It’s the home stretch for the 2018 NFL season. Despite an almost-complete playoff puzzle put together, there are still a couple places in the playoffs that are up for grabs. But because of the clear distinction between the top tier and the rest of the NFL field, picking who those precious few playoffs seeds go to is no easy task.
Tier 1: The Corner Pieces
1 Los Angeles Rams (11-1; +121 point differential)
Shayne: In the midst of a race for home-field advantage in playoffs, the Rams took care of business on the road against Detroit thanks to a dominant performance from Todd Gurley and a tremendous bounce-back performance from the much-maligned defense. After giving up 51, 31, and 35 points in the last 3 weeks respectively, the Rams defense only allowed 16 points while forcing 2 turnovers. With the return of Aqib Talib and the continued dominance of Aaron Donald, the Rams defense is rounding into form to ride with their explosive offense at the perfect time.
2 New Orleans Saints (10-2; +150)
Shayne: I’m not sure if the Saints’ loss is usual Thursday Night Football hijinks or a concerning sign of a team that folds when greeted with physicality, but the Saints’ loss in Dallas is a huge misstep in their battle to have the road to the Super Bowl run through New Orleans. After Demarcus Lawrence colorfully declared that if you hit them in the mouth they would fold (more or less), the Saints only compiled 176 yards and put 10 points on the board, showing exploitable flaws along the way. Luckily for New Orleans, they have a chance to get on track as they face four straight subpar defenses, the Buccaneers, the Panthers twice, and the Steelers.
Just a reminder/some context for #Saints fans:
New Orleans just played 3 games in 12 days. That’s a tough stretch. They’ll now have 9 days of rest/practice before playing again on December 9th against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) November 30, 2018
3 Kansas City Chiefs (10-2; +117)
Richard: The Chiefs had more than the loss to the Rams to make up for Sunday against the Raiders. Kansas City cut star running back, Kareem Hunt after video surfaced showing Hunt assaulting a woman outside his hotel room. They took care of the Raiders this week but with the Chargers only one game behind in the division and multiple teams one game behind for the AFC number one seed, the Chiefs are going to have to continue to prove that they can keep being an offensive powerhouse without the pro-bowl running back.
4 New England Patriots (9-3; +72)
Ryan: Not that they absolutely need to, but the Patriots can put some (more) room between them and the rest of the AFC East when they play second-place Miami this week. This isn’t the dominant New England teams of years past, but they belong this high not only because of their record but because they’ve established they are a top-tier team in a year that has as sizable a gap between the haves and the league’s have-nots as there’s been in a long time.
5 Los Angeles Chargers (9-3; +91)
Richard: When Philip Rivers ninth kid is born, his dad may possibly be a super bowl winning quarterback. The Chargers took down the Steelers Sunday while missing running back Melvin Gordon to an MCL sprain. Gordon is questionable for the Chargers next game but is likely to return sooner than later. Rivers is playing at an MVP level so far this year and linebacker Joey Bosa is whipping into shape after missing the first 10 weeks of the season. The Chiefs lead in the AFC West is down to one game and they just lost their pro-bowl running back. The Chargers are primed at the right time to take over the number one seed and make a championship run.
Fact of the day: Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers and his wife Tiffany are expecting their ninth child, as @eric_d_williams noted. Parents and kids make for an entire offensive unit.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 3, 2018
6 Houston Texans (9-3; +67)
Garrett: After starting 0-3, the Texans have gone on an improbable 9 game winning streak. Behind the improving defense and the arm of second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Texans have become the 3rd seed in the AFC playoff picture. The Texans had big expectations heading into the season and people tagged them as a disappointment after losing the first three games, but since winning 9 straight, many believe they have one of the most talented teams in the AFC. Houston is basically a lock to make the postseason.
Tier 2: The Border Pieces
7 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1; +64)
Garrett: Once again the Steelers have had a lot of drama inside their locker room this season. Starting with the uncertainty of when, or if star running back Le’Veon Bell would play this season. During his absence, second-year running back James Connor has had a very impressive season, taking away all of Le’Veon Bell’s leverage in his contract disputes with the organization. In the week 13 loss to the Chargers, Connor suffered an injury to his leg in the fourth quarter. Connor will miss week 14, but the Steelers play Oakland so it shouldn’t be a problem. Despite all of the uncertainty of the season, the Steelers still control their own destiny atop the AFC North.
