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.
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 15 — are:
- 1 Seed (North) Green Bay 11-3
- 2 Seed (East) Dallas 10-4
- 3 Seed (South) Tampa Bay 10-4
- 4 Seed (West) Arizona 10-4
- 5 Seed (Wildcard) LA Rams 10-4
- 6 Seed (Wildcard) San Francisco 8-6
- 7 Seed (Wildcard) Minnesota 7-7
The big news in Week 15 was the Saints victory over the Buccaneers and Arizona’s loss to Detroit. The New Orleans victory lifted the Saints (who hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Washington) to 7-7. The losses by the Cards and Bucs allowed Dallas to move into the #2 seed.
Of course, with Washington’s loss to Philly, the Football Team dropped a full game behind in the race for the 7th seed, and the Vikings, by virtue of holding the tie-breaker over the Eagles and Saints, slipped back into the final wildcard spot.
The Rams victory over the Seahawks on Tuesday night solidified their position as a playoff team. They are currently the 5th seed, but still have an opportunity to win the NFC West title and get in as division champion.
This arrangement of playoff teams will not last. With three 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 3 NFC East games remaining, Washington can still make it to the playoffs, but they will have to win all their remaining games. The most likely outcome is to win 3-way tiebreakers with teams like the Saints, 49ers, Eagles and Vikings. Because 4 of Washington’s losses have come against AFC opponents, a 9-8 Washington team would win the Conference Record tiebreaker against all these teams at 9-8 overall record.
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”.
Washington’s path to the playoffs
I have modeled out one path to the playoffs that I consider the most realistic.
Please note that while a loss this week will not mathematically eliminate WFT from the postseason, there is no (reasonable) path to the postseason for Washington if they lose another game.
However, finishing the season with a 3-game win streak offers a few different paths. Just about all of these paths lead to the 7th seed, but if New Orleans loses one of their remaining games, Washington could still end up in the 6th seed, since WFT would win the tiebreaker with New Orleans. (Note: I have dropped the Falcons out of this series as the Football Team holds the head-to-head tiebreaker and Conference Wins tiebreaker making them irrelevant to the WFT playoff hopes.)
Let me repeat that Washington’s only (reasonable) path to the postseason requires the Football Team to win its 3 remaining NFC East games, so there is no “what if” scenario that involves a 2-1 finish. In the discussion below, it is always assumed that Washington finishes 9-8, since anything less will realistically end Washington’s postseason hopes.
Here are a few notes about the competition for the wildcard spot:
I have the Saints winning out to finish 10-7 and going to the postseason as the 6th seed. If the Saints lose one game (such as this week’s game against Miami) then they would fall to the 7th seed (or out of the playoff picture if the NIners finish with 10 wins). In the case where New Orleans, San Fran and Washington all finish 9-8, the Football Team would earn the 6th seed by virtue of its superior conference record.
I have the Niners losing to the Titans and Rams to finish 9-8 and out of the playoffs because they lose the tiebreaker to Washington. If the Niners finish with 10 or 11 wins, they would knock Washington out of the wildcard seeding unless the Saints lose at least one game.
If Washington wins out, the Eagles cannot finish with more than 9 wins, and they would lose the tiebreaker with the Football Team (7 conference wins vs. 8 conference wins). I have shown the best-case scenario for Philly in the chart above — beating the Giants and Cowboys. If the Eagles also lose to Dallas, then Philly would end up with either 7 or 8 wins on the season and well out of playoff contention.
I have the Vikings losing to the Rams & Packers to finish 8-9. If they go 2-1 to finish the season at 9-8, they would lose the tiebreaker to Washington (7 conference wins vs. 8 conference wins). If Washington finishes 9-8, the only way the Vikings can get ahead of them is to go 3-0 to finish the season 10-7. This seems unlikely.
Week 15 results for Wildcard contenders
Let’s look at what happened to the teams in wildcard contention this week:
The Rams beat the Seahawks on Tuesday night. This opens the door to the opportunity for LA to win the NFC West division title, but it appears a near certainty that the Rams and Cardinals will both be in the playoffs. The only real question is which one will play at home and which will be on the road for the first round game.
The 49ers crushed the Atlanta Falcons 31-13.
While San Fran is ahead of the pack in the NFC wildcard race with an 8-6 record, They have tough matchups with the Titans (9-5) and the Rams (10-4), who are both in heated battles for their division titles. Of the teams in contention for the 6th & 7th seed in the NFC, the Niners look to have the toughest remaining schedule.
As we know, the Eagles beat the Football Team in Philly on Tuesday night.
Washington will face the Eagles again in Week 17. If Washington wins its 3 remaining games, then the Eagles would be all but eliminated from playoff contention and could not bump Washington from a playoff seeding (WFT would hold the tiebreaker of superior conference record).
Washington should be much better prepared for the Eagles when they next meet, as the COVID drama that the team has faced for the past two weeks should have subsided.
