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Wildcard Watch - Week 15 - 2021

If the season ended today...

I intend to publish the Wildcard Watch as a weekly series for as long as Washington has a reasonable chance of earning a playoff spot.

A total of 9 losses on the season by Washington at any point will probably bring the series to an abrupt end.

Until then, I’ll keep my eye on the playoff prize and ignore the 2022 draft for as long as there’s a chance at the postseason.

If you aren’t interested in this kind of article, now would be a good time to return to the front page and look for some discussion of mock drafts and rookie quarterbacks.

The thoughts in this article are my own, and do not represent the views of Hogs Haven, its other writers or its managing editor.

No redwolves were harmed in the creation of this post.


Related articles:

Wildcard Watch - Week 14 - 2021

Wildcard Watch Simulation: Week 14 – Cowboys Edition

Wildcard Watch - Week 13 - 2021

Wildcard Watch Simulation: Week 13 - Vegas Edition

Wildcard Watch - Week 12 - 2021


Who’s in right now?

Let’s start with the “If the season ended today” game. The current NFC playoff seedings — based on records and results through the end of Week 14 — are:

  • 1 Seed (North) Green Bay 10-3
  • 2 Seed (South) Tampa Bay 10-3
  • 3 Seed (West) Arizona 10-3
  • 4 Seed (East) Dallas 9-4
  • 5 Seed (Wildcard) LA Rams 9-4
  • 7 Seed (Wildcard) San Francisco 7-6
  • 6 Seed (Wildcard) Washington 6-7

The big news in Week 14 was the Rams victory over the Cardinals on Monday Night Football, which rearranged the playoff seedings at the top.

Of course, after Washington moved ahead of the Niners in Week 13, with a San Francisco win and Washington loss in Week 14, the Football Team dropped back one spot to the #7 seed while the 49ers moved back up to #6.

The win by the Cowboys in Washington in Week 14 also did a lot to cement Dallas’ position at the top of the NFC East and pretty much drop the curtain on any realistic hopes of Washington repeating as division champs, though it is not yet a mathematical impossibility.

This arrangement of playoff teams will not last. With four weeks remaining in the season, teams will continue to move up and down the rankings.

This is the weekly caveat that the season doesn’t end today, and all that matters is the rankings at the end of Week 18.

With 4 NFC East games remaining, Washington is well-poised to make the playoffs if they can get 3 wins, but will struggle to reach the postseason with anything less.


Week 14 results for Wildcard contenders

Let’s look at what happened to the teams in wildcard contention this week:

Rams (9-4)

Following up on last week’s “get right” win against the Jaguars, the Rams got a huge win on the road against the division rival Arizona Cardinals, who had come into the game with the best win-loss record in the league. It was a convincing win, despite several Rams players being ruled out shortly before the game due to COVID protocols, and the result dropped the Cards from the 1st seed to the 3rd. This could work for Washington and Philly fans, as Arizona is likely to be hungry for a win (and not resting starters) when they face the Cowboys in Week 17.

Having won two straight, the Rams host the Seahawks in Week 15. With a 3-game lead on all other wildcard contenders, the Rams appear to be a playoff lock; in fact, after the MFN win, they are now positioned to challenge for the NFC West division title.

49ers (7-6)

The 49ers got an important win against the Bengals, 26-23 in overtime.

The Niners have 3 tough games remaining on their schedule, with the only ‘easy’ game being a Week 17 game against the Texans. While San Fran is one game ahead of the pack with a 6-7 record, I don’t think the Niners can take anything for granted as far as playoffs are concerned.

Eagles (6-7)

The Eagles were on a bye in Week 14.

Washington travels to Philly this Sunday for the first matchup of the season, and will play the Eagles again in Week 17. The math here is easy; Washington can kill the Eagle’s playoff hopes by beating them twice. If that happens, then we don’t have to worry about what Philly does against the Giants (Wk 16) and the Cowboys (Wk 18).

Vikings (6-7)

The Vikings got the win, 36-28 over the Steelers in a game where Minnesota was ahead 29-0 with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.

The tiebreaker that would apply between Washington and the Vikings is record against NFC opponents. Right now, Washington is 5-3 while the Vikings are 4-4. While that can change, for the moment, Washington has an effective 1-game lead on Minnesota in the wildcard race despite identical records.

The Vikings finish the season with the Rams, Packers and 2 games against the Bears. The Vikings helped themselves a lot with the win over the Steelers, but will probably need to sweep the Bears and get at least one other win (3-1) to make the postseason.

Falcons (6-7)

The Falcons came up with a much-needed divisional win against Carolina, 29-21.

Washington beat the Falcons head to head, and Atlanta has a 3-6 conference record, so WFT holds the first two tie breakers, again, giving the Football Team an effective 1-game lead in the playoff hunt despite identical records. Atlanta plays the Niners, Lions, Bills and Saints to finish the season, so, like the Vikinigs, Atlanta will have to play very well down the stretch to threaten Washington’s playoff hopes.

Saints (6-7)

The Saints got an easy win against the NY Jets, 30-9, to keep themselves alive in the playoff hunt.

Because of the way tie-breakers work, Washington holds the advantage over New Orleans as long as the Saints & Falcons have identical records. That will change when the two division rivals play in Week 18. If WFT and the Saints finish with identical records, then New Orleans will win the tie breaker. In effect, despite the current situation, the Saints hold an effective one-game lead over the Football Team (deferred to Week 18), meaning that Washington needs New Orleans to win at least one game less than WFT over the final 4 weeks, or it could be a Week 18 surprise for Washington fans, who’ve seen the Saints listed at the bottom of the “in the hunt list” for several weeks.

