• With two games left to play in the 2018 NFL regular season, 14 teams are still vying for seven playoff spots. Which team is definitely going to be sitting at home in January?
By The MMQB Staff
December 21, 2018

Heading into Week 16, five of the 12 spots in the NFL playoffs have been locked up, with seven spots still up in the air. The Saints, Rams and Bears have locked up their respective divisions, while the Rams and the Chargers are far enough ahead to have clinched a berth.

Of the 14 teams still in contention for those remaining openings, which will be sitting at home in January? The MMQB staff discusses in this week’s roundtable. 

Cleveland Browns

Hope springs eternal in Cleveland, and the fact that the Browns still have a chance in Week 16 is something in itself. But the convoluted scenario for them to get in to the playoffs as the AFC's No. 6 seed involves a long checklist of things breaking the right way, not the least of which is for the Colts and Titans to tie in Week 17. This might not be the year for the Browns, but after four wins in the last four weeks, and a talented roster playing “dangerously,” the Browns look like they could be a not-absurd-at-all playoff pick for 2019. — Jenny Vrentas

Minnesota Vikings

First, we can lose the idea that the Browns are making the playoffs. Yea, I know, they still have a chance, but no.  Not happening, but Browns fans can revel in a much-improved team, hope for the future and a quarterback with the “it” factor.  

As for the team that I just don’t trust to make it into the playoffs, it’s the Vikings. The Eagles—with the uncanny magic brought to bear by Nick Foles, along with stout offensive and defensive lines—will overtake them for the sixth seed in the NFC. There is just something about the Vikings, even when they are playing well, that doesn't seem right this year. The problem is not necessarily QB Kirk Cousins, whose name can’t be mentioned without saying “$84 million guaranteed,” nor a defense that is not as imposing as last year’s group, albeit with the same personnel. It is something intangible; last year’s team had a karma about them, all the way through the playoffs and the Minnesota Miracle. But not this year. And like Cousins, they are good, but they are not great. They can beat most, but it seems they can also lose to anyone, evidence by being routed at home by the Buffalo Bills. Indeed, I can see them losing to the lowly Lions in Detroit this week or even to the Bears next week, who may have nothing to play for. And I don't think the Eagles are losing to Houston or Washington. Sorry, Vikings fans, that chip-shot field goal miss in Green Bay earlier in the year, causing a tie instead of a win, will haunt this team as it sits out the playoffs after an NFC Championship appearance a year ago. — Andrew Brandt

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I’m choosing the Vikings here, but really only because I’m a sucker for a good story. Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles coming back in for the injured Carson Wentz, again, and winning three straight games to drag the Eagles into the playoffs would be the best story of them all. All that has to happen for that scenario to manifest is Minnesota needs to lose one of their final two games—at Detroit, and then home vs. Chicago—and Philly needs to beat both the Texans at home and Washington on the road. And the Bears could possibly be fighting for a playoff bye in Week 17, if the Rams continue to falter, so the Vikings won’t be up against a team playing for nothing. But really, how do you bet against Foles? — Ben Baskin

Washington Redskins

As much as I want the Browns to pull off the next-to-impossible and make the playoffs this year, it’s just not happening. And the Panthers, who are not technically mathematically eliminated but very close to it, are reportedly shutting down Cam Newton for the season, so Carolina can kiss the playoffs goodbye. But the team with a more realistic chance of making the playoffs that I don't trust at all is the Washington football team. In order to make the playoffs, they'd have to win at home against the Eagles, and then would have to get extra help from a Vikings loss. Good for Josh Johnson to get his first win in the NFL, but I don't see a Johnson-led team making it past the Eagles, no matter who Philadelphia has at quarterback in Week 17. The Eagles held on to beat the Rams last week, and Johnson's victory over the downtrodden Jaguars wasn't a very inspiring performance. If not for Alex Smith's injury, this could have been a playoff team. — Kalyn Kahler

Pittsburgh Steelers

As a lifelong observer (OK, fan) of the Steelers, I’m always inordinately trepidatious about a team that most others around the league envy for their success. This year’s outfit is as inconsistent as any recent Pittsburgh team, looking like world-beaters one week and self-destructive bumblers the next. The Steelers (8-5-1) should be cruising to the AFC North title, but thanks to a three-game stretch in which they blew second-half leads to the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders, they face a critical matchup at 12-2 New Orleans on Sunday. A loss—on the road, to the best team in the NFL—and the Steelers will be forced to root for results elsewhere. If the Ravens (8-6) also beat the Chargers, Baltimore would be in the driver’s seat for the division. Wins by the Texans and Colts (both 8-6) this week coupled with that Steelers loss would take Pittsburgh out of the wild-card picture (barring a Week 17 tie between Tennessee and Indy). This isn’t how it should be for a perennial power loaded with talent and experience. But these are the Steelers, who never feel like sure things. — Mark Mravic

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Indianapolis Colts

Give me the Colts here. I think they can beat the Giants on Sunday and lose to Tennessee, which means the final AFC wild card will go to the Titans or the Ravens. But to understand the reason I think the Colts miss out, I’ve got to take you back to Week 4. Frank Reich decided his team wouldn’t just settle for ties. They were about winning. So on fourth-and-four from his 43 with 27 seconds left in overtime, the Colts attempted to convert rather than punt away in a tie game and take the tie. The Texans took over on the plus-side of the field, gained 24 yards and kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired. At the time, I wrote how Reich and other NFL coaches should embrace ties for this exact situation. I believe the Colts will finish this season 9–7, but they could have finished 9-6-1, and that would have been enough to sneak them into the wild card. — Jonathan Jones

Baltimore Ravens

As soon as some teams figure out Baltimore's Lamar Jackson-based run game, the Ravens are done. Right now Jackson is a step ahead of defenses, but if you can make him a passer, the rookie QB becomes several steps behind. The Chargers might have enough offense to overcome Baltimore's stingy defense anyway. — Andy Benoit

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