NFL 2020 Playoff Picture By John Brecko
Week 17 is just around the corner in the NFL and once that week passes, the 2020 playoffs will officially begin.
Most will agree that 2020 has been much different from the other years that have gone by in their lifetime.
In a way, it’s fitting that the NFL has made changes to the way the playoffs are done.
In 2020, the playoff picture is more crowded than in years past. Instead of 12 teams making the playoffs, 14 teams (7 from the NFC and 7 from the AFC) will be a part of the 2020 NFL postseason this year.
Instead of 8 teams playing in the first round, which is the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, 12 teams will face off with the winners moving on to the second round, the Divisional Round.
Instead of the top 2 seeded teams in the NFC and AFC getting a playoff bye (meaning they do not have to play in the Wild Card Round), only the top seeded team from both conferences will get a bye in the playoffs this year.
However, when the playoffs begin, no matter where each team stands all 14 of those teams will try to earn an opportunity to play in Super Bowl 55 and call themselves champions after the dust settles in that game.
Going into week 17, it is still unclear which team will skip the Wild Card Round in the NFC. However, after Sunday night football, it looks like the Green Bay Packers will get that first round bye.
The Green Bay Packers handily defeated the Tennessee Titans 40-14 to get their 12th win of the season.
However, the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks both have an 11-4 record and have clinched their respective divisions. The Saints did so by putting up more than 50 points against the Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks defeated the Los Angeles Rams 20-9 to clinch their division title.
The only division that is not clinched in the NFC is the NFC Least with Washington and the Dallas Cowboys still tied for first place at 6-9. The New York Giants are still in contention as well with a 5-10 record.
If the season were to end today, Washington would get into the playoffs as the number 4 seed even though they are tied for first place with the Cowboys.
Why? The Cowboys played two games against Washington won both of those games. If the season ended and Washington got into the playoffs, they would have the worst record of any NFL team to do so in the league’s 100 year history.
However, no matter how bad your record may be, if you’re a first place team in your division, you get a playoff spot AND you get to play one playoff game at home (even if your record is under .500). I personally believe that if a team has anything less than a winning record, they should not make the playoffs, but I did not make the rules…my bad. Bad form, I know. It’s like a participation trophy for that team with the losing record. It’s like saying “Well, you tried and I guess the other teams in your division didn’t…”
In the NFL’s history, four teams have managed to sneak into the playoffs with a losing record. The first two to do so were the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions in 1982. They snuck in with 4-5 records. However, the 1982 season was shortened due to a 57 day long players strike and both teams were exposed for the mediocre teams they had been at best all season in the first round that year.
The next two teams that made the playoffs with losing records actually won the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. The first team that pulled this off was the 2010 Seattle Seahawks. They defeated the 11-5 Saints by a score of 41-36. The second team was the 2014 Carolina Panthers, whose record was 7-8-1 going into the 2014 season’s Wild Card Round. They defeated the Arizona Cardinals (whose record was also 11-5) 27-16.
Both of those teams would lose in the divisional round. The Seahawks in 2010 would lose 35-24 to the Chicago Bears. The Panthers would lose to a much better Seahawks team in the 2014 season (they made it to the Super Bowl that year, even if they ultimately lost to the New England Patriots).
In my opinion, Washington would not be able to duplicate that feat that the Seahawks and Panthers managed.
The 2010 Seahawks and 2014 Panthers at least had standout players in Marshawn Lynch and Cam Newton. Plus, the Panthers would go on to be 15-1 the following year and were one of the teams in Super Bowl 50 (they lost to a Broncos defense that stopped them at every turn that day; we all know they did not win because of an old Peyton Manning).
Washington does not have any players like that on their team. The closest they have to a player like that is Alex Smith, who is definitely no Cam Newton in his prime at the quarterback position. Dwayne Haskins is even further away from that as a player right now and is a standout for all the wrong reasons, especially after being released by Washington before the final game of this season.
The only team in the NFC East that still has standout players and has a chance to make the playoffs is the Cowboys with players like CeeDee Lamb and DeMarcus Lawrence (yes I know the defense has been historically bad, but remember that this is an 11 man sport, so DeMarcus Lawrence cannot make the defense better by himself).
The only team that has clinched a playoff spot without winning their division crown (in the entire NFL) is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with their dominant 47-7 victory over the Detroit Lions on Saturday.
