We have now entered December. The final month of the NFL regular season where the games get cold, weather begins to make more of an effect, and the games become more important than ever.
Today we look at the wild card races in each conference, and who has a real chance to sneak into the playoffs over the next month—and what they will need to do to get there.
The implosion of the NFC East (where no team has more than four wins) has given other teams in the NFC a lot more leeway.
It is likely that two teams in the NFC West, and the second place team in the NFC South will occupy the three playoff spots.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost some ground in the divisional race this week, falling to the Kansas City Chiefs. They are now two and a half games behind the New Orleans Saints with the end of the season closing on them fast. They seem destined to play on the road on wild card weekend.
In the NFC West, the Seattle Seahawks got to 8-3 on Monday night after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles. This gives them a one game leg over the Los Angeles Rams, who fell to the San Francisco 49ers on a last-second field goal this week. The Seahawks also have a two-game lead up on an Arizona Cardinals team that hopes to keep hold of their playoff spot despite falling late to the New England Patriots this week.
Two NFC North representatives—the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings—could steal a playoff spot if they go on a run in this final month, but neither look capable of really making an impact on the playoff race at the moment.
While the NFC seems set in stone, the AFC playoff race looks like it will come down to the wire.
The Cleveland Browns of all teams find themselves ahead of the pack. At 8-3, they could only realistically miss the playoffs if they collapse in the ensuing months, though they do look shaky enough where that is a still a possibility.
The Indianapolis Colts and the Miami Dolphins are only one game out of first place in the AFC South and AFC East respectively. Indianapolis was blown out by the Tennessee Titans 45-26 in Week 12, a huge blow to their divisional hopes. Miami’s rookie sensation Tua Tagovailoa struggled in his last outing and missed the team’s Week 12 game against the New York Jets with an injury. If Miami is to catch the Buffalo Bills for first place, they will need their rookie quarterback to return and for him to start playing well again.
Jockeying for a spot behind them is the Baltimore Ravens (6-4) and Oakland Raiders (6-5). The Ravens did not play this week after a COVID outbreak cost them their Thanksgiving primetime game against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. The game is scheduled for Wednesday, but a shorthanded Baltimore team—that entered the year as Super Bowl favorites—is likely to lose even more ground in the playoff race.
Oakland has been one of the league’s surprise teams in 2020. Derek Carr has been on a tear this season, but the Raiders collapsed in Week 12, getting smashed 43-6 by the Atlanta Falcons. They clearly can beat anyone, they are the only team to have defeated the Kansas City Chiefs this season and nearly beat them again in Week 11, but their Week 16 matchup against the Miami Dolphins may be a must win if they want to compete in the postseason.