NFL Playoff Picture Develops As The Season Comes To A Close

Sam Kassan, Contributing Writer

The 2020-2021 NFL season has been one to remember.  With COVID-19 still rampant throughout the country, it is a miracle the season even lasted to this point.  It has been hectic, though, to say the least.  Many games have been rescheduled and moved around as COVID outbreaks struck almost every team at one point or another.  Furthermore, the lack of preparation due to the cancellation of preseason games and limited training contributed to a mind-boggling amount of injuries.  Some of these include New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, and most of the 49ers starting lineup.  

“The 49ers are trying to remain healthy as they fight for a chance at the Wild Card spot in the newly expanded playoffs. Unfortunately, without Nick Bosa, Jimmy Garropolo, and George Kittle, a few of their stars, it is very difficult for them to seal any wins,” said sophomore Bryson Shaub.  

However, through all of these obstacles, fans have still been blessed with a full season of exciting football, with some of the most electric games, even when there were no fans in the stands.  As the final weeks of the regular season are upon us, the playoff picture is slowly forming, with teams beginning to clinch spots and others fighting tooth and nail for their spot in the postseason.  

The Chiefs have secured first place in their division with hopes of back-to-back rings, as Patrick Mahomes leads a deadly offense.  

“As a Broncos fan, I absolutely despise the Chiefs, but I would be surprised if they don’t win the Super Bowl.  Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are simply too much for even the best defenses to handle, especially with Mahomes under center,” said sophomore Jack McNaughton.  

Furthermore, the 11-2 Steelers have clinched a playoff spot and are the likely second seed.  Pittsburgh surprised many this year, winning eleven straight to start the season.  However, the recent games have been nightmarish for them, falling against The Washington Football Team and the Buffalo Bills.  If the trend continues as they face the Browns and Colts, the Steelers could find themselves in a Wild Card spot.  

The Bills are running away with the AFC East for the first time this century, and they are a force to be reckoned with.  The addition of wideout Stefon Diggs added the explosiveness needed to elevate the team to a legitimate Super Bowl contender.  The Titans and Colts of the AFC South have been exchanging blows all season, but the Titans seemed to have the last laugh.  Derrick Henry gave the Colts defense a beatdown, rushing for 178 yards and 3 touchdowns in a Titans win.  However, the Colts playoff hopes are very much alive, and after trouncing the Las Vegas Raiders, they seem likely to take the sixth seed.  The AFC North has been one of the most exciting divisions to watch this year, with three of four teams in serious contention for a deep playoff run.  

The Ravens triumphed over Baker Mayfield’s Browns in what was likely the game of the year in Week 14, but they’ll need to finish out the season strong to play late into January.  Coming in at the seventh seed is a team that was a surprise after a complete rebuild: the Dolphins.  A formidable defense led by Xavien Howard and a surprising offense led by rookie Tua Tagovailoa has given them a shot at the postseason for the first time in years.  Back in the AFC West, the Raiders showed promise after defeating the Chiefs in Kansas City’s first and only loss thus far.  After a blowout loss to the struggling Falcons, though, they seem to have squandered their chance.

In the NFC, the Packers have again secured their spot atop the NFC North, and Aaron Rodgers is poised to complete an MVP-caliber season.  Also, although they suffered an upset loss to Jalen Hurts’ Eagles, the Saints sit comfortably in the second seed.  At 9-4, the Rams are perched precariously on the third seed, but the Seahawks trail closely behind with the same record, even after an upset loss to the Giants.  

The third seed is a toss up between the two, depending on how each team finishes their season.  Russell Wilson started the season as MVP frontrunner, but suffered from a turnover bug in the past weeks, dropping him from the race entirely.  Both teams have no shortage of talent, with stacked receiving corps in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp for the Rams and D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the Seahawks.  However, the Rams potential is limited by quarterback Jared Goff, as he has failed to live up to expectations that come with the enormous contract he signed.  Fortunately for the Rams, they have an elite defense to back up the offense, while the Seahawks defense is mediocre at best.  

The NFC West is similar to the AFC North, full of competitive teams who light up the field.  The NFC East, on the other hand, is the opposite.  All four teams are likely to finish the season with a losing record, yet the race for the division title is incredibly close.  The Washington Football Team are the favorites to edge out the others, even after getting swept by the Giants.  This is largely due to Alex Smith’s miraculous comeback from life-threatening injuries.  His ability to lead a team was clear, with statement victories over the Steelers and the 49ers. 

The Giants 4-game winning streak was snapped by the Cardinals, who seemed to regain confidence after a rough stretch and now rest at the seventh seed.  The Giants looked lost, with the offensive line’s progress throughout the season disappearing.  The defense, which started strong, collapsed in the second half, and the only highlight for New York was running back Wayne Gallman, filling in for Saquon Barkley.  They are not out of the race just yet, but they need a serious turnaround in order to retake the top of the division.  

“Although The Washington Football Team has the lead, it is anyone’s race, as the Giants hold the tiebreaker.  I believe The Football Team will take the division because they have looked like a more complete team all season, and have an easier schedule to end the season.  Their stellar defense has allowed them to win big games, and it will be a very entertaining race and something to watch as we approach the end of the season,” said sophomore Alex Almahmoud.  

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the most hyped teams going into this year.  Their offense is stacked, from, debatably, the greatest quarterback of all time Tom Brady, to star wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and dominant tight end Rob Gronkowski.  The potent offense, along with an elite defense, made this team a favorite to go all the way.  However, at 43 years old, Brady is not the player he once was, and public clashes with head coach Bruce Arians have caused a shaky regular season.  The Bucs are the sixth seed in the playoffs, but if they pull themselves together, they can rival the league’s top teams.

Overall, as the season comes to a close, the playoff picture has become more and more evident.  With some teams already clinched and others neck to neck in a close race, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out.  This has been a special season for the NFL, and under the circumstances, we are lucky it was even possible.