The NFL season is reaching its end. The weather may be getting colder but things are only getting hotter for teams on the fringes of the NFL playoff race. Today, we look at what’s at stake
What’s at stake this week
The surprise of 2020 is the Washington Football Team (6-8). The unnamed franchise started 2020 as a bottom feeder, expected to be in the running for a top five draft pick. Expecting them to take the division over the Dallas Cowboys (5-9) or Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1) felt like a pipe dream in August.
A run of bad luck from their opponents have put them at the forefront of the NFC East race, though. In Week 16 they have a chance to clinch a berth in the playoffs. With a win over the Carolina Panthers (4-10) and a New York Giants (5-9) loss to the Baltimore Ravens (9-5), Washington will win their first division crown since 2015 and host a playoff game in January.
New York will be in for a battle as well, as their opponents also need a victory on Sunday to stay alive in their own playoff race. Baltimore entered 2020 expecting to compete for the Super Bowl. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is coming off of an MVP season and additions like Calais Campbell on defense bolstered an already strong roster.
The Ravens hit a few speed bumps, though. They hit a midseason slump after a strong start to their 2020 campaign. A COVID outbreak in late November did nothing to help either. 9-5 is a strong record, but it puts them just outside the playoff race in a tough AFC. Baltimore cannot afford to lose a winnable game against the Giants this week if they want to play in the postseason.
A playoff berth for Baltimore will likely come at the expense of the Miami Dolphins (9-5). Brian Flores has built one of the league’s top defenses, and they have Miami thinking playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Miami takes on the Las Vegas Raiders (7-7). Vegas looked prime to make an impact on the playoff race late in the year as well, though a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers (5-9) on Thursday night in Week 14 may have doomed them. While the Raiders’ playoff hopes may be dead, they still have the talent to drag the Dolphins out of the race with them on Saturday night.
The Indianapolis Colts (10-4), who find themselves just ahead of the Ravens and Dolphins in the wild card race, likely feel comfortable in their ability to clinch a playoff berth. They have higher ambitions, though. The Colts are in the midst of a heated division race with the Tennessee Titans (10-4), and can make a statement this week by knocking off the struggling Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3). Tennessee faces a tough match up against the Green Bay Packers (11-3), opening an opportunity for the Colts to take over the race.
As Pittsburgh begins to slide — they lost their third straight game on Monday Night after an 11-0 start — their season has turned from potential perfection to possibly letting a division title slip between their fingers. The Cleveland Browns (10-3) are right on their tail, and face a New York Jets (1-12) team that just won their first game this season. If Cleveland takes care of business in Week 16, and Pittsburgh loses once again, then the teams will duel for the division title in Cleveland to finish the year.
2020 is a uniquely competitive season, where it feels like more teams than ever before are still fighting for their playoff lives this late into the year. These next two weeks have huge potential for fireworks.
Week 16 Power Rankings