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The 5 O'Clock Club: Wildcard Watch - Week 13

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Game Result - Week 12 vs the Giants

The Redskins beat the Giants at home by a score of 20-10 in the prime time game on Thanksgiving Day.

Despite the Week 12 win, the Redskins have left themselves no room for error; they will have to sweep their remaining five games to have a chance at a playoff slot. Another loss will almost certainly end any hope of a postseason berth.

A quick NFC overview

The 4 division leaders

The Vikings expanded their division lead and helped the Redskins by defeating the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving day. The Eagles crushed the Bears 31-3, while the matchup of the week saw the NFC South-leading Saints travel to LA to take on the NFC West-leading Rams. In the battle of these two NFC titans, with the home team winning 26-20.

At the bottom of the conference

Of course, the Giants lost to the Redskins on Thursday, with the Eli-led offense amassing just 177 total yards, and scoring a paltry 3-points against a Redskins defense that had given up over 30 per game the previous two weeks. With the Redskins starting Tony Bergstrom at Center, Arie Kouandjio at left guard, and Ty Nsekhe at left tackle on a very short week, this was always going to be a bit of a struggle for the Redskin offense against the Giants, who shut down the Kansas City offensive machine just 4 days earlier. Perine showed up, with 100-yard game, and Jamison Crowder chipped in with 141 receiving yards and a touchdown, finally looking like the player Redskins fans had expected all season long.

The 49ers lost a division game at home against a Seattle team that had been stumbling recently after key defensive injuries. The game was significant because Jimmy Garoppolo came in for the final 67 seconds of the game and threw a touchdown pass as time expired. San Fan fans will now demand that Jimmy G start the rest of the season, I imagine.

The Chicago Bears went meekly like lambs to the slaughter to lose in Philadelphia.

Tampa Bay went to Atlanta for a divisional game that they lost 20-34 to the Falcons.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals stayed home to face a snarling AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars team, boasting an awesome defense, and Arizona got the upset win against Jax 27-24.

The Wildcard contenders

In Week 12, there were 5 key games, 4 of which were highlighted in last week’s Wildcard Watch.

All three of the Turkey-day games had an impact on the NFC Wildcard race, and all three of them went the way the Redskins needed them to.

The other two went as expected; it would have been better for the Redskins if the Panthers had lost, but I don’t believe in miracles -- not from the Jets, anyway.

The Packers were in the game against the Steelers right until the final seconds, which worries me. The Steelers should have blown them out.

  • The Vikings beat the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, expanding the Vikings lead, and helping the Redskins out in the race for the NFC Wildard.
  • Of course, the Redskins beat the Giants at home on Thanksgiving Day. It was ugly, but it was a win. HTTR!
  • The third Thursday game saw the Cowboys fold like a cheap suit against a surging Chargers team that has now 5 of their last 7 games, after starting the season 0-4.

The Redskins will face the Cowboys in another must-win game (for both teams) on Thursday night football, and will face the Chargers in Week 14. By the time they meet, LAC should be 6-6, as they play the Browns in Week 13. That game no longer looks like the ‘gimme’ that it appeared to be at the beginning of the season.

  • Panthers beat the Jets
  • Packers lost to the AFC North leading Steelers in a nail-biter on Sunday Night Football.

This is what the NFC looks like now:

  • The Panthers are almost certainly going to qualify for the playoffs. The only real question is whether they will go as a wildcard, or as the NFC South Champs.
  • The Falcons have 7 wins, but it will be hard for them to get more than 9 by the end of the season, as they probably have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFC.
  • Detroit may have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFC. Despite their loss to the Vikings, and the fact that they have only 6 wins, they may actually be the biggest threat to a Redskin wildcard bid.
  • Seattle is trying to deal with the loss of two star defensive players. They have three tough games remaining, and the Redskins hold the tie-breaker over the Seahawks.
  • The Packers had appeared to be in an offensive free-fall since Brett Hundley took over for Aaron Rodgers, though they played tough against the Steelers on Sunday night. At 5-6, the Packers — like the Redskins — cannot afford another loss. Unlike the Redskins, they still have to play the Panthers, Vikings & Lions between now and Week 17.
  • The Dallas Cowboys have lost by the scores of 27-7, 37-9 and 28-6 in the three weeks that they’ve played without Zeke, without Tyron Smith and (mostly) without Sean Lee. They have 3 more Zeke-less games ahead. Going into the Thursday Night Football game with matched 5-6 records, the team that loses is almost certainly out of the playoffs, while the winner will still need to win out in the month of December to have a chance. With a Week 17 matchup with the Eagles looming, it’s hard to imagine the Cowboys having a chance at getting to the dance this season, no matter what happens on Thursday Night Football.
  • The Redskins now limp into Dallas for the second of six must-win contests.

