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Wildcard Watch - Week 17 - 2021

I know what you’re thinking...

I’ve said since the beginning of this series that I intended to publish the Wildcard Watch as a weekly series for as long as Washington has a reasonable chance of earning a playoff spot.

Well, when you take a 56-14 drubbing on Sunday Night Football, that should generally end any and all playoff talk.

I’ve also said weekly that a total of 9 losses on the season by Washington at any point would probably bring the series to an abrupt end. Surprisingly, there’s a very realistic possibility that the 7th seed in the NFC could go to an 8-9 team. If Washington finishes with 8 wins, the Football Team’s playoff potential would probably depend on what happens with the New Orleans Saints in Weeks 17 & 18 — and the Saints have about as many problems as the Washington Football Team does.

The question is — Does Washington still have a reasonable chance of getting into the playoffs?

Well, that really comes down to what you believe about this Sunday’s game against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

If you believe that game is already lost — then talk of playoffs is just laughable.

If you believe that Washington can beat the Eagles (and then the Giants in Week 18), then the possibility of postseason football for Washington is probably much more alive than you might have expected.

Of course, there’s no real use getting to the playoffs if you can’t win once you get there. IF Washington can capture the 7th seed, then the health of key players like JD McKissic, Wes Schweitzer, Ben St-Juste, and Landon Collins could come into play.

If you feel that the team is too deeply flawed to think about a win this Sunday, or you simply want to forget about the 2021 season and get onto mock drafting, then turn back now. Don’t waste your time with this article.

But if you are one of those eternal optimists that believes a win is possible on any given Sunday, that the return of Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis may make a difference, and that all you need is a ticket to the dance to have a chance, then read on.

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 16 - 2021

Wildcard Watch Simulation: Week 16 – Must Beat Dallas Edition

Wildcard Watch - Week 15 - 2021

Wildcard Watch Simulation: Week 15 – Make it Rain in Philadelphia

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 15 — are:

  • 1 Seed (North) Green Bay 12-3
  • 2 Seed (East) Dallas 11-4
  • 3 Seed (West) LA Rams 11-4
  • 4 Seed (South) Tampa Bay 11-4
  • 5 Seed (Wildcard) Arizona 10-5
  • 6 Seed (Wildcard) San Francisco 8-7
  • 7 Seed (Wildcard) Philadelphia 8-7

The big news in Week 15 was the Rams victory over the Cardinals that moved LA into the top spot in the NFC West and dropped Arizona into the 5th seed (wilcard). The Eagles became the 4th team in as many weeks to move into the 7th seed, and they did so with a victory over the hapless Giants.

Of course, with Washington’s crushing loss to Dallas, the Football Team dropped 2 full games behind in the race for the 7th seed, but surprisingly, they are not only still mathematically alive for postseason play, if you think the Football Team is likely to win its final two games against the Eagles and Giants, then there is actually a reasonable path to the playoffs still in play.

This arrangement of playoff teams will not last. With two 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.

Because of the number of wildcard contenders who lost last week, and because Washington plays the Eagles on Sunday, with 2 NFC East games remaining, Washington can still make it to the playoffs, but they will have to win both of their remaining games.

If they do, then the most likely path to the postseason for Washingotn is to win a 3-way (or 5-way) tiebreaker with teams like the Saints, Eagles, Vikings and Falcons. Because 4 of Washington’s losses have come against AFC opponents, an 8-9 Washington team would win the Conference Record tiebreaker against all these teams at an 8-9 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 any possibility of postseason play depends on Washington winning its final two games against the Eagles and Giants.

It’s actually true; finishing the season with 2 wins offers a realistic path to the postseason, though there is not much room for undesirable results from the other teams in competition for the 6th & 7th seeds.

Washington’s path to a playoff seeding

Let me repeat that Washington’s only (reasonable) path to the postseason requires the Football Team to win its 2 remaining NFC East games, so there is no “what if” scenario that involves a 1-1 finish. In the discussion below, it is always assumed that Washington finishes 8-9, since anything less will finally end Washington’s postseason hopes.

Here are a few notes about the competition for the wildcard spot:

Saints

Week 16 result: lost to Dolphins 20-3

From Week 12 onwards, I had the Saints projected to finish the season with a losing record, and expected them to end up with 7 wins. However, their huge defensive effort against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15 made me reevaluate that assessment.

Well, in Week 16, the Saints were dominated by the Dolphins, losing 20-3 with Ian Book at quarterback. The Saints offense has now scored just 12 points in the past two games combined.

At 7-8, they need to win both of their remaining games against the Panthers and Falcons to finish ahead of an 8-9 Washington Football Team in the playoff seedings. A loss to either Carolina or Atlanta would cap the Saints at 8-9, and in a tie involving 3 or more teams, Washington holds the tiebreaker advantage over the Saints. I doubt whether the Panthers have what it takes to beat the Saints, but a motivated Falcons team fighting for a spot in the postseason might be able to outscore New Orleans in Week 18.

49ers

Week 16 result: Lost to Titans 20-17

I said last week that I had the Niners losing to the Titans and Rams to finish 9-8. Well, they lost to the Titans, but because of Washington’s loss to Dallas, a 9-8 record for the Niners would likely get them into the postseason as the 6th seed. If they somehow do the unthinkable and lose to the Texans this week, San Fran could actually fall out of the playoffs completely, but I don’t expect that to happen. Look for the Niners to get the win this Sunday and lock up the 6th seed.

