The NFC and AFC playoff races couldn’t be more different.
In the NFC, quality teams will be left out. NFC teams who can reasonably called Super Bowl contenders won’t make the playoffs. In this week’s playoff projection, we couldn’t find a spot for the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams or Carolina Panthers. Any one of those teams would be an easy pick for a wild-card spot in the AFC.
But the NFL isn’t changing the rules before the end of the season. Six AFC teams will be allowed into the postseason. And in this week’s playoff projection, we have a fun entry as the No. 6 seed:
Hey, remember all those Jon Gruden jokes? You don’t hear them much anymore.
Last week’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers put the Raiders in a good spot. Everyone has talked about that brutal stretch to their schedule in the first half of the season, when they went without a game in Oakland for two months. Nobody talked much about how the Raiders’ schedule got a lot easier in the second half of the season.
Here are the Raiders’ final seven games:
Week 11: vs. Bengals
Week 12: at Jets
Week 13: at Chiefs
Week 14: vs. Titans
Week 15: vs. Jaguars
Week 16: at Chargers
Week 17: at Broncos
Aside from the game in Kansas City, every one of the other six games for the Raiders is winnable (and even the game in Kansas City isn’t impossible given the Chiefs’ issues on defense). Let’s give the Raiders a 4-3 finish, which seems a little conservative. That would put them at 9-7 and that should be good enough in a soft AFC.
Some other observations from the last time we checked in on the playoff projection:
• The Vikings’ win over the Cowboys has huge implications. The Cowboys’ schedule is brutal. They have to go to Philadelphia for the rematch against the Eagles. Dallas has now lost to the Vikings and Packers (and therefore lost the tiebreaker), and one of those NFC North teams will likely get a wild-card spot. Dallas is a good team but it is in some trouble.
• Dallas might not have had the most damaging loss of Week 10. The Colts’ loss to the Dolphins will haunt them. Now they practically have to beat the Texans in Houston later this season. Not good.
• If the Raiders falter with that easy schedule, the Steelers have kept themselves in the playoff conversation. Pittsburgh’s win over the Rams was a big result for both teams. The Steelers are still in the race, and the Rams continue to fade.
• Back to Minnesota. Winning at Dallas keeps a lot of pressure on the Packers. If the Vikings can win at Seattle, they have a realistic shot of winning out. The Packers-Vikings game on Dec. 23 could be the de facto NFC North championship game, and it’s in Minnesota.
• Even with Seattle’s win at San Francisco, the 49ers still get the slight nod as the projected NFC West champ. The Seahawks’ schedule is really tough the rest of the way. But getting a Week 17 game against the 49ers in Seattle — let’s just flex that game to prime time right now — could be an equalizer.
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