Predicting the Playoffs: Giants Need to Earn Their First-Round Bye

Every Tuesday we look at all the playoff scenarios with our Predicting The Playoffs feature.

Every week the playoff scenarios get a little bit clearer, but what's remarkable with two weeks to play is how a 10-6 record may mean very little this year. Usually 10-6 is enough to wrap up a playoff spot, and it is this year if you play in a weak division. But if you're aiming for a wild card spot, 10-6 might leave you sitting at home.

But while scenarios are clearer this week than last week, it's still pretty complicated, especially in the wild card races, where four 9-5 AFC teams and three 9-5 wild card contenders in the NFC ensure that there are plenty of tiebreakers to check out.

Probably the most surprising thing that jumped out when running through this week's scenarios is how the Giants could go from a sure-fire No. 1 seed to playing next week to stay out of the first week of the postseason if they lose this week. And Minnesota has gone from a likely January vacation to a shot at a first-round bye.

HOW IT LOOKS
AFC
In
Tennessee, Pittsburgh
Should Make It
Indianapolis, Denver
Controls Their Own Destiny
New York Jets, Miami, Baltimore
Needs Help
New England
Buy A Lottery Ticket
San Diego
NFC
In
New York Giants, Arizona
Should Make It
Carolina
Controls Their Own Destiny
Minnesota, Dallas
Needs Help
Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Philadelphia
Buy A Lottery Ticket
Washington, Chicago

AFC East

New York Jets (9-5, .429 opponents winning percentage for the final two games)
New England Patriots (9-5, .500)
Miami Dolphins (9-5, .393)

Since all three teams won this week, very little has changed in how the AFC East race shapes up. Miami and New York both control their own destiny because they face each other in Week 17. As far as the AFC East race goes, the Patriots' chances have actually gotten a little worse despite their win, because they now have one less week to hope for Jets or Dolphins losses. In fact, if the Jets beat the Seahawks and Dolphins' beat the Chiefs (and both will be heavily favored), the Patriots will be eliminated from the division race unless the Jets and Dolphins tie in their head-to-head finale, since they lose the tiebreakers to whichever team wins. An 11-5 Jets' team would top the Patriots in the tiebreaker because of a better division record (if they beat the Dolphins), while the Dolphins would win a tiebreaker against the Patriots because of a better conference record (the Patriots and Dolphins are tied on the first three tiebreakers).

The Patriots chances of earning a wild card spot did pick up however with the Ravens' loss to the Steelers. If New England wins out (against Arizona and Buffalo) and the Ravens lose to the Cowboys or the Jaguars, the Patriots will wrap up at least a wild card spot no matter what happens elsewhere in the AFC East.

Chances for a playoff spot get trickier if the Patriots go 1-1. If New England goes 1-1 with a loss to the Bills, they are out of the running for the division title, as the Patriots would lose the division record tiebreaker to whichever team wins the Week 17 Jets-Dolphins matchup, even if that team loses its Week 16 game. New England would also be out of the wild card race unless Baltimore goes 0-2, as a 1-1 Ravens' team would own the tiebreaker over the Patriots in conference record. If the Patriots go 1-1 with a win over the Bills, they would

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3, .593)
Baltimore Ravens (9-5, .519)

If Baltimore had beaten the Steelers we'd be dealing with all kind of tiebreakers. But since the Steelers won the AFC North title is settled, and the Steelers are guaranteed of at least the No. 2 seed. They can win the No. 1 seed by winning their final two games against the Titans and Browns or by beating the Titans combined with a Titans' loss in Week 17 to the Colts.

The Ravens may have lost their chance at winning the division, but if they win their final two games they will wrap up a wild card spot. Things will get much more complicated if they lose to the Cowboys this week. If the Ravens finish up by going 0-2, they will likely fall short of the playoffs as the AFC East is guaranteed of at least a 10-6 division champ, while it's unlikely that two of the three AFC East teams will finish at 9-7, which is what the Ravens would need. So almost all the Ravens' playoff scenarios require at least a 1-1 finish.The key for the Ravens is to beat the Jags, which would give them an 8-4 conference record. If Baltimore ends up in a tie with the Dolphins for a wild card spot, they hold a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage. If the Ravens end up in a tie with the Patriots at 10-6, they would have a tiebreaker advantage because of conference record.

If Baltimore beats the Cowboys and loses to the Jaguars, they would still have the tiebreaker advantage over the Dolphins because of head-to-head, and they would have a conference record tiebreaker on the Patriots if New England loses to the Bills. But in that scenario, if the Patriots lost to the Cardinals nad beat the Bills, the two teams would then be tied on conference record and in common opponents, which drops us to strength of victory. With two weeks to play, it's too early to say how that will play out, but the Ravens have a two game advantage right now.

AFC South

Tennessee Titans (12-2)
Indianapolis Colts (10-4)

The Titans great start have given them a lot of cushion. They may have lost to the Texans, but it doesn't really matter. If they beat the Steelers this week, they'll wrap up the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. If they lose to the Steelers, they can still win the No. 1 seed by beating the Colts and a Steelers loss to the Browns. And at worst, they will be the No. 2 seed with a first-round bye.

The Colts keep rolling along beating up on teams they should beat, which has them a win away from wrapping up a playoff spot. If the Colts beat the Jags this week, they will wrap up a wild card spot because they would win tiebreakers against the Patriots and Ravens by head-to-head wins and would top the Jets or Dolphins because of a superior conference record.