8-3

Carolina Panthers

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 result: The Panthers beat the Jets in New York

Week 13: The Panthers travel to New Orleans to take on the red-hot NFC South leading Saints.

The Saints and the Panthers have identical 8-3 records, so this is a chance for Carolina to stake a claim to the division championship. The Saints won the first game in Week 3 by a score of 34-13. The Panthers are playing much better football now, so anything is possible on Sunday.

With the Saints, Vikings & Falcons still to play, it’s still possible for the Panthers to lose 3 more games and fall to 10-6. A win against the Saints in Week 13 would probably solidify at least a wildcard berth for the Panthers, and might set them up to win the NFC South division championship.

Heath Evans on NFL Total Access a couple of weeks ago projected the rest of Carolina’s games and predicted an 11-5 season. Hmmm...

Key games remaining: Carolina plays Vikings, Packers & Falcons in 3 of their final 4 games of the season.

7-4

Seattle Seahawks

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 result: Seahawks beat division rivals the 49ers.

Week 13: Seahawks host the Eagles.

It’s hard to imagine Seattle finding the performance they will need to play Philadelphia and come away with a win. The Seahawks should end Week 13 at 7-5, with three very tough games remaining.

Key games remaining: Jaguars, Rams, Cowboys (Zeke’s first game back), (Cardinals)

By the time the Seahawks play Dallas in Week 16, Zeke will be back, and probably anxious to prove a point. If the Seahawks lose to the Eagles this week as expected, they will still need to find a way to win at least 2 out of 3 against the Jags, Rams and Cowboys if they want to stay alive for the playoffs. I’d say their chances of pulling that off with the injuries to Chancellor and Sherman are worse than 50/50.

7-4

Atlanta Falcons

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 Result: The Falcons beat Tampa Bay at home

Week 13: The Falcons host the Vikings in Atlanta this week.

With the Vikings, Panthers and two games against the Saints remaining on their schedule, it’s hard to see the Falcons finishing better than 9-7. In fact, on NFL Total Access a couple of weeks ago, I saw Shawn O’Hara project the rest of the season for the Falcons, and he had them finishing 7-9. D’oh! That would be a huge fall for a team that started 2017 as NFC Champs.

Key games remaining: Saints (twice), Panthers

6-5

Detroit Lions

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 result: Lost to the NFC North-leading Vikings on Thanksgiving.

Week 13: The Lions visit the AFC North Ravens

The Ravens represent the last, best chance for the Lions to pick up their 6th loss, making it possible for the Redskins to match their season record. The Lions play the Buccaneers, Bears, Bengals and Packers to close out the season. The Redskins need the Lions to fall to 9-7 (or for the Panthers to collapse), but it seems unlikely.

Key games remaining: Packers

5-6

Washington Redskins

NFL: Preseason-Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 Result: The Redskins won at home against the Giants on Thanksgiving.

Week 13: The Redskins travel to Dallas to take on the hated Cowboys on Thursday Night Football.

The Redskins need to win this game, the second in an absolutely essential 6-game run against non-division leaders to finish the season if they want to get to 10 wins and have any shot at a wildcard berth.

Even 10 wins may not be enough this year. I’m beginning to think that both NFC wildcard teams may need at least 11 wins to get into the postseason.

Based on the Cowboys performance in their three games without Zeke this season, the Redskins should win, but this divisional rivalry has been known for tough play and upsets for many years. The Cowboys are unlikely to roll over for the Redskins in their home stadium on Thursday night football.

Redskins experience in this year’s road games against the Chiefs, Eagles, Seahawks and Saints should make the Dallas crowd seem almost friendly by comparison.

Either the Redskins’ or Cowboys’ season will be over by around midnight Thursday night.

Key games remaining: Chargers, Cardinals, Broncos

5-6

Dallas Cowboys

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 Result: Dallas lost to the Chargers on Thanksgiving day by the score of 28-6.

Week 13: Cowboys host the Redskins on Thursday Night Football.

The Thursday Night Football game between Dallas and Washington will probably result in the winner staying alive in the playoff race, and the loser being eliminated.

The Eagles are unlikely to be resting any starters in Week 17 against the Cowboys, as they fight to keep home-field advantage. If the Redskins beat Dallas in Week 13, and the Eagles take care of business in Week 17, then Dallas can’t finish with more than 9 wins, and that won’t get any NFC team a ticket for the dance.

They should just quit already.

Maybe they already have.

Key games remaining: Seahawks, Eagles

5-6

Green Bay Packers

NFL: Preseason-Oakland Raiders at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 Result: The Packers fought to the bitter end, but lost to the Steelers on Sunday Night Football this week

Week 13: The Packers travel to Tampa Bay this week, with a chance to stay alive in the wildcard race for one more week.

