Winners and Losers Heading Into Final Week of NFL Season
The big winners in Week 16 were the Saints, Patriots, Cowboys, Seahawks and Ravens. The big losers were the Steelers, Dolphins, Chiefs and Texans.
But wait. Then the Texans became winners hours later, earning a playoff berth as they headed back to Houston on Sunday following a last-second 32-30 loss at Philadelphia that handed the AFC’s No. 2 seed behind Kansas City to the Patriots — as if they need any help when the playoffs arrive. Houston sneaked in when Pittsburgh lost 31-28 at New Orleans, though the Texans still could wind up a wild card in the, well, wild AFC South.
Here’s a road map as we head into the final week of the schedule.
New Orleans (12-3) secured home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs by beating Pittsburgh, dropping the Steelers into second place behind Baltimore in the AFC North. The Saints won’t be playing outdoors again — the Super Bowl, should they get there, will be inside at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Also reaching their goal were the Cowboys, grabbing the NFC East with a 27-20 victory over Tampa Bay. Dallas (9-6) will be the fourth seed and host a wild-card game.
Chicago (11-4) needs to be ready next week at Minnesota (9-6). For one, the Bears have a shot at the second overall slot and a first-round bye with a win and a loss by the Rams (12-3), who are at home for San Francisco. For another, they could deny their division rival a postseason spot; a Vikings win gets them a wild card.
But a Vikings loss and an Eagles win at Washington gets the defending champions (8-7) back into the postseason.
Seattle (9-6) appears destined to play at Dallas in the first round. The Seahawks beat the Cowboys in Week 3 for their first win of what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
For a decade now, the New England Patriots have owned the AFC East, and they had a huge weekend. The Patriots clinched their 10th straight division title when they beat Buffalo 24-12. They got an added bonus when Houston fell to drop out of the second seed in the conference, which New England grabbed — with a shot at the top spot. They are 7-0 in Foxborough — the league’s only undefeated team in its own building — and 3-5 on the road.
Baltimore (9-6), fresh off its victory at the Chargers on Saturday night, has a half-game lead on Pittsburgh (8-6-1), which has lost four of five. The Ravens will take the North with a home win against Cleveland next week. The Steelers host Cincinnati and need help to get into the postseason from their hated enemy, the Browns.
The game of tiebreakers also shows that should the Colts and Titans deadlock at Nashville in the prime-time game to end the season, and the Steelers win, Pittsburgh edges both of them for the final wild card, all at 9-6-1.
In the South, Houston (10-5) is leading Indianapolis and Tennessee by a game. The Texans host Jacksonville (5-10) and could wind up a wild card with a loss and a non-tie in Nashville.
The Chiefs (11-4) and Chargers (11-4) already are in the postseason from the West. That takes up one wild card. But Kansas City, once the darling of the league, could plummet from top overall seed to wild card if it flops vs. Oakland next week and LA beats Denver.
Miami was still in the mix before falling 17-7 at home to lowly Jacksonville. Shameful.
What is clear is that there’s no overwhelming favorite. It’s been a while since a wild-card team, Green Bay for the 2010 season, won the championship. Right now, betting against the likes of the Chargers, Seahawks or Eagles should they get it would be foolish.
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