8 Chicago Bears (8-4; +103)
Richard: The Bears were proving themselves to be a team to look out for in the NFC after winning five in a row and taking control of the NFC North. Then they lost to the Giants on Sunday. To be fair to Chicago, they were starting backup quarterback Chase Daniel and forced overtime after trailing by 10 points with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter. The Bears still lead the NFC North and while a loss to the Giants is embarrassing at this point of the season, the Bears still remain in the driver seat of that division.
Sean McVay, asked what challenges Jared Goff faces this week with the Chicago defense, name-checked all 11 Bears starters and gave a brief scouting report on each.
— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) December 5, 2018
9 Dallas Cowboys (7-5; +24)
Ryan: The Cowboys win over the Saints may not have been quite as jaw-dropping as, say, the Bills win over the Vikings earlier this year, but it was a surprising win nonetheless. With more and more teams opting to try and win with explosive offensives, Dallas has gone with a steady, methodical approach with the football and an emerging defense that is as good as it gets.
10 Seattle Seahawks (7-5; +60)
Shayne: The Seattle Seahawks resurgence continued in Seattle where they hosted a demolition derby at home against the 49ers, sporting their usual balanced, efficient offensive dominance mixed with a bend but don’t break defense to win their third game in a row. With Russell Wilson sustaining an MVP pace and the run game touting an NFL-best 148.8 yards per game, plus winnable games against the Vikings, Cardinals, and 49ers, the Seahawks are in perfect position to snag the NFC’s first wild-card spot.
11 Baltimore Ravens (7-5; +83)
Garrett: After starting the season 4-2, with what looked like the most dominant defense in the NFL, The Ravens lost 3 straight. Sitting at 4-5, the Ravens opted to let Joe Flacco take care of his nagging hip injury to allow first-round pick, Lamar Jackson, to get some meaningful playing time after the bye week. Fast forward 3 weeks, now the Ravens are sitting at 7-5, Lamar Jackson is 3-0 as a starter, and the defense is back to making big plays. Baltimore is currently in possession of the second wildcard spot. Only one game ahead of multiple teams trying to catch up to them for the last AFC wildcard spot, the Ravens must continue to win, their remaining schedule has a combined record of 26-19-1.
12 Carolina Panthers (6-6; -2)
Shayne: It was all good just four weeks ago. After moving to 6-2 vs the Bucs in week 9, the Panthers looked as though they were going to cruise their way into the playoffs behind the arm of Cam Newton, who was playing the best football of his career, and the legs of Christian McCaffrey, who was in the midst of a sophomore breakout. Fast forward to week 13 vs the Bucs, where the Panthers marched into Tampa Bay and blew their own foot off, committing 4 turnovers and recording only 17 points against perhaps the worst defense in the league to lose their fourth straight game to move to 6-6. With two games against the Saints in the next 4 weeks, it’s hard to envision Carolina crawling back into the playoffs, but if Cam can get it rolling again nothing is out of reach for them just yet.
13 Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1; +5)
Richard: The Vikings are currently in the second wildcard slot for the playoffs. Coming off a loss to the Patriots, Minnesota’s tie is keeping them above the fray in a crowded NFC playoff race that has three teams at 6-6. Minnesota’s defense is not as good as last year’s and their offense is middle of the pack with quarterback Kirk Cousins at the helm. With so many teams vying for that final spot in the NFC playoffs, the Vikings may need to win at least three of their next four to remain in control of their playoff spot.
Tier 3: Pieces Lost in the Middle
14 Denver Broncos (6-6; +14)
Richard: The Broncos may have waited until a bit late in the season to start winning games. Sitting at 6-6, they are in the hunt for a playoff spot sitting behind three teams for the final wildcard seed. Denver’s saving grace is their remaining schedule. In the closing weeks of the season, the Broncos face three teams with a combined record of 8-27-1 before facing a Chargers team that may be locked into their seeding and resting their starters for a playoff run. Look for the Broncos to contend for the ACF wildcard in the closing weeks of the season.
Not only can he get outside, he can also run inside. His patience setting up the blocks & explodes through the hole to take 40+ yards to the house. Love me some Phillip Lindsay. #DenverBroncos #PhillipLindsay @Broncos pic.twitter.com/VKm4h75jql
— Steven Spaccarotelli (@sspac21) December 6, 2018
15 Indianapolis Colts (6-6; +46)
Garrett: The 2018 Colts have been the epitome of an up and down team. After a 1-1 start, Indianapolis proceeded to lose 4 straight games. The 1-5 Colts then decided to lean on the former number one overall pick, Andrew Luck. Once they started letting Luck throw the ball The Colts rattled off 5 straight wins and are now in the thick of the AFC wildcard race. Luck’s impressive streak of eight consecutive games with three or more touch down passes also placed him in the MVP race, while the Colts don’t have the most difficult remaining schedule, they’ll need to win at least 3 of 4 to get in the playoffs.
