Contenders or Pretenders?

Alex Park, Staff Writer

The NFL playoff race is starting to heat up as we are nearing the final quarter of the season. Since playoff spots are limited, where does that leave the teams on “the bubble?” Being a “bubble team” indicates a team that is fighting for playoff contention but not a lock to make it. With the NFL season winding down, every game counts and wins are critical. Otherwise, any chances of playoffs will quickly vanish.

Buffalo Bills/Miami Dolphins:

Stakes were high this past Thursday night when these two teams faced off. Miami emerged victorious, winning 22-9. Buffalo suffered their fifth loss to even their record at 5-5, while Miami improved to 6-4. This loss may have ultimately decided Buffalo’s fate, but where does it leave Miami? With six games left, two of their opponents are projected playoff teams (Denver, New England). Miami needs to win at least one of these games to have a chance at 10 wins, putting them in playoff contention. How likely is it? Their best chance would be against New England, but when the dust settles, the Dolphins will prevail.

Verdict: Miami Dolphins reach the playoffs; Buffalo Bills miss the playoffs.

San Diego Chargers/Kansas City Chiefs:

Once seen as an early favorite to make a deep playoff run, San Diego has changed course and is now in danger of missing the postseason. Although Kansas City is one spot ahead of the Chargers, there is still time for both teams to win significant games to separate from each other. These two teams face off in Week 17 on December 28. The game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium, with a potential playoff berth on the line.

Verdict: Kansas City Chiefs reach the playoffs; San Diego Chargers miss the playoffs.

AFC North:

Is it even possible to consider all four teams in the AFC North as “bubble teams?” Absolutely–especially with the closeness of their records. All four teams are over .500, with each having their own specific strengths and weaknesses. Once again, looking ahead to Week 17, the Cleveland Browns head to Baltimore to take on the Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. There is a good chance the winner of this division isn’t decided until the final week. However, basing the predictions on early season performances would lead to all signs pointing toward the Browns to win the division. Cleveland has continued to prove the doubters wrong and four out of their last seven opponents have a record less than .500, more than anyone else in this division. Cleveland has proved fans wrong all season. Who’s to say they won’t continue it?

Verdict: Cleveland Browns reach the playoffs; Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers miss the playoffs.

San Francisco 49ers/Seattle Seahawks:

After making the NFC Championship game for three straight seasons, San Francisco is in serious danger of breaking that streak. They’re also in danger of missing the playoffs completely. The biggest factor contributing to their dilemma is the resurgence of the Arizona Cardinals, who currently lead the division with Seattle sitting in second. Inconsistencies and injuries have held San Francisco back all season and with three divisional games left, two against Seattle, the 49ers’ chances of making the playoffs look slim.

Verdict: Seattle Seahawks reach the playoffs; San Francisco 49ers miss the playoffs.

New Orleans Saints/Carolina Panthers/Atlanta Falcons:

It seems as if no team wants to win the NFC South. Through 10 weeks, no team is above .500. It has become so bad that the struggling Atlanta Falcons have an opportunity to sneak into the playoffs by winning this division. However, New Orleans is the only team in the NFC South positive in Net Points with +9. Inconsistencies have plagued Carolina and Atlanta all season, paving the way for New Orleans to host a playoff game.

Verdict: New Orleans Saints reach the playoffs; Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons miss the playoffs.

Honorable Mentions:

Philadelphia Eagles/Dallas Cowboys: Both teams are fighting for the division title, but if both teams keep up the pace Philadelphia and Dallas will most likely be playing January football.

Green Bay Packers: With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, you can expect great performances week after week. Will those performances be enough to vault Green Bay into the playoffs? All it takes is one team to lose a game that they shouldn’t and Green Bay is right in the mix.

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