The Vikings limped to a 17-9 win against a struggling Bears team.
The Vikings finish the season with the Rams, Packers and Bears. I’m expecting the Vikings to lose the next two games and finish 8-9 on the season. The only way the Vikings can knock a 9-8 Washington team out of the playoffs would be for Minnesota to go undefeated in its 3 remaining games, which seems unlikely.
The Saints surprised me by shutting out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week.
Honestly, in all of my playoff calculations to date, I had penciled the Week 15 game against the Bucs as a loss for the Saints. New Orleans faces probably the easiest schedule of the remaining wildcard contenders, playing the Dolphins, Panthers and Falcons. Going 3-0 probably puts the Saints into the #6 seed when all is said and done, but a 2-1 finish would probably drop them to the 7th seed, and possibly out of the postseason.
Week 16 key games and rooting guide
49ers (8-6) at Titans (9-5) - This is simple. Washington needs the Titans to win this game. Fortunately, Tennessee will be motivated by the Indianapolis Colts, who are just a game behind them in the AFC South.
Giants (4-10) at Eagles (7-7) - I’ll be rooting for the Giants here, but there is almost no chance they get the victory. The Eagles will be taking nothing for granted, having lost to the Giants 13-7 in Week 12. In fact, the outcome of this game doesn’t matter to the Football Team’s playoff hopes. If Washington finishes the season 9-8, the Eagles can’t finish ahead of WFT in the playoff seedings.
Rams (10-4) at Vikings (7-7) - Washington needs the Vikings to lose one (preferably 2) of their remaining games. This week would be a great spot for it. Root for the Rams.
This may help:
Dalvin Cook is now in the COVID protocol. Alexander Mattison is back and is the presumed starter on Sunday.— Paul Charchian (@PaulCharchian) December 23, 2021
Dolphins (7-7) at Saints (7-7) - Root for the Dolphins on the road in this Monday Night Football game. Miami has won 6 straight games, but the Ravens were the only truly impressive team in that stretch. While Washington can make the playoffs even if the Saints reach 10 wins, they can’t make it if both New Orleans and the SF 49ers reach 10 wins. A Saints loss on MNF would make the outcome of the Niners season less important to WFT postseason chances. Root for the Dolphins.
This may help:
Washington’s Week 16 matchup
The Football Team travels to Dallas to play on Sunday Night Football. This is a must-win for Washington.
Rivera said they'd be "tremendously disappointed" if they didn't make the playoffs.— John Keim (@john_keim) December 22, 2021
I get the feeling that a lot of fans see this as an unwinnable game, but I feel very differently. Last week, at FedEx Field, Washington had a disastrous play on 4th & 2 in the first quarter that resulted in a Cowboys touchdown. It was a huge momentum swing, and for the first half as a whole, it felt like the Cowboys were going to blow out the burgundy & gold.
But that isn’t what happened. Washington outscored Dallas 20-3 in the second half. The Cowboys scored only one offensive touchdown all day. Despite 4 turnovers by the Washington offense, the Cowboys managed only a 7-point win.
Washington should be relatively healthy for Sunday night’s game, with most of the players who missed the Eagles game due to positive COVID tests likely to be active for the game in Dallas.
Most fans agreed earlier that WFT had to go 4-2 in its final six games to make the playoffs, and that is still possible. Having lost the last two games to Dallas and Philly, the Football Team is basically in the playoffs starting this week. Win the next three games and they probably continue into the postseason. Lose any of the three remaining games, and it will be time to turn your attention to the 2022 draft.
Look for Washington to show up Sunday night fired up and ready to play. I’m looking for the defense to play much the same game they did at home against the Cowboys, and for the offense to have a much better day.
Washington painted itself into a corner by losing in Weeks 14 & 15, but they are still alive, and have a big game on Sunday Night Football.
Here are the NFC East games for the final 3 weeks:
- Giants at Eagles
- Washington at Dallas
- Philly at Washington
- Giants at Bears
- Cardinals at Cowboys
- Cowboys at Eagles
- Washington at Giants
I said last week that going 3-1 in the final 4 weeks would probably get Washington into the playoffs, and that it probably didn’t matter which game the Football Team lost, as long as the team got 3 more wins to finish 9-8.
Having lost in Week 15, the Football Team now has to win out to get those 3 wins.
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 the Cowboys in late December with the playoffs on the line. This is why we root for our team. A win on Sunday night would keep Washington in the playoff hunt, with realistic chances of getting in as the 6th or 7th seed.
ESPN playoff machine:
I’ve provided one path to the postseason above, and tried to give notes about some of the other possibilities. If you’d like to look at the playoff possibilities yourself, you can do it 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 15 version.
Will Washington make the playoffs at the end of the season?
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- Week 13 - Yes = 69%
- Week 14 - Yes = 84%
- Week 15 - Yes = 44%
Which of these teams is most likely to make the playoffs?
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Which of these teams is LEAST likely to make the playoffs?
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