16 Philadelphia Eagles (6-6; -8)
Ryan: Philadelphia may not be dead yet. Or, perhaps a better way to look at it is that the Eagles season looked dead but has come back. But not in their Super Bowl champion form. No, no, we’re looking squarely at the Zombie Eagles. However, if they were to make a run at the playoffs again this season, they’ll have to go through an absolute gauntlet. Their remaining games this season are against Dallas, the L.A. Rams, Houston, and Washington. Philly will probably go into three of the four as underdogs, so despite making it interesting, they’re still on the outside looking in are far as the postseason goes.
17 Miami Dolphins (6-6; -56)
Ryan: The good news is that history has proven that Miami usually gives New England a run for their money. Especially when the two play in South Beach, which is where they’ll square off this week. The bad news is one loss could end hopes of a playoff appearance for the Dolphins. And it doesn’t make things any better that they’ll not only have to go through the Pats, but also another playoff-hungry team in Minnesota. If they can get by those two, they’ll have the Jaguars and Bills to finish up. Losing any two of those games will end any postseason dreams in Miami.
18 Tennessee Titans (6-6; -24)
Garrett: The Titans are possibly the most average team of all-time. It could be argued that they should be better than 6-6, just as easily it could be argued that their record could be worse than 6-6. The Titans, while average, are equally unpredictable. This is a team that lost to the Bills, then a few weeks later came out and beat the Patriots convincingly. The Titans’ main problem has been injuries, losing top target Delanie Walker for the season early did then no favors, as well as starting quarterback Marcus Mariota for some time. At 6-6, the Titans have a shot at getting a wild-card berth into the playoffs, and their schedule should allow them to do so.
Tier 4: Pieces With No Place to Go
19 Washington Redskins (6-6; -24)
Ryan: Not many teams can sustain success when they’re down to their third-string quarterback. And that’s exactly the situation Washington is in right now. It’s why they’re a virtual cross-off at this point as it pertains to making the playoffs. Given that, one has to wonder if they have any buyers’ remorse with Reuben Foster now that it’s all for naught. At least for this season, anyway.
— Plaxico Burress (@plaxicoburress) December 5, 2018
20 Cincinnati Bengals (5-7; -85)
Garrett: Year after year, the Bengals’ game plan remains the same, feed AJ Green the ball. The Dalton to Green connection looked strong at the start of the season, and the defense was helping them win games. Now, in week 14, with Dalton and Green both done for the season, the Bengals’ more than likely won’t be making a playoff run. While the Bengals season took a turn for the worst, the emergence of Joe Mixon as an elite running back, as well as Tyler Boyd becoming a promising second option to AJ Green in the passing game, the Bengals have the offensive talent to look forward to.
21 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7; -37)
Shayne: For the first time in a long time, the Buccaneers looked like a real football team at home against the reeling Panthers. Jameis Winston continues to settle into a rhythm that has him looking like the franchise QB he was prophesied to be, clocking two TDs and no interceptions to move his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 6:1 in the past three weeks. The defense still gave up an unsightly 444 yards, but they also caught 4 interceptions and held the Panthers to only 17 points. Baby steps are still steps, but I’m struggling to see how a team that clearly should be tanking benefits from a win here. The Bucs go again next week against the Saints.
22 New York Giants (4-8; -48)
Ryan: New York has looked like a perfectly average team at times this season. (That’s meant to be a compliment.) But they’ve also looked like one of the league’s worst squads. With a bit of an uneven roster that’s split between veteran players that are ready to win now and young prospects just starting to scratch the surface of their potential, the Giants will be one of the NFL’s most intriguing teams to follow this off-season.
23 Cleveland Browns (4-7-1; -46)
Garrett: The Browns have won 4 games this season! For most teams that would be disappointing through 12 games, but for the Browns, who have won only one game in the previous two seasons they couldn’t be more excited. With Hugh Jackson out, and promising you players in Myles Garrett, Baker Mayfield, and Denzel Ward, the Browns will be a very dangerous team in a few years. While the Browns most likely won’t make the playoffs, they could play the role of spoiler. With remaining games against Panthers, Broncos, and Ravens, look for Cleveland to derail one of their playoff chances.
