Predicting the Playoffs: Jets, Ravens in Great Shape for Wild Card
When Colts coach Jim Caldwell decided to bench Peyton Manning in the second half of Sunday's game, the Jets quickly turned a 15-10 deficit into a 29-15 win. It's possible that the Jets would have won anyway, but with Painter in the game, New York's job became very easy.
And with that win the Jets took control of the AFC wild card playoff race.The Jets are now the team with the simplest path to the playoffs of the five 8-7 teams in the AFC. If the Jets beat the Bengals, they are playoff bound as the No. 5 seed. It's hard to imagine the day turning out better for the Jets. If the Dolphins had beaten the Texans, New York would have been looking at losing out in any scenario where the Dolphins won next week (thanks to an inferior division record). New York also would have been looking at the wrong side of a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Jaguars, but Jacksonville lost to the Patriots by 28.
And to make it even better the Jets will be facing a Bengals team next Sunday that doesn't have that much to play for. The Bengals could earn the No. 3 seed with a win and a Patriots loss, but since the Bengals-Jets game has been flexed to Sunday night, Cincinnati will know they have nothing to play for if the Patriots have beaten the Texans earlier on Sunday.
Now the Jets are in great shape while the Broncos, who have been one win away from a likely playoff spot for about six weeks, are looking at a 6-0 start turning into sitting at home come playoff time. If every 8-7 team wins next week, Denver will be out of the playoffs because of their head-to-head loss to the Ravens and the common opponents tiebreaker against the Jets -- that because of the Jets win over the Colts and the Broncos loss to the Raiders earlier this year. Denver also loses a head-to-head tiebreaker to the Steelers, although it would top the Texans based on a better conference record.
Pittsburgh came into Sunday needing about six things to come together to head into the final week of the season in good shape. They checked all but two of those off the list. Pittsburgh had to beat the Ravens, needed to see the Broncos lose to the Eagles, needed the Jaguars to lose to the Patriots and would be helped by seeing the Titans fall to the Chargers.
But Pittsburgh also needed the Jets to lose to the Colts and the Texans to fall to the Dolphins to control their own destiny heading into the final week. Because that didn't happen, Pittsburgh's path to the playoffs is pretty slim. Pittsburgh loses tiebreakers to the Jets (conference record tiebreaker), Ravens (division record) and Texans (common opponents). They win the tiebreaker against the Broncos based on a head-to-head win (but only if the Texans don't win which would negate that scenario). So Pittsburgh can survive a win by one of the the Jets, Ravens and Texans, but wins by any two of them knocks Pittsburgh out even if the Steelers beat the Dolphins. One other scenario could trip up Pittsburgh. Making things worse for Pittsburgh is the fact that the Steelers need the Patriots to win on Sunday against the Texans to knock out Houston, but that would then mean that Cincinnati, who the Steelers need to beat the Jets, would have nothing to play for next Sunday night.
The Texans would have been nearly dead if the Jaguars had won this week, but with the Jacksonville loss, Houston now has at least a chance of making it to the playoffs for the first time ever. Houston has the tiebreaker edge on the Steelers because of common opponents, but loses the tiebreaker to the Broncos and Ravens because of conference record and to the Jets because of a head-to-head loss.
Technically the 7-8 Dolphins and the 7-8 Jaguars are still alive, but for either of them to make the playoffs requires at least four of the five 8-7 teams to lose, which just doesn't seem very likely. And even if that happens, you start getting into determining tiebreakers between seven 8-8 teams, which just isn't worth the massive amount of time it would take to start figuring out.