A few teams have playoff spots clinched heading into NFL Week 16. A few others are all but clinched, but need to dot the I’s and cross the T’s over the next two weeks.
On the other end of that spectrum, we have teams in true desperation mode. A few teams — like the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers — have a chance, but the odds are so slim that they’re not even worth talking about. The teams we’re going over today are in better position, but need to be desperate in NFL Week 16.
With 2 weeks left in the season, here's the NFL playoff picture. pic.twitter.com/cnxFi8wrBO
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 20, 2016
Which AFC South team can least afford to lose? How likely is it that the Denver Broncos will miss the playoffs? The Green Bay Packers are hard charging, but does that mean they’re not desperate?
Which five teams are most desperate heading into NFL Week 16?
For Indianapolis to make the playoffs as a wild card, it will somehow need to jump four teams in two weeks. Like Donald Trump naming Hillary Clinton to his Cabinet, it may be possible, but it’s highly unlikely. Realistically, the Colts are winning the AFC South or missing the playoffs completely.
The good news is a division championship is slightly more possible. Five games need to go Indy’s way for that to happen — three of which the Colts have no control over.
The Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans both need to lose in Week 16. The Titans face the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Texans square off against the Cincinnati Bengals. Then, Tennessee needs to beat Houston in Week 17.
Are all of those results possible? Yes. Are they likely? No. Needing Blake Bortles to come through is a dangerous game to play.
FUN FACT: Blake Bortles has more pick-sixes (11) than career wins (10). #PleaseClap
— Big Cat Country (@BigCatCountry) December 4, 2016
With that in mind, this may all seem like one gigantic grasping at straws session. Realistically, that’s exactly what it is. But one point is undeniable.
If Indy doesn’t beat both the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, nothing else that happens will matter. That’s true in both the wild card and division races. The windows for the Colts to make the playoffs are slight, but they exist. If, however, the Colts lose or even tie either game, those slight openings get slammed shut.
The Raiders are playing for seeding. A strong finish guarantees Oakland the No. 2 seed and could vault the Raiders into the top spot. A poor finish likely puts Oakland as the No. 5 seed and needing to win three road games to make the Super Bowl.
Beating a Raiders team that should be motivated will not be easy. But if Andrew Luck and company can’t make it happen, all of the Colts can start booking their January vacation plans on the flight home from Oakland.
A look at the standings may give a daunting appearance to the Redskins. Jumping both the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not be easily accomplished.
But Green Bay and Tampa are only one-half game ahead of Washington. If the Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16 and the Detroit Lions lose to the Dallas Cowboys, then the winner of the Week 17 clash between Green Bay and Detroit wins the NFC North. The loser would go to 9-7. In that case, a 2-0 Redskins finish would leap them ahead of the 9-7 team.
That leaves the Bucs, who go on the road to play the New Orleans Saints in Week 16, and finish at home against the Carolina Panthers in Week 17. On paper, Tampa should go 2-0 in those games, but the Bucs aren’t exactly blowing teams out. Tampa did beat both New Orleans and Carolina earlier in the season, but by a combined eight points.
That’s all to say that Washington’s outlook may not be as bleak as it looks. There’s a fairly open window for the playoffs, but it only truly exists if the Redskins finish strong. Realistically, anything other than a 2-0 finish will have Washington booking tee times on January 2.
Even against the lowly Chicago Bears, Kirk Cousins and the Redskins need to be desperate in Week 16
Denver’s five-year reign atop the AFC West is over. The Raiders have clinched a better record than the Broncos, and and the Kansas City Chiefs will finish no worse than tied, with the tiebreaker.
Denver does have a chance to defend its Super Bowl title as a wild card team, but there’s very little margin for error. It starts and stops with one very simple notion. The Broncos need to win.
Should Denver lose and the Miami Dolphins win or tie against the Buffalo Bills, the Broncos will be officially done. If both Denver and Miami lose, the Broncos could still be alive. Unfortunately, it would take a team of NASA engineers to explain how Denver could still make the playoffs in that scenario.
The Broncos could run the table and still miss the playoffs. Actually, given who some of the teams currently ahead of Denver are playing, missing the playoffs at 2-0 is quite plausible.
Running the table will be a daunting task. The Broncos are playing in Kansas City against the Chiefs, then finish at home against the Raiders. Splitting those two games will be a challenge. Winning them both will require Trevor Siemian and the Denver’ offense to step up and match the contributions of Von Miller and the defense.
Frankly, it’s not likely.
But as long as they have a chance at the playoffs, the Broncos have to be a desperate team.
Baltimore could win its division and breaks a tie with Denver in the wild card. The Ravens may not be as desperate as the Broncos, but it’s a marginal difference.
Should Baltimore fall to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16, the AFC North will no longer be in play. Should the Ravens win, the two teams will be tied, with Baltimore having the head-to-head tiebreaker. So, any way we slice it, that Christmas Day game will be extremely important for Joe Flacco and the Ravens.
But the Steelers can lose the game and still sit in decent shape for a wild card spot. Realistically, Baltimore does not have that option.
As is the case with Denver, a loss by the Ravens and a win from the Dolphins would end the Ravens’ season. Given what happened when the two teams played earlier in the year, it’s not exactly outrageous to think that the Miami will beat Buffalo.
.@JayTrain23 laughs at your tackle attempts…
— NFL (@NFL) October 23, 2016
But even if the Dolphins and Ravens both lose in Week 17, Baltimore would still need a great deal of help in Week 17 to make the playoffs. Needless to say, that’s not the position that the Ravens want to be in.
Making the playoffs after losing to the Steelers Week 16 is possible for Baltimore. But even if everything else works in their favor, a Week 16 loss would leave the Ravens with a massive mountain to climb.
Green Bay Packers
Things seem to be looking up for the Packers. The Aaron Rodgers-led offense is playing better and the team is just rolling. In reality, Green Bay looks a lot now like it did at the end of the 2010 season, which finished with a Super Bowl victory.
But much like 2010, the Packers are walking a tight rope.
Should Green Bay beat Minnesota on Saturday, then the Lions vs. Cowboys game will not matter to the Packers. A Green Bay win sets up a Week 17 showdown between Green Bay and Detroit for the NFC North.
But what happens if the Vikings beat the Packers?
In that case, Detroit would lock up the division with a win or tie in Dallas. Then, Green Bay would spend its Week 17 game trying to beat the Lions, and scoreboard watching both the Buccaneers and Redskins.
That’s a bad situation to be in.
While the Packers are definitely trending in the right direction, they can’t be anything less than desperate over the next two games.