The Saints had lost 5-in-a-row before beating the Jets on the road, and still have to face Tampa Bay, Miami, Carolina, and Atlanta.

Panthers (5-8)

The Panthers lost a big divisional game to the Falcons, extending their losing streak to 3 games. Washington holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against Carolina, giving the Football Team an effective 2-game lead with 4 games remaining. Washington would have to go 2-2 for the Panthers to get ahead of them in the playoff hunt; with another 2 losses, Washington would probably be out of the playoffs irrespective of what the Panthers do.

With Christian McCaffrey on IR, plus Buffalo and two games against Tampa Bay still on the schedule, I’m sticking a fork in the Panthers; they’re done.


Week 15 key games and rooting guide

Rams (9-4) at Seahawks (5-8) - The Rams aren’t going to fall out of the playoffs, and the Seahawks (because of tiebreakers) are effectively 2 games in back of Washington. The outcome of this game really doesn’t matter to Washington’s playoff hopes, but a Seahawks loss would nail the lid on Seattle’s playoff coffin. Root for the Rams, unless you have some reason not to.

Falcons (6-7) at 49ers (7-6) - This game has the most direct effects on Washington’s postseason prospects.

  • The Niners are a game in front of Washington while the Falcons are effectively one game behind due to tiebreakers.
  • A win by the Falcons puts both teams at 7-7.
  • If Washington beats the Eagles to go to 7-7, then Washington is in front of both teams, but a loss to Philly that drops the Football Team to 6-8 would put Washington a game back of both.

San Fran has the tougher remaining schedule, so I’m inclined to root for the Niners here. A win by the 49ers would drop Atlanta to 6-8, leaving the Falcons (effectively) either a game or two games behind Washington, with opportunities for Washington to catch the Niners down the stretch.

Vikings (6-7) at Bears (4-9) - They don’t come much easier than this. Root for the Bears to get an unlikely win at home.

Saints (6-7) at Buccaneers (10-3) - Root for Tom Brady & the Bucs to dispose of the Saints in Tampa. A loss by the Saints here is critical to Washington’s playoff hopes.


Washington’s Week 15 matchup

Sunday is the first game against the Eagles this season, and the 2nd of 5 division games that the Football Team plays to end the season.

With 2 games being played on Saturday in Week 15, this is one of two games in the 1:00 time slot with big playoff implications (Titans at Steelers is the other). The AFC game is on CBS, while the Washington-Philly and Cowboys-Giants games are both on Fox. Look for the network to push both NFC East games heavily and for both NFC East games to get pretty wide national interest and pre-game coverage.

The big challenge for Washington will be player health. With the news on Monday that 4 more Washington players had been added to the COVID list while Terry McLaurin entered the concussion protocol, the Football Team is likely to have to play a second consecutive critical NFC East game with an undermanned roster.

With both Washington and Philadelphia at 6-7, this is a critical matchup for the wildcard race. The winner will hold an important advantage going into the final 3 weeks of the season. The loser, while not being eliminated from playoff contention, will almost certainly have to go 3-0 in Weeks 16-18 to make the playoffs.

Here are the NFC East games for those final 3 weeks:

Week 16

  • Giants at Eagles
  • Washington at Dallas

Week 17

  • Philly at Washington
  • Giants at Bears
  • Cardinals at Cowboys

Week 18

  • Cowboys at Eagles
  • Washington at Giants

I played around with the ESPN playoff machine a little bit, and it was remarkable how many different outcomes remain possible. One scenario had Washington losing to Philly this week but still finishing the season as NFC East champions and the 4th seed in the playoffs.

My point here is not to predict some crazy path to the division championship, but to point out that while Washington certainly wants to win this week, and a win would go a long way towards putting the Football Team into the playoffs, a loss doesn’t spell the end of the WFT playoff hopes.

Basically, going 3-1 in the final 4 weeks will probably get Washington into the playoffs, and it probably doesn’t matter which game the Football Team loses, as long as the team gets 3 more wins to finish 9-8.

Going 4-0 to finish 10-7 would, of course, offer the possibility of a better seeding (and even that faint, crazy hope of a division championship).

Sunday’s home loss to Dallas was no fun, but the Football Team has four more chances to get wins and put itself into the playoffs. Once there, anything can happen.

Week 15 isn’t a “must win” yet, but a loss this week would make every remaining regular season game a “must win” game. Let’s call this week in Philadelphia a “really important win” game.

There hasn’t been a lot to cheer for in the past two decades, but this Sunday’s game is what we all say we want every year — a meaningful game against an NFC East opponent in mid-December with the playoffs on the line. This is why we root for our team. A win on Sunday would put Washington a full game in front of the Eagles with 3 weeks remaining in the season, and position the Football Team well for a final playoff push in the remaining three weeks.


Current NFC Standings

The four teams in blue are currently at the top of their respective division standings.

The three teams in red are the current wildcard teams.

The four teams in green are “in the hunt”.

ESPN playoff machine:

If you’d like to look at the playoff possibilities, you can do it yourself with ESPN’s Playoff Machine.

Click here to access ESPN’s Playoff Machine and you can explore the possibilities on your own.

Wildcard Watch Simulation

As an alternative, you can treat yourself to the weekly Wildcard Watch Simulations written by MattinBrisVegas. Click here to get a look at his Week 14 version. Look for the Week 15 article later in the week.

Poll

Will Washington make the playoffs at the end of the season?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Yes
    (62 votes)
  • 56%
    No
    (79 votes)
141 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How many NFC East teams will make the playoffs at the end of this season?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    1
    (51 votes)
  • 59%
    2
    (79 votes)
  • 1%
    3
    (2 votes)
132 votes total Vote Now