With the NFL season at its halfway point, it’s a good time to look at who needs to keep pushing to make the playoffs. At this stage, looking at teams like the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers, both undefeated, doesn’t reveal much. Instead, those teams who need to press on and continue the fight will be examined for the back nine of the 2019 NFL season.
Teams in the mix, but not really
The Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders might be optimistic, but unless the Kansas City Chiefs continue to stumble, neither has a realistic shot at the playoffs at this point. It certainly won’t be both teams taking the two wildcard spots. Likewise, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans would struggle to be a playoff team given their divisional standings and other teams also in the hunt.
The Buffalo Bills look like the strongest candidate for a wildcard spot. With the Patriots locking down the division, the Bills will be relegated to a wildcard team. They can’t rest on their laurels though, and unless the Offense is unlocked soon, they could find themselves in a tighter race than they hoped. This Defence is of a high calibre, and with a few more wins they will be playing in January.
The Texans are in a tricky situation, locked in a duel with their divisional rival, the Indianapolis Colts. And now with injuries taking their toll, Houston needs to start winning more of these close games. The Offense is scoring points regularly enough, but with some tightening up and reducing the errors, they could be the second wildcard team. They need to keep pushing onwards though to keep the pressure on Indianapolis, so that the Texans can potentially win the AFC South.
Like the Texans, the Colts are fighting to win the division, with a good chance that being runner up will make them the second wildcard. The Colts have managed to clinch close games, but can’t gain and advantage in the division race. Indianapolis need to keep fighting so that if they lose the division title, they are still a wildcard.
The only reason the Steelers are included here is their schedule and Defence. Baltimore Ravens seem to be a strong favourite to win the division, but have a tough schedule down the stretch. Although a few games back from the wildcard race, there’s plenty of time for them to catch up. Yet, another loss or two and it might be too late to turn the ship around.
See-sawing with the Philadelphia Eagles for top spot in the NFC East, the Cowboys know that failing to win the division could be the death-knell. At times, they’ve looked like one of the better teams in the league. At others, they’ve been less than average. Consistency in all areas, for 60 minutes, week-to-week, could get them the divisional win and thus a playoff spot. Failing to do so could mean missing out altogether.
Los Angeles Rams
With a tougher campaign than they may have expected, the Rams appear to be on the right track after stumbling earlier in the season. Their biggest challenge, aside from keeping the Offense moving, is surviving the division. But with enough divisional wins and avoiding unnecessary losses, the Rams can keep themselves in it until the end, with the potential for the NFC West to provide both wildcards.
After the last few weeks, the Vikings have returned to the conversation as one of the teams to beat. But with the Green Bay Packers out in front, the Vikings need to hang around in the playoff race. Regressing will be costly, and now is the time to regather themselves and refocus on winning enough games to keep them ahead of the NFC West teams.
The Eagles are the other fighter in the boxing ring that is the NFC East. With Philadelphia and Dallas both looking for knockout blows, it looks like Week 16 will be the deciding game. But giving the other an unnecessary lead could mean they’re out of the race earlier than desired. And with three other playoff hopefuls all with more wins, Eagles are playing catch-up from here on out.
Wedged between the Rams and 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks are one of the frontrunners to make the playoffs as a wildcard. Although yet to win games in a dominant fashion, QB Russell Wilson is dragging the Seahawks along, setting the standard for the wildcard qualification. But unless there are some improvements and increased tenacity on both sides of the ball, Seattle are going to struggle to go far in January.