Lions on Monday night at home versus the Ravens, which makes things interesting in the AFC Wild-Card race.
I see the Bears winning at Cleveland to keep pace with Detroit and Dallas will keep the pressure on Philadelphia. It’s difficult to see the Jets doing much offensively at Carolina, who should back on track at home after a blowout loss to the Saints last week.
The Patriots, without Rob Gronkowski for the rest of the season, will have to figure out a way to win to stay ahead of the Broncos for the top seed in the conference. I have the Titans winning at home versus Arizona, but if the Cardinals win they are set up to make noise the final two weeks, as they sit on the heels of Carolina and San Francisco both.
The Cards head to Seattle next week but host the Niners in the season’s final week. That game, plus next week’s Panthers-Saints rematch loom large in the NFC.
– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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