Key games remaining: Panthers, Vikings, Lions

Without Aaron Packers, Green Bay had lost three games in a row (Vikings, Saints, Lions) scoring 10, 17, and 17 points respectively, before putting up 23 points to beat an inconsistent divisional foe in Chicago. They were shut out by Baltimore. This week they put up 4 touchdowns against Pittsburgh, indicating that the rumors of the Packers’ death may have been exaggerated.

Personally, I don’t think the Packers can survive the loss of their quarterback, and are likely to be the second team to get pushed out of the wildcard race, shortly behind the Cardinals. Without Aaron Rodgers to save the day, the Packers look like they’ll finish 8-8 or 9-7.

Green Bay gets a pass in Week 14 with the Browns, and a relatively easy contest this week against the Bucs, but they should have 7 losses by the end of Week 16, and facing a highly motivated Lions team to close out the season.

But then there’s this:

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t act like a man ready to shut it down for the season. The Packers quarterback took snaps from a trainer ... during Wednesday’s practice, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

It marked the first time Rodgers did something during the portion of practice open to the media in the four weeks since he fractured his right collarbone. He worked on cardio and agility drills and simulated snaps from under center and in the shotgun.

Some of his rehab work involved his throwing motion in his attempt to maintain range of motion.

The Packers placed Rodgers on injured reserve Oct. 20, five days after his injury. He becomes eligible to start practicing six weeks from that date and eligible to play again two weeks after that.

Key games in Week 13

As we head into the last 4 weeks, most teams will be playing crucial matchups, as the league pits most teams against their divisional foes for the second time in December.

  • Of course, Redskins @ Cowboys on Thursday Night Football 8:25 p.m.
  • Vikings @ Falcons, Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

Redskins rooting interest here is for a Vikings victory

  • Buccaneers @ Packers, Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

A win by Tampa Bay in this game would probably put an end to the Packers playoff hopes, and the Bucs have a tough December schedule. I think the Redskins playoff hopes would be best served if the visiting team won this game.

  • Lions @ Ravens, Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

Obviously, we need to be Ravens fans this Sunday.

  • Panthers @ Saints, Sunday at 4:25 p.m.

Because of the Saints tiebreaker advantage, Redskin fans should be rooting for the Saints to win the conference and push the Panthers down to the wildcard position, but the outcome of this game is highly unlikely to have any impact on the Redskins bid for a wildcard spot anyway, unless one of these two teams has an incredible meltdown.

  • Eagles @ Seahawks, Sunday Night Football, 8:30 p.m.

We all want to be Eagles fans on Sunday night. The Seahawks need to keep on losin’.

A strong early & mid-season lineup of opponents for the Redskins

The Redskins have already played the toughest schedule in the NFL in Weeks 1-11. The Redskins’ first 10 opponents have a combined record of 69-41 (roughly a 10-6 season), which is a winning percentage of 62.7%. Brutal.

A soft landing

But the 5 remaining games look a lot easier. The records of the opponents in those 5 games are: 5-6, 5-6, 5-6, 3-8, 2-9. That adds up to 15-29 (34.1%).

Winning those final 5 games will be key to any post-season hopes that the Redskins have. The Cowboys look to be in a free fall, Denver is struggling to figure things out, and we all just saw the hot garbage that the Giants have become.

The two dangerous games look to be the Chargers, who will likely be 6-6 and in the playoff hunt when we play them, and the inconsistent but talented Falcons.

At this point, any loss to any team will effectively knock the Redskins out of contention for a wildcard berth.

The Playoff Predictor

Week to week, my accuracy in picking winners & losers is only about 10/16, so I have no illusions about my ability to accurately pick the winners and losers in several games per week for 5 weeks.

That said, I have built a little spreadsheet to try to predict what the playoff picture will look like when Week 17 comes to an end.

My model still projects a 10-win season for the Redskins, keeping alive their playoff hopes.

Based on my projections, the four current division leaders (Eagles, Rams, Saints, Vikings) will finish as the 4 division champs, with the Panthers going to the postseason as a wildcard team, but there’s a fair chance that the Panthers could supplant the Saints as the winners of the NFC South.

Right now, I have the Redskins and Lions with 10 wins apiece, so it would come down to tie-breakers between the ‘Skins & Lions.

This far out, I’m not gonna try to figure out any tie breakers — there are simply too many variables, and my projections of wins & losses aren’t likely to prove completely accurate. If we get to the end of Week 15 with the same situation, then I’ll start looking tie breakers more deeply.

Poll

Which of these teams do you think has the best chance of getting a first round bye in the playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    Vikings
    (92 votes)
  • 4%
    Saints
    (6 votes)
  • 18%
    Rams
    (22 votes)
  • 1%
    Panthers
    (2 votes)
122 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which of these teams do you think is most likely to make the playoffs in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Packers
    (1 vote)
  • 40%
    Lions
    (48 votes)
  • 10%
    Seahawks
    (12 votes)
  • 48%
    Falcons
    (58 votes)
119 votes total Vote Now