By Alexandria Evans
To the dismay of loyal NFL fans across the country, we are over halfway through the NFL season. On the plus side, we are inching closer and closer to playoff season, as the race for conference number one seeds and division battles heat up. So, let’s take a good look at which teams have the best chance to make the playoffs, and who should be eyeing next season.
Let’s start with the AFC. The obvious juggernauts are the Ravens and Chiefs, both sitting at the top of their respective divisions with only three losses. As of now, Baltimore is the AFC’s number one seed with a 9-3 record after their Sunday Night Football victory over the L.A. Chargers. If the Ravens continue to play the way they are, with the help of white hot Lamar Jackson and Zay Flowers, they can finish out their season strong. However, they have a tough stretch to end the year. They will be battling the Jaguars, 49ers, Dolphins, and their division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs are sitting at a close number two seed with an 8-3 record. They still have the ability to beat out Baltimore for the number one seed, as they have a fairly moderate stretch coming up.
Now that we have the juggernauts out the way, let’s see take a look at the AFC wild cards and dark horses.
Although they technically aren’t a wild card, the Miami Dolphins should be considered one for all intents and purposes. They sit atop the AFC East with an 8-3 record, yet they haven’t beaten a single team above .500, which is problematic if they plan on making a deep run in the playoffs.
The Dolphins aren’t the only AFC East team with some struggles. The Buffalo Bills have been struggling almost all year. Sitting at 6-6 with a second place spot in the AFC East, the Bills have not met the high expectations that were attached to them this season. Entering this year as Super Bowl favorites, the Bills have been more of a disappointment, with questions looming about whether or not they even make the playoffs. Their upcoming schedule includes the Chiefs, Dolphins, and Cowboys – which may prove difficult for Buffalo. They still have a shot, but it looks more and more unlikely every week.
The Jaguars, Colts, Texans, Browns, and Steelers are all in a similar boat. Jacksonville is sitting atop the AFC South; however, the Colts and Texans are only two games behind. It is still possible for Indianapolis or Houston to somehow sneak their way into the playoffs as a wildcard, or even win the AFC South. The Browns and Steelers are in a similar situation in the AFC North. At this point in time, it’s probably not likely for them to win the division (still possible) with the Ravens soaring. Despite this, both teams are potential dark horses with 7-4 records and the possibility to be wildcard teams.
The biggest dark horse, however, has to be the Denver Broncos. Despite a poor start, Denver is on a five game win streak, and is sneakily taking the league by storm. Russel Wilson is starting to look like, well – Russel Wilson. Wilson himself points to the resilience of his team as the reason for their sudden midseason success. Despite still being two games behind the Chiefs, they can certainly attempt a playoff run.
Let’s hop over to the NFC, which is just as chaotic.
The Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers. Two of the most powerful teams in the NFL. The clear, dominant leaders of the NFC. The Eagles were the first team to reach 10 wins, with the help of a few brotherly shoves and Jalen Hurts’ undeniable clutch gene. The Eagles are clear-cut favorites to not just win their division and conference, but also make another Super Bowl run. The niners are close behind, after a three game losing streak, they bounced back after the bye and have been on a winning streak since then. With one of the best offenses in the league, they still have a shot at the NFC’s number one seed, though probably unlikely.
Just behind those two are the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions, both sitting comfortably at 8-3. The Cowboys are still chasing after Philly, and it’s still possible to win the NFC East, barring a dramatic Eagles collapse, which is doubtful. Dallas has a talented squad, with the likes of Dak Prescott, who is arguably the best quarterback in the league right now, and a dominant secondary including DaRon Bland, who now holds the record for the most pick-sixes in one season.
The Lions are at the top of the NFC North, two games ahead of Josh Dobbs and the Minnesota Vikings, who are capable of catching up. The Vikings are one of many teams who control their own destiny. The Vikings play the Lions twice in a span of three weeks- Dec. 24 and Jan. 7. If they manage to beat Detroit both times, they can take the NFC North and win a ticket to the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks are in a comparable situation – with a 6-5 record, two games behind the 49ers in the NFC West. They are a clear dark horse, as they are looming in the hunt, but have the ability to be a wildcard. However, their next three games are very difficult, as they go up against the Cowboys, 49ers, and Eagles in back-to-back-to-back games.
There are still a few weeks left in the season, and as this year has shown – anything can happen. No team is safe, and most teams control their own destiny.