The Houston Texans’ loss to the Denver Broncos was shocking because of the way they got dominated. They were down 38-3 at home to a 5-8 Broncos team with rookie quarterback Drew Lock.
No matter the margin, any loss to the Broncos was costly. There was no bigger loss by an NFL team in Week 14 as it pertains to the playoff picture. Not even close.
The Texans are in danger of losing the AFC South, and even a wild-card spot in a weak conference isn’t assured anymore. The Titans take over the Texans’ spot atop the division in this week’s playoff projection.
Putting the Titans over the Texans (they’re both 8-5) comes down to Tennessee looking like the more bankable team at the moment. The Texans have extreme highs and lows, like beating the New England Patriots one week and getting blasted by the Broncos seven days later. The Titans have really come together, and they’re 6-1 in Ryan Tannehill’s seven starts. The Titans host the Texans this week, then the two play again at Houston in Week 17. Given the trajectory of the two teams, it’s fair to project the Titans to sweep those games and win the division.
And if that happens, the Texans could fall out of the playoffs altogether.
Their Week 16 game is a tricky one at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are 6-7 and score enough points to hang with anyone. While it seems unlikely Houston would fall from 8-4 and coming off an impressive win over the Patriots all the way to 8-8, it’s possible. Deshaun Watson is a fantastic quarterback, but it’s not like the Texans are great in any other way.
Even at 9-7, a wild-card spot wouldn’t be assured for Houston. The Pittsburgh Steelers are 8-5 and playing inspired football. Their remaining games are vs. Buffalo, at the Jets and at a Ravens team that might decide to rest starters in Week 17 with the No. 1 seed locked up.
For now we’ll keep the Texans in the No. 6 seed. But that loss to the Broncos made their playoff situation look a lot more tenuous.
Here are some other notes from this week’s playoff projection.
Saints will be rooting for Seahawks
New Orleans suffered a loss last week to the San Francisco 49ers that would seemingly disrupt their ability to get the No. 1 seed. The result wasn’t ideal, but the Saints can still get the No. 1 seed. They just will be rooting for the Seattle Seahawks to win the NFC West.
Thanks to a Teddy Bridgewater-led win at Seattle back in Week 3, the Saints have the tiebreaker over the Seahawks. If the Seahawks and Saints both win out — and that would include the Seahawks beating the 49ers in Seattle in Week 17 to take the division — then the Saints would be the No. 1 seed (that assumes there’s not a three-way tie at 13-3 between the Packers, Saints and Seahawks, because the Saints would have some tiebreaker problems there).
For the 49ers, it was a great win. But their work is not done.
Seahawks are still fine
It was strange during the “Sunday Night Football” broadcast to hear the reaction to the Seahawks’ loss to the Los Angeles Rams, as if it had a huge impact on the NFC West race. In the most likely scenario, that loss didn’t really change Seattle’s chances of winning the division too much.
The loss takes away the margin of error for Seattle, but if they win at Carolina and then beat the Cardinals, the Week 17 showdown against the 49ers will be for the division. Seattle would win the tiebreaker due to a season sweep if they win that game. The Rams loss wasn’t ideal, but Seattle has two winnable games to set up an NFC West championship showdown.
Chiefs could sneak into a bye
The Patriots likely lost their chance to get the No. 1 seed with a home loss to the Chiefs, and they might end up falling out of the No. 2 seed as well.
The 9-4 Chiefs still need one Patriots loss, but just one. The Patriots are 10-3, and Kansas City holds the tiebreaker now due to that win. If the Chiefs win out (vs. Denver, at Chicago, vs. Chargers) and New England loses once, Kansas City is the No. 2 seed and will have a bye. Getting that Patriots loss is probably the problem — New England finishes at Cincinnati, vs. Buffalo and vs. Miami — but at least the door is open.
NFC will be interesting
We know there are realistically eight teams for six spots (sorry, Chicago Bears) and either the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles will stumble into one of them as NFC East champs. There’s still a lot to be decided, however.
The NFC North has a great Green Bay-Minnesota game in Week 16, but the Packers could make that a non-factor. If they beat the Bears at home this week and win at the Detroit Lions in Week 17, they win the division no matter what happens in Week 16. The Packers, who lead the Vikings by a game in the standings, would win the tiebreaker in that scenario due to a season split and fewer divisional losses.
The Vikings have an issue, and it’s the resurgent Rams. The Rams have to play at Dallas, at San Francisco and vs. Arizona to close out the season and it’s tough to see them winning out, but if they do they’d have a chance to overtake the Vikings for the wild card. That’s not the most likely scenario, but it’s possible. Then there’s also the battle royale for the NFC West and the conference’s top two seeds.
The AFC has some moving parts too, but the NFC will be the conference to watch down the stretch.
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