Eagles

Week 16 result: Beat the Giants 34-10

To get into the playoffs ahead of the Eagles, Washington needs to win at home on Sunday, and then root for Dallas to beat Philly in Week 18. The Cowboys are playing Arizona this week; WFT fans should probably be hoping that the Cowboys win that game to keep them alive for the top seed (and the only bye) in the NFC. We don’t want Dallas resting starters in the final game of the season and giving the Eagles a victory that would get them to a final record of 9-8.

Vikings

Week 16 result: Lost to the Rams 30-23

I said last week that I had the Vikings losing to the Rams & Packers to finish 8-9. They did, indeed, lose to the Rams this week. If they lose to the NFC’s top ranked team, the Packers, this weekend, then they will finish the season no better than 8-9, and would lose the tiebreaker to Washington (6 conference wins vs. 7 conference wins). If Washington finishes 8-9, the only way the Vikings can get ahead of them is to go 2-0 to finish the season 9-8. This seems unlikely.

Falcons

Week 16 result: Beat the Lions 20-16

Following their Week 11 shutout loss to the Patriots, I had the Falcons written off as far as wildcard contention was concerned. But 3 wins in the past 5 weeks have kept them relevant. Because Washington holds both the head-to-head and conference record tie-breakers over the Falcons, the only way that Atlanta can get in ahead of an 8-9 WFT is to win both of its remaining games against the Bills and Saints. The Bills are currently 9-6, on a 2-game winning streak, and sitting atop the AFC East. The Bills need to beat the Falcons and Jets to hold onto the AFC East title; I think Buffalo will be motivated enough to take care of business against the Falcons, which would ensure that Atlanta could not exceed 8 wins this season.


Week 16 key games and rooting guide

Texans (4-11) at 49ers (8-7) - If the Niners win, then they reach 9 wins overall and are guaranteed to finish ahead of Washington in the playoff seedings. Surprisingly, though, an 8-9 WFT would hold the tie breaker over SF. Root for an unlikely Houston win on Sunday.

Vikings (7-8) at Packers (12-3) - If the Vikings lose to the Packers (who are favored by 6.5 points) then Minnesota cannot finish with better than an 8-9 record and would lose the tie-breaker to the Football Team. Root for the Packers to take care of business at Lambeau Field.

Panthers (5-10) at Saints (7-8) - Washington needs New Orleans to lose one of its final two games. A Week 18 loss to Atlanta seems more likely than a loss to Carolina, who are 3-point underdogs, but New Orleans is struggling. Taysom Hill will return to play in Week 17, which improves the Saints outlook. Root for the Panthers to pull off the upset on the road.

Falcons (7-8) at Bills (9-6) - Washington needs Atlanta to lose this game and finish 8-9 after beating the Saints in Week 18. The Bills are favored by about 14 points in this one, so we just need it to go to plan. Root for the Bills.


Washington’s Week 16 matchup

The Football Team hosts Philadelphia in a rematch after back-to-back road losses against the Eagles and Cowboys on Tuesday and Sunday last week. This is absolutely a must-win for Washington.

Two weeks ago, Washington let Philadelphia rush for 238 yards on 41 attempts. If that happens again this week, Washington has no hope of winning.

The Football Team gets back to “normal” with a full week between games and something approaching a full roster following two consecutive games in which the COVID reserve list cut deep into Washington’s already injury-depleted game day roster.

WFT needs its defense, which should benefit from the return of Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis, to stop the run and force the Eagles offense to rely on the passing game.

For its part, Washington’s offense is underpowered without JD McKissic and Logan Thomas, who are both on IR. Dyami Brown and John Bates showed some signs of life for Washington in Sunday night’s beatdown at the hands of the Cowboys, and we could see players like Tyler Larsen and Brandon Scherff back this week. If Washington’s defense can play well and keep the game under control, then it’s just possible that the Football Team can revive the script that worked for them from Weeks 10 through 13. If so, perhaps the undermanned Washington team can stay alive long enough to reach the playoffs and get some help in the form of a player or two returning from IR.

The Eagles are 3.5 point favorites in this game, but a victory for the Football Team at home would keep Washington’s slender playoff hopes alive.

Here are the NFC East games for the final 2 weeks:

Week 17

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

Week 18

  • Cowboys at Eagles
  • Washington at Giants

There hasn’t been a lot to cheer for in the past two decades, and losing badly twice in 5 days to division rivals Philly and Dallas in prime time was truly miserable and embarrassing, but this Sunday’s game is what we all say we want every year — a meaningful game against the Eagles in late December with the playoffs on the line. This is a chance to restore some lost pride. This is why we root for our team. A win on Sunday afternoon would keep Washington in the playoff hunt, with some remaining chance of getting in as the 7th seed, and even a mathematical shot at the 6th seed.

It’s been a rough week & a half to be a Washington Football Fan. No fan can be blamed for giving in to despair or turning attention to the eternal question: who will be Washington’s quarterback next year?

But, if you can find it in your soul to continue to have hope, and if you believe that the Football Team can put together a complete game and beat the Eagles on Sunday at FedEx Field, then let’s root, root, root for the home team, and hope that there’s still reason to publish a Wildcard Watch article in Week 18.


ESPN playoff machine:

I’ve provided a fairly realistic path to the postseason above. 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 16 version.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Yes
    (43 votes)
  • 84%
    No
    (242 votes)
285 votes total Vote Now
  • Week 13 - Yes = 69%
  • Week 14 - Yes = 84%
  • Week 15 - Yes = 44%
  • Week 16 - Yes = 20%

Poll

What will be the outcome of Sunday’s game?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Washington wins
    (80 votes)
  • 59%
    Philly wins
    (172 votes)
  • 1%
    tie game
    (3 votes)
  • 12%
    Giant meteor strikes the Earth before lunchtime Sunday
    (35 votes)
290 votes total Vote Now

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