NFL Playoff Race Outlook: December 1

Story posted December 2, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Grant Sheets

The unfathomable inconsistency of postseason hopefuls over the past month has led to the formation of an intriguing playoff picture heading into Week 13 of the NFL season, as a handful of contenders are struggling to hit full stride entering December.

With only a mere handful of games remaining in the regular season, let’s take a look at how the playoff race is shaping out.

NFC

Division Leaders

No. 1 Arizona Cardinals (9-2)
No. 2 Green Bay Packers (9-3)
No. 3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3)
No. 4 Dallas Cowboys (7-4)

Wild Card

No. 5 Los Angeles Rams (7-4)
No. 6 San Francisco 49ers (6-5)
No. 7 Washington Football Team (5-6)

While the NFC standings haven’t altered much, the dynamic of this conference has been flipped upside down.

Just a month ago, the Rams and Cowboys were firing on all cylinders, looking primed for deep playoff runs. Fast forward to December, and both teams have fallen flat on their backs.

The Rams have collapsed on both sides of the ball, despite the addition of two stars in Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller. Matthew Stafford has thrown a pick-six in three consecutive outings, while the defense has allowed 28 or more points during this span.

Mike McCarthy and Dallas ran laps around fellow NFC East rivals for the entirety of the first half of the season, until a recent injury bug caused the Cowboys to stumble right in their own tracks.

Riding a three-game win streak, the 5-6 Washington Football Team is gaining ground on America’s Team. The two face off in a pivotal Week 14 matchup in Washington, followed by a Week 16 matchup in Dallas.

Similarly to Washington, the 49ers have quietly snuck into the playoff picture after three consecutive victories. While it may be unfeasible to catch up to the top-seeded Cardinals, San Francisco could jump over the ice-cold Rams as early as this week.

For the most part, the Buccaneers, Cardinals and Packers have remained consistent atop the NFC. With that said, playoff seeding is still very much up for grabs in a year where we’ve come to expect the unexpected.

AFC

Division Leaders

No. 1 Baltimore Ravens (8-3)
No. 2 New England Patriots (8-4)
No. 3 Tennessee Titans (8-4)
No. 4 Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)

Wild Card

No. 5 Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
No. 6 Buffalo Bills (7-4)
No. 7 Los Angeles Chargers (6-5)

Unlike the NFC, the AFC seeding has been completely scrambled throughout the course of the year.

For now, the streaky Baltimore Ravens hold the conference throne after a pair of nail-biter victories. However, Bill Belichick’s Patriots have made their return to contender status for the first time in the post-Tom Brady era and share the same win total as Baltimore.

The Titans also stand at 8-4 with New England, but the loss of Derrick Henry has significantly hindered the offense’s production. Last week, the Patriots proved that they are clearly the more dominant of the two, taking down Tennessee 36-13.

While Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are still working out kinks in the offense, 7-4 is not a bad place to be in a wide-open conference.

All three teams that hold wild card spots - the Bills, Bengals and Chargers - have the potential to catch fire come January. It’s not often that a non-division champ fights their way through the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl appearance, but these teams possess as much upside as any other contender in the postseason race.

 

Grant Sheets is a first-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at gcs5231@psu.edu.