By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and for the second consecutive week, the New York Jets exited Sunday as victors. One week after pulling off an improbable win over the Rams, the Jets made it a winning streak by defeating the Cleveland Browns. It was a crushing loss for the Browns, as the team was without two of its starting offensive linemen and all four of its wide receivers. A week ago, this looked to be an easy win for the Browns, a victory that would secure the franchise its first playoff berth in nearly two decades. Cleveland enters a Week 17 match-up against the Steelers in need of a win or help from the Colts, Dolphins, Ravens, or Titans. Missing the playoffs this season would be a crushing end to the Browns’ season.
There was a chance next week’s tilt between the Steelers and Browns would have been for the AFC North, but Cleveland’s loss paired with Pittsburgh’s epic come-from-behind win over the Colts ended that potential scenario. Despite being down three scores in the second half, the Steelers kept grinding away against Indianapolis, showing tremendous resolve while avoiding a four-game losing streak. The Steelers have clinched the AFC North and are locked into a playoff spot heading into next week. Meanwhile, with the loss, the Colts have dropped out of the playoff picture. Indianapolis will need some help in Week 17 to make the postseason.
Following Indianapolis’s loss, the Tennessee Titans had a chance to clinch the AFC South and head into a drama-free Week 17. Instead, in the pouring Wisconsin snow, the Titans delivered an absolute dud against the Green Bay Packers. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill was off his game due to the weather, while Aaron Rodgers added to his MVP case. Receiver Davante Adams racked up 142 yards and three touchdowns through the air, while rookie running back A.J. Dillon had 124 ground yards and a pair of scores. Green Bay sits atop the NFC heading into the final week of the season, while Tennessee needs a win over the Houston Texans to claim the AFC South.
Seattle defeated the Los Angeles Rams to improve to 11-4 and win the NFC West. There’s even an outside chance—losses by Green Bay and New Orleans, a win over the 49ers—for Seattle to secure a first-round bye. Unlikely, but stranger things have happened. As for the Rams, the loss doesn’t doom the team’s playoff chances. The only scenario that finds L.A. outside the playoff picture is a loss against the Cardinals and a win by the Chicago Bears. In this scenario, it would be Arizona and Chicago taking the final two NFC Wild Card spots. The Bears have been trending in the right direction, but a season-ending date with the Packers may doom Chicago’s playoff bid and save L.A.’s season.
While the Browns are in play for the final Wild Card spot in the AFC, the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens are now sitting in a strong position to enter the playoffs with Wild Card spots. Miami turned to back-up quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick late in its Saturday night showdown against the Raiders, and Fitzpatrick orchestrated a jaw-dropping comeback win to propel the Dolphins to 10-5. Miami needs a win over the Bills or a loss by either the Ravens, Browns, or Colts to make the playoffs. Baltimore has won four straight, and a win over the Bengals in Week 17 or a loss by the Browns or Colts would send the Ravens back to the postseason.
Now, lastly, there’s the NFC East. The Washington Football Team sits in first place at present with a record of 6-9. A win over the Eagles next Sunday sends Washington to the playoffs. A loss by WFT would set up the match-up between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys as a game wherein the victor would be the NFC East champion and host a playoff game. It has been a long while since there’s been so much up for grabs on the final weekend of the NFL season. It’s going to be a fun one.