AFC West

Denver Broncos (8-6, .429)
San Diego Chargers (6-8, .607)

It's hillarious that the Broncos haven't wrapped up the division yet. We're one week away from the mediocrity bowl. If Denver can lose to the Bills while the Chargers beat the Bucs, next week the 8-7 Broncos will face the 7-8 Chargers with the winner going to the playoffs. And if that happens, Roger Goodell will die a little.

NFC East

New York Giants (11-3, .714)
Dallas Cowboys (9-5, .615)
Philadelphia Eagles (8-5-1, .571)
Washington Redskins (7-7, .462)

The Giants showed last year how important it is to peak at the right time. New York is proving the same point in reverse right now. New York has wrapped up the division title, but all of a sudden, the Giants aren't a sure bet to wrap up the No. 1 seed. The Giants face the Panthers this week, and whoever wins that game will be the No. 1 seed.

But it gets worse than that. If the Giants lose this weekend to the Panthers and the Vikings beat the Falcons, next week's Giants-Vikings game will be for the No. 2 seed and the resulting bye.

The Cowboys are in much better shape after pulling off a crucial win against the Giants, but a brutal ending schedule means they aren't out of the woods yet. If the Cowboys go 1-1 against the Ravens and Eagles, they'd like to end up in a tie with the Bucs because they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bucs. If the Cowboys ended up in a 10-6 tie with the Falcons, they would likely have to decide the tiebreaker on strength of victory as the two teams would both end up with 7-5 conference records and they do not have four common opponents to decide it on common opponents.

The Eagles' tie makes figuring out their scenarios much easier. If Philadelphia wins out, it needs two of the three wild card contenders ahead of them to lose at least one game. Philadelphia would take care of one of those themselves by beating the Cowboys in Week 17, but they would also need the Bucs or Falcons to lose a game as well.

So why is Washington still listed here? Because technically if the Cowboys, Eagles, Bucs and Falcons all go 0-2 in their final two games, the Redskins could earn a playoff spot. Of course, if a giant fault line erupts and swallows up 28 teams the Lions could still make the playoffs as well. The Redskins chances aren't much better than that. And after losing to the Bengals, they don't deserve any better.

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings (9-5, .714)
Chicago Bears (8-6, .429)

Minnesota is one win or one Bears loss away from wrapping up the division title, and they also have a chance to earn a first-round bye. The Giants are playing the Panthers this week, and the Vikings still have a shot at a first-round bye no matter who wins that game, but Vikings fans should root for the Panthers. Minnesota beat the Panthers, so if the Giants win this weekend, the Vikings could wrap up a first-round bye by beating the Falcons and Giants while the Panthers finish 0-2 (against the Giants and Saints).

And if the Panthers beat the Giants, life is even simpler for Minnesota. If the Vikings beat the Falcons they would just need to beat the Giants next week to have the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. By beating the Cardinals, the Vikings also have the tiebreaker advantage over the Cardinals in any tie for seeding.

The Bears are basically screwed. If Minnesota wins one of its final two games, Chicago can't win the division because of the Vikings' superior conference record (and potentially because of a better record against common opponents). The wild card race isn't much better for Chicago because they lost to the Panthers, Falcons and Bucs this year, which means they would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker to all three of those NFC South teams. At this point, even 10-6 would be unlikely to get the Bears into the playoffs.

NFC South

Carolina Panthers (11-3, 667)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5, .321)
Atlanta Falcons (9-5, .393)

The Panthers are one win away from wrapping up the NFC's No. 1 seed, but they also are not assured yet of a playoff spot. If the Panthers go 0-2 while the Falcons, Cowboys, Bucs go 2-0, then the Panthers would end up out of the playoffs because they would lose the conference record tiebreaker to both the Falcons and Bucs.

But considering the unlikeliness of that, it's just as likely that the Panthers could end up clinching a playoff spot before their Sunday night game, as all they need is either the Cowboys (playing the Ravens), the Falcons (playing the Vikings) or the Bucs (playing the Chargers) to lose. One loss and the Panthers are in. One win or a loss by both the Bucs and Falcons over the final two weeks wraps up the division title as well.

If the Bucs and Falcons end up in a tie for a wild card spot by winning out, the Bucs presently win the tiebreaker based on strength of victory because of the Seahawks win over the Rams. The two teams would be tied in head-to-head tiebreaker, division record, common opponents and conference record, but right now the Bucs win over the Seahawks (3-11) is better than the Falcons win over the Rams (2-12). Since that is the only difference in strength of victory, there is a chance that they could end up deadlocked on that as well (if the Seahawks lose one more game than the Rams over the final two weeks). If that ends up as a tie, it would go down to strength of schedule, at which point my calculator blew up and decided we can wait at least a week to see how things shape up.

So that explains it for the Falcons as well, while Atlanta still has a theoretical chance to win the division by winning out and Carolina going 0-2, but their main focus right now is on going 2-0 against the Vikings and Rams. If they do that, its likely they'll land a playoff spot even if theoretically they could still be shut out.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (8-6, .429)

The Cardinals may have wrapped up the division title, but every week there are more questions about how much of a NFC West creation they are. The Cardinals are 5-0 against the other teams in the division, and 3-6 against everyone else and are 0-4 in their last four non-division games.

Predicting the Playoffs: Giants Need to Earn Their First-Round Bye originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Tue, 16 Dec 2008 13:43:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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