The birth of various playoff scenario generators signal winter for some of us more accurately than hot chocolate and bearded gift-slingers. Like Christmas itself, playoff time truly is a period of both wild optimism and cold reality packaged neatly together (you’re not getting the Nintendo Switch this year, are you?).
Only four teams are truly and completely finished. According to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL season prediction model, the Jets (3–8), Texans (2–9), Jaguars (2–9) and Lions (0-10-1) have less than a 1% chance of reaching the postseason.
The Bears (4–7) and Seahawks (3–8) have a less than 2% chance of making the playoffs, so we’ll consider them similarly—but not completely hopelessly—out of tournament contention.
As for the rest of the NFL? Strange things can happen, which is why we enjoy fooling around with various simulation tools so much. Could Joe Judge stun us all? Could the Cardinals bottom out of the playoffs?
Let’s spin the wheel and find out…
THE GIANTS SAVE THEIR SEASON
Looking at the Giants’ end-of-season schedule, we see a slate that is not that intimidating for a team as talented offensively as New York is on paper. The Giants have four road games and two home games left, with trips to Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago. If they can take three out of four (let’s say, the loss is to the Chargers) and one out of two from the home slate (let’s say the loss is to Dallas) and have a few other teams cooperate, they sneak into the No. 7 seed.
What else could they need?
What if...the Vikings lose to the teams they’re supposed to lose to (the Rams and the Packers), lose a close one to a Steelers team trying to send Ben Roethlisberger out on top and drop one of two of their games to the Bears? While the last part of the scenario seems the most unlikely, imagine Chicago has an interim situation. Whoever is calling plays rolls out something exotic with Justin Fields in an effort to bolster offseason credentials. The Vikings’ defense, their weak spot, buckles.
What if...the Panthers bottom out, which doesn’t seem impossible given their schedule? Carolina still has the Buccaneers twice, as well as the Bills and Saints.
What if...Washington Football Team drops both of their games to Dallas, splits the season series with Philadelphia, beats the Raiders this weekend and, in the season finale, falls to the Giants?
What if...a Falcons team that has not logged a single upset this season continues to follow the same trend, losing to the 49ers in San Francisco, the Bills in Buffalo, Tampa Bay and New Orleans, which would split the season series between the Saints and the Falcons?
As it turns out, all Joe Judge needed to reach the postseason was to make a change at offensive coordinator...and have the rest of the universe align around him. In all seriousness, while it’s unlikely that Freddie Kitchens is the spark that ignites this talented but underperforming offense, talent tends to win and the Giants are getting healthier in critical places.
URBAN MEYER, COACH OF THE YEAR?
That’s right, it can happen. In this alternate universe of playoff simulations, the Jacksonville Jaguars are in the playoffs, sitting pretty at the No. 7 seed, ready to do some damage. I like to think Meyer has scrambled, making some wild, unforeseen changes with his back against the wall and Trevor Lawrence is now hurling at warp speed toward Rookie of the Year. Let’s break down what has to happen.
Jacksonville: Wins out their schedule—at Rams, at Titans, vs. Texans, at Jets, at Patriots, vs. Indianapolis.
Week 13: The Bengals beat the Chargers, Texans upset the Colts, Giants beat the Dolphins, Chiefs beat the Broncos, Washington beats the Raiders.
Week 14: Vikings beat the Steelers, Ravens beat the Browns, Chiefs beat the Raiders, Buccaneers beat the Bills, 49ers beat the Bengals, Giants beat the Chargers, Lions beat the Broncos
Week 15: Chiefs beat the Chargers, Raiders beat the Browns, Patriots beat the Colts, Panthers beat the Bills, Titans beat the Steelers, Bengals beat the Broncos.
Week 16: 49ers beat the Titans, Packers beat the Browns, Cardinals beat the Colts, Raiders and Broncos TIE.
Week 17: Colts beat the Raiders.
Week 18: Chargers and Raiders TIE.
