The NFL’s playoff picture is sharpening quite a bit, even with some drama — such as the thrilling NFC West race — that will not be settled until Week 17.
But Sunday’s Week 16 action helped clear up some of the fog, as we now know of one team locking up a first-round bye.
Ravens earn some needed rest
With their 31-15 win over the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens earned the top overall playoff seed and a first-round bye for the playoffs.
It could be a huge benefit for a team that saw running back Mark Ingram go down with a non-contact calf injury in the second half on Sunday.
Even QB Lamar Jackson appeared a bit gimpy in the win over Cleveland, although his usual brilliance was on display with three TD passes and more than 100 yards rushing.
That means the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs or another AFC team must go through Baltimore to get to the Super Bowl.
NFC East tilting Eagles’ way
The Philadelphia Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys in a low-scoring thriller in Week 16, but the NFC East is not yet wrapped up.
The Eagles are in control of earning a home playoff game now headed into Week 17. If they win on the road next Sunday at the New York Giants, the Eagles clinch the division. Likewise, a Cowboys loss at home to the Washington Redskins also would put Philly into the postseason.
The Cowboys now only can get in by winning and with an Eagles loss next week. It sure feels like it’ll be a tall order for that to happen — and if not, it could be the final game for Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.
AFC wild-card spot up for grabs
Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans lost Sunday. They were the two teams with the best chance for the final wild-card spot in the AFC field.
Although neither team could have clinched this week, the Steelers’ shocking loss to the New York Jets hurt them more. Now all the Titans need to do to make the postseason is by beating the Houston Texans next week on the road.
The Steelers still have a chance, though. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said his team will play as if their game against the Titans matters (it doesn’t), and the Ravens could bench a bunch of starters next week in Baltimore against the Steelers.
Still, you know the Ravens would love to send their hated rivals home and out of the playoffs with a loss, which would make it the second straight season where Pittsburgh’s postseason dreams would crash in Week 17.
And there’s actually one more AFC team miraculously in the fold ...
So you’re saying there’s a chance
The Oakland Raiders, ladies and gentlemen, are not dead heading into Week 17. Their 24-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 16, along with the Titans and Steelers losing, allowed this improbable scenario to remain alive.
Quite honestly, it’s going to take a miracle — four specific results — for them to get in next week. But isn’t that what the holiday season is for?
Here’s what must happen for Jon Gruden’s club to make the playoffs this season:
In Week 17, the Raiders first must beat the Denver Broncos on the road. Then they need the Texans to beat the Titans, the Ravens to beat the Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars. All of those games must finish that way.
Likely? No. Possible? Yes.
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