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A New Year’s Playoff Outlook

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With just two weeks to go in the regular season, we’re starting to get a good idea of what the playoffs will look like. We know the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs have won their respective divisions in the AFC and that the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers have won theirs in the NFC. We also know the Cincinnati Bengals will be appearing on behalf of the AFC, as will the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers, marking the first playoff appearance of Justin Herbert’s career. For the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys are in. All that remains is for an NFC East champion to emerge between them.

What’s more interesting at the moment is thinking about which teams are going to fill the final playoff spots in each conference. Here’s a look at how some teams are looking.

NFL Playoff Picture

AFC

  • Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are in excellent shape to make the playoffs as the AFC South division champions. Trevor Lawrence is really starting to figure the speed of the NFL out and making the transition the team needs him to in order to be successful. Zay Jones, Christian Kirk, and Evan Engram make for solid options for Lawrence to distribute the ball and Travis Etienne Jr. is becoming one of the league’s better running backs. This team is getting hot at the right time.

Verdict: In

  • Tennessee Titans

The Titans are in big trouble. With Ryan Tannehill lost for the rest of the season and an anemic receiving core, they’ve taken on more water than their ship can support. Derrick Henry remains one of the NFL’s best players, but there’s little his potent rushing attack can accomplish if it isn’t accompanied by a competent passing game.

Verdict: Out

  • Miami Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa has run into yet another stint of dealing with a concussion, and the Dolphins would be wise at this point to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season (if not longer). Teddy Bridgewater will start against the New England Patriots Week 17. The good news for the Dolphins is that they have enough other playmakers on the team to get through the last two weeks of the regular season, especially considering the Patriots and New York Jets appear to have no interest in making the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Steelers, if they get by the Baltimore Ravens, may have something to say. But that’s a big if.

Verdict: In

NFC

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers are a bad football team. Because of the presence of Tom Brady, media giants are squirming to find a reason why they’ll make the playoffs. But this isn’t anything even resembling a playoff team. Brady looks bad, they can barely run the ball, their receivers have under performed, their offensive line stinks. They had to go to overtime to beat an Arizona Cardinals team starting its third-string quarterback.

Verdict: Out

  • Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have finally found an identity for their football team. They run the ball. Then they run it some more. It isn’t much but it works for them as of late. There’s more than enough on this team to win an NFC South division that no one else is remotely interested in trying to win. D’Onta Foreman will get the team there himself if nothing else.

Verdict: In

  • New York Giants

The Giants have just enough going for them to pass as a winning football team. Saquon Barkley is one of the NFL’s best players and has looked incredible this season. Daniel Jones is just good enough to make the necessary plays for Barkley to carry the rest of the load on their offense. But on defense, Kayvon Thibodeaux looks to be on his way to becoming every bit the player he was expected to be coming out of Oregon.

Verdict: In

  • Washington Commanders

This Commanders team is baffling. They found themselves in the position of winning games with Taylor Heinicke. So what do they do? They announce Carson Wentz as the starter for Week 17, a guy who hasn’t accomplished anything in recent memory. It’s almost like they don’t want to make the playoffs.

Verdict: Out

  • Detroit Lions

Someone’s got to take the final Wild Card spot in the NFC, so who’s it going to be? You bet it’ll be the Lions. This team is hungry and, despite losing to the Carolina Panthers, has looked near unstoppable over the last several weeks of the regular season. This is a team that wants it, and Jared Goff knows how to win games, particularly with the vast array of offensive weapons he has at his disposal on this team.

Verdict: In

Written by
Brock Wells

Brock is a Master's student in Film and Media Studies at Arizona State University and a member of the International Association of Professional Writers & Editors.

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