Kind of makes sense when you really think about it.
THE RISE OF RICH BISACCIA
The Raiders could go from franchise riding hot on deep-state coach-firing conspiracy theories to the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a first-round bye, and it’s not even all that difficult! Follow along…
The Raiders: Go 5–1 down the stretch, preferably with their loss coming in the season finale against the Chargers. Las Vegas finishes its season against Washington, at Kansas City, at Cleveland, vs. Denver, at Indianapolis, vs. Los Angeles Chargers.
Week 13: Bengals beat the Chargers, Texans beat the Colts, Steelers beat the Ravens, Broncos beat the Chiefs and Patriots TIE the Bills.
Week 14: Vikings beat the Steelers, Browns beat the Ravens, Jaguars beat the Titans (Urban Meyer COY alternate universe tie-in), Lions beat the Broncos, Giants beat the Chargers, 49ers beat the Bengals, Buccaneers beat the Bills.
Week 15: Chiefs beat the Chargers, Colts beat the Patriots, Titans beat the Steelers, Broncos beat the Bengals, Packers beat the Ravens, Panthers beat the Bills.
Week 16: 49ers beat the Titans, Packers beat the Browns, Cardinals beat the Colts, Ravens beat the Bengals, Bills beat the Patriots, Chiefs beat the Steelers.
Week 17: Bengals beat the Chiefs, Patriots beat the Jaguars, Titans beat the Dolphins, Broncos beat the Chiefs, Browns beat the Steelers, Rams beat the Ravens.
Week 18: Titans TIE the Texans (big David Culley energy here), Denver beats Kansas City, Baltimore beats Pittsburgh, Jets beat the Bills.
CARDINALS FREE FALL FROM THE SKY
In this scenario, the 9–2 Cardinals lose all but one of their remaining games, recovering momentarily to beat the Colts in Week 16 and miss the playoffs. With games against the Bears and Lions remaining, it seems highly unlikely. However, imagine if our Bears scenario from the Giants playoff blurb is intact, and a rejuvenated Matt Nagy or post-Nagy interim brilliance takes the league by storm. Also imagine that at some point, Dan Campbell’s pent up energy has to explode into a game where he voluntarily signs himself to the active roster and runs in four wildcat touchdowns. In that case, losing to the Bears, Rams, Colts, Cowboys and Seahawks doesn’t seem so strange does it? DOES IT?!
Week 13: Falcons beat the Buccaneers, Vikings beat the Lions, Giants beat the Dolphins, Rams beat the Jaguars, 49ers beat the Seahawks.
Week 14: Vikings beat Steelers, Falcons beat Panthers, Seahawks beat Texans, Saints beat Jets, Cowboys beat WFT, Giants beat Chargers, 49ers beat Bengals, Buccaneers beat Bills and Packers beat Bears.
Week 15: Panthers beat the Bills, WFT beats the Eagles, Cardinals beat Lions, Cowboys beat the Giants, 49ers beat Falcons, Rams beat Packers, Saints beat Buccaneers, Saints beat Bears.
Week 16: 49ers beat Titans, Packers beat Browns, Buccaneers beat Panthers, Vikings beat Rams, Eagles beat Giants, Cowboys beat WFT, Saints beat Dolphins.
Week 17: Falcons beat Bills, Giants beat Bears, Saints beat Panthers, Buccaneers beat Jets, WFT beats Eagles, 49ers beat Texans, Rams beat Ravens, Vikings beat Packers.
Week 18: Saints beat Falcons, Packers beat Lions, Vikings beat Bears, WFT beats Giants, Buccaneers beat Panthers, Rams TIE the 49ers.
So, there you have it. For all the bad teams out there, don’t give up. There’s always a chance the NFL enters the upside down and you ride a hot streak into an alternative universe where your quarterback isn’t too old or your coach understands how to run an offense. And for the good teams (cough, Cardinals), beware. The Lions are lying in wait, not just for you...but everyone.
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