The Bucs 43 year old quarterback, Tom Brady completed 22 of his 27 passes (more than 80%) and threw for four touchdown passes in that game. He had a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3. His touchdown passes were to Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antontio Brown (in that order). The only thing surprising about who the touchdown passes were thrown to is that Antonio Brown only caught his second touchdown pass of this season (granted he only played half the season and in one game last season, but he is one of the most talented players football has ever come to know on a professional level).
Their talented should definitely be respected in this year’s playoffs despite being the number 5 seed if your quarterback has not thrown less than 60% passing in any game all season at 43 years of age.
The current number 6 seed Los Angeles Rams still had a chance to win the NFC West even after their loss to the now 2-13 New York Jets (who screwed up their chance at getting Trevor Lawrence with back to back wins over two good teams in the Rams and Cleveland Browns after going winless all year).
*Sidenote: If I were Trevor Lawrence, I would rather go to the Jacksonville Jaguars anyway, especially if Adam Gase is still the coach of the Jets, which would actually happen if Jets owner Chris Johnson still believes Adam Gase is a “brilliant offensive mind” like he claimed Gase was in September, even though there is no evidence of that in his head coaching career.
While I’m on this tangent, I just want to say that Adam Gase is to coaching what James Dolan is to owning a sports franchise and what Donald Trump is to presidencies, but I digress.
However, with the Rams loss to the Seahawks, those chances have officially gone up in smoke.
Finally, the current 7 seed is the Chicago Bears, who are currently 8-7 despite the quarterback controversy (that started while the Bears were still undefeated this year).
It helped that they played the 1-14 Jaguars in Week 16, but a win is a win.
All of the teams that are still in the playoff hunt that are not in the playoff picture are in the NFC Least except for one. The Cardinals are currently in third place in the NFC West with an 8-7 record, which would be better if Kyler Murray did not have to play with a shoulder injury and try to become a pocket passer as a result mid-season, but injuries unfortunately happen in a sport as violent as football.
They have a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17 by avenging their 38-28 defeat against the Rams that they suffered while Kyler Murray was going through that shoulder injury.
However, the Rams beat them by more than 10 points when they won, meaning the Cardinals have to beat them by more than that amount. If they cannot, they still will not get in and if they win by exactly 10, then it comes down to stats between the two teams in their matchups, starting with total yards.
With that…we now look at the AFC playoff picture
The team that will be getting the playoff by is the Kansas City Chiefs, even if they were not talked about like a typical 1 seed team in their post game press conference after week. They clinched their playoff by this week after a 17-14 win over the Atlanta Falcons yesterday. Even if they barely won and were asked questions about a lack of execution to a quarterback that threw two touchdown passes in a win, they have barely won most of their games this season. However, that means they have always found a way to win (except that one game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5, but even that game was only won by a possession and the Raiders had to put up 40 points to win).
The number 2 seed team is the Buffalo Bills after improving their record to 12-3 after their Monday Night Football game tonight. They prevailed against the Patriots by a score of 38-9.
The number 3 seed team is currently the Pittsburgh Steelers, who clinched the division after their 28-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, snapping a three game losing streak in the process.
That three game losing streak started with their loss to Washington and ended with the Cincinnati Bengals, who are currently 4-10-1 after week 16.
To be fair, the Steeler’s schedule has shifted more than any other team because of multiple teams getting positive covid tests. At one point, they played 3 games in 13 days, which would take its toll on any team.
The number 4, 5, 6, 7 seeds and the only team fighting for a playoff spot that is on the outside looking in in the AFC in the Indianapolis Colts have a 10-5 record.
The number 4-7 seeds are (in this order) the Tennessee Titans (who currently lead the AFC South), the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns (the last two are 2nd and 3rd in the AFC North). The Colts are 2nd in the AFC South and still have a road into the playoffs if any of those teams lose (they need to win in Week 17 of course), but the Dolphins and Browns both have tough matchups against the Bills and Steelters (the Steelers did beat the Colts even though they are beat up, which means they are capable of competing against good teams still).
All that’s left to find out now is how the playoff picture will change for the final time in Week 17. No matter who makes the cut in the end, there will be many stories of teams that both made and did not make the cut and there will be many different playoff matches we can enjoy.