Tier 5: Pieces Missing Pieces
24 Atlanta Falcons (4-8; -37)
Shayne: The Falcons’ injury-riddled, disappointing season hit a brand new low at home against the Ravens, which only managed 131 yards and 9 points of offense against a stifling Baltimore defense. On the other side of the ball, the defense struggled to stop the Ravens’ run game as their offensive line opposed their will upon them for 39 minutes of game time, which is really a microcosm of their season. Different opponents coming all up in their house, making a sandwich and putting their feet on the table while the Falcons just let it happen. Atlanta is at it again next week in this year’s Disappointment Bowl vs the Packers.
25 Green Bay Packers (4-7-1; -6)
Richard: The Packers playoffs hopes are pretty much over. They needed to win out and needed help from other teams to have a chance at the final wildcard spot to make the playoffs. With this in mind, the Packers went out and lost to the Cardinals at home. After the loss, head coach Mike McCarthy was fired and Joe Philbin was appointed to interim head coach. The goal for this team should now be to keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers healthy and hire the best coach available to maximize the remaining years of the future hall of fame quarterback.
The next coach of the #Packers will be…
Josh McDaniels (+170)
Lincoln Riley (+275)
John DeFilippo (+275)
— Bovada Official (@BovadaOfficial) December 3, 2018
26 Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8; -40)
Garrett: Coming into the season, Jacksonville was expected to be one of the top teams in the AFC. Coming off of last years heartbreaking loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship, this was a team who gained experience over the offseason. With possibly the most talented defense since the “Legion of Boom” Seahawks, all they needed was for Blake Bortles and the offense to not hold them back. That is exactly what happened. Early in the season, they beat the Patriots in what was a dominant performance, but after that game, things went south. The defense couldn’t get stops and the offense couldn’t move the ball. Now, in week 14 the Jags’ are pretty much eliminated from playoff contention but their defense is back on track to make them a team that can stir up the playoff picture from the outside.
27 Buffalo Bills (4-8; -115)
Ryan: Given that they’re in the hole 115 points on the season, it’s kind of a wonder Buffalo has won four games. But even in a loss, Josh Allen rushing for 135 yards was one of the most surprising statistical performances of the season. He’s athletic with a cannon for an arm. But his accuracy needs to improve in order for him to become an elite quarterback. And even if he does develop into that, at this point the Bills don’t have enough around him to build a consistent winner.
Tier 6: The Lost Pieces
28 Detroit Lions (4-8; -62)
Richard: The Lions disappointing season continued to get worst Sunday after losing to the Rams at home. Head coach Matt Patricia came in with high hopes for the season and demanding respect that many thought he had yet to earn in Detroit. After the rough start to his head coaching career, Patricia has some tough decisions to make regarding his roster including whether to move on from quarterback Matthew Stafford. He may also want to humble himself and earn some leeway from the media where some question if he should be brought back for his second season.
29 New York Jets (3-9; -64)
Ryan: There are a couple winnable games yet on the Jets’ slate still. They have games against the Bills and Packers remaining (with contests against the Patriots and Texans, as well). But at this point, winning may not be exactly what they want, as counterintuitive as it seems. The more losses, the better the draft pick. And this team is more than one great draft away from rounding out into a contender.
30 Arizona Cardinals (3-9; -135)
Shayne: The Cardinals’ biggest accomplishment this will undoubtedly be freeing Aaron Rodgers from the ineptitude of Mike McCarthy by going into Lambeau Field and leaving with the most shocking win of the season. The Cards were buoyed by rookie Chase Edmonds, who came out of nowhere to score two TDs and solid defensive efforts from stalwart Chandler Jones, and young guns Budda Baker and Haason Reddick. With a feel-good win at Green Bay, the Cardinals *should* revert back to losing ways in the next four weeks to secure the best draft pick possible.
31 San Francisco 49ers (2-10; -81)
Shayne: Another week, another loss for Kyle Shanahan’s squad but once again Shanahan got encouraging performances from young guys, with rookies Dante Pettis hauling in 5 catches for 129 yards and two TDs and Jeffrey Wilson Jr. recording 134 scrimmage yards, and second-year man George Kittle snagging 6 balls for 70 yards. At this point, all the 49ers should expect is a consistent improvement from their promising young core, staying healthy, and losing to get a top 3 pick. The Niners will look to check all three of those boxes again next week against the Broncos.
32 Oakland Raiders (2-10; -147)
Richard: The Raiders are bad. However, they found a way to keep pace with the Chiefs Sunday losing 40-33. At this point of the season, Oakland’s main concern should be player health and draft picks. Head Coach Jon Gruden’s 10-year contract makes it hard for the Raiders to make a change there so cleaning out the roster for picks in this year’s draft may be Oakland’s only chance to improve next season.