The results of this past week have altered the NFL playoff picture, with a couple new teams moving into the current projections, two first-round byes changing hands and one of the teams going from a bye down to wild-card status. Here is the rundown on notable changes, the reasons why and how TheSportsNotebook sees the NFL playoff picture ultimately shaking out.
*Miami replaces Baltimore as the 6-seed in the AFC. Both of these teams are playing really well right now, but the Ravens’ schedule is just really tough. I’ve already got them winning on Sunday against New England, but that’s followed up by a road trip to Cincinnati in Week 17. Unless the Dolphins lose once, the Ravens will need to sweep. Miami plays Buffalo on the road and the New York Jets at home.
*Green Bay replaces Detroit as the NFC North champ. The Packers need to beat the Steelers at home and the Bears on the road in successive weeks. It won’t be easy, but so long as Aaron Rodgers is back, I’m making an exception to always deferring to the home team. Chicago’s record against Rodgers, and before him Brett Favre, is awful and it hasn’t mattered where the games are played.
Note that Chicago also controls its destiny, but if they lose at Philadelphia (which I project, as the Eagles are favored) on Sunday, that re-opens the door for Detroit in what remains a crazy three-team race.
*Cincinnati and New England flip places in the AFC bracket, with the Bengals getting a bye. Both teams play the Ravens, and I’ve got the Patriots losing and the Bengals winning, both based on homefield. The pointspreads are up for Week 16 so in those games I automatically deferred to the favorite and Baltimore is a slight favorite over New England.
If the Bengals and Patriots each finish 11-5, as this scenario has, Cincy has the head-to-head win and tiebreaker.
*Carolina and New Orleans swap places as the 2-seed and 5-seed in the NFC, the most dramatic change of teams within the bracket. Sunday’s head-to-head game is for the division lead and the Panthers are the home favorite.
Based on these projections, this is the bracket that sorts out…
(6)Miami at (3)New England
(5)Kansas City at (4) Indianapolis
(6)San Francisco at (3)Green Bay
(5)New Orleans at (4)Dallas
(1) Denver (2) Cincinnati
(1) Seattle (2) Carolina