NFL Playoff Projection: After upsetting the Cowboys, the Jaguars could win AFC South
After Week 11, the Tennessee Titans were 7-3. They had a four-game lead on the 3-7 Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars weren't even in second place of the AFC South. The Indianapolis Colts held that spot.
Four weeks later, the Jaguars are in good position to steal the division title.
The Jaguars have gained three games on the Titans over the past four weeks, including a 36-22 beatdown of the Titans in Nashville two weeks ago. The Jaguars are a game behind the Titans with a Week 18 rematch in Jacksonville looming. If they can at least match the Titans' record over the next two weeks, that finale will be for the AFC South championship.
Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill's ankle injury is another factor in the AFC South race. It's unclear if he's going to play Saturday against the Houston Texans. If the Titans get upset by the Texans, that's huge for the Jaguars in the race.
Before Week 18, the Jaguars play at the New York Jets on Thursday night and at the Texans. The Titans host the Texans and Dallas Cowboys. The Titans might need to upset the Cowboys to avoid playing for the division title in Jacksonville to finish the regular season. Though it won't matter if Jacksonville wins its next two games.
Another problem for the Titans is the Jaguars have lately been the far better team. The Jaguars got back into the AFC South race by knocking off the Cowboys in overtime last week. Trevor Lawrence has been on fire, leading this Jaguars surge. When the Titans lost in the final seconds to the Los Angeles Chargers later in the day, which was Tennessee's fourth loss in a row, Jacksonville knew the path in front of it. It's easier said than done, but if the Jaguars win out they'll be the AFC South champions. In that scenario they'd take the head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee (on the other side the Titans can't be eliminated before Week 18; they'd still have the divisional record tiebreaker if they beat the Jaguars in Week 18).
The Jaguars are our AFC South champs in this week's projection. The Jaguars have a tough game against the Jets on Thursday night, but they should beat the Texans. The Titans have been struggling and it's hard to see them beating the Cowboys next week, and maybe the Texans could upset them if Tannehill doesn't play. If Week 18 is for the division title, that game is in Jacksonville and the Jaguars are playing well.
The Titans looked like a lock to win the division a month ago, but not anymore.
Here are the Week 16 games that will have the biggest impact on the playoff picture:
Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers
The Lions can't afford losses. They'll need to finish ahead of the Seahawks (Seattle has the head-to-head tiebreaker) and get ahead of the Commanders too. The Panthers still aren't dead in the NFC South race, though Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't help. With the Buccaneers playing a winnable game at the Cardinals on Christmas, the Panthers can't afford a loss either.
Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs
This matchup is good news for the Lions. The Seahawks are tied with Detroit at 7-7 and have a tough game Saturday at Kansas City. The Seahawks have been struggling and another loss on Saturday drops them under .500. The Chiefs need to keep winning for their hopes of passing the Bills for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so it's not like Seattle will catch them napping.
New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
The Giants were big gainers in the wild-card race after Week 15. They beat the Commanders and are in good shape to make the playoffs. The Vikings are in a weird position with three games to go. They are still in the hunt (but would need help from Philadelphia's opponents) for the NFC's No. 1 seed. More likely, they are looking to be the No. 2 or 3 seed in the NFC, and there probably won't be a big difference in those two spots.
Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots
The Bengals took over first place in the AFC North, though it still seems likely the division will be settled when they play the Ravens in Week 18. This game is probably more important for the Patriots, who gave one away on Sunday against the Raiders with a startling blooper, and now need to string wins together to get a wild-card spot.
Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers
It's not just the bad home loss on Sunday night that's a problem for the Commanders. It's that they get the 49ers next. The 49ers have a small chance at the No. 1 seed, though realistically they'll be the No. 2 or 3 seed, with the Vikings taking the other spot. It will be hard to gauge how locked in the 49ers and Vikings will be the final three weeks, though the 49ers are playing as well as anyone in the NFL.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
This game has to be on the list, but surprisingly, it probably won't affect the field that much. Unless you believe that Jalen Hurts' injury causes the Eagles to lose out (matched with the Cowboys winning out), we're still looking at Philly winning the East and the Cowboys as a wild card. The Eagles have a three-game lead with three to go. Still, an Eagles loss here would keep the Cowboys alive for a division title.
Green Bay Packers at Miami Dolphins
The Packers know this is the biggest game in their playoff push. Even if the Packers win out they're not guaranteed a playoff spot, but if they beat the Dolphins they'd have two home games (vs. Minnesota, vs. Detroit) to end the season. They'd still need help even if they win out, but they'd have some hope with a win over the Dolphins on Christmas.