How high will your team soar?
Last week, the AFC North collectively had the best possible realistic outcome they could have expected. It wasn’t a surprise that the Broncos increased their playoff stronghold with a victory against the winless Raiders, but the AFC North celebrated a Dolphins deflating loss in Detroit on a late 4th quarter touchdown. In addition, the Bills also stumbled with a big loss at home versus the Chiefs allowing all AFC North teams to jump ahead of both the Dolphins and Bills (although it is debatable whether the Bills result favored the North. The Chiefs seem to be the better team and have a better conference record, but the remaining schedule slightly favors the Bills.) Heading into week 11, every AFC North team has a shot at the division lead by late Monday night, and 12 of the 16 AFC teams are realistically in the playoff hunt.
It’s time to start rooting for others to fail.
In week 11’s Rooting Guide, we take our first peek at tiebreakers, as they begin to dictate our rooting interests. With that in mind, the following assumptions will be made this week (they will become more relevant and detailed as the NFL schedule approaches week 17):
1. Fans of the AFC North will pull for their AFC North brethren as long as the result does not put their positioning in jeopardy (divisional pride). In reality it probably won’t happen anytime soon as a half a game separates first and last place, and some tend to enjoy watching fellow divisoners fail.
2. Fans will be rooting for their favorite team at this point (and not for better draft positioning), meaning the definition of “Consensus” below includes everyone but fans of those teams.
3. Fans expect a division title and not a wildcard spot.
4. For those reading, some will let sheer hatred overrule the logical choice.
Games with playoff implications (Records are listed for AFC teams only. The NFC records are irrelevant):
Bills (5-4) @ Dolphins (5-4)
Texans (4-5) @ Browns (6-3)
Seahawks @ Chiefs (6-3)
Bengals (5-3-1) @ Saints
Broncos (7-2) @ Rams
Raiders (0-9) @ Chargers (5-4)
Patriots (7-2) @ Indianapolis (6-3)
Steelers (6-4) @ Titans (2-7)
Texans – Some folks may secretly pull for the Browns to have a good year (and just about knock the Texans out of playoffs contention at the same time). However, in order for others to win the division, it would help if Cleveland failed at home this week. A loss could also reintroduce doubt into a confident clubhouse. On the tiebreaker side, a 4th conference loss would sting especially in their easiest remaining home game.
Seahawks – It was a challenge for the collective neurons to fire properly and type “Seahawks” into the we-hope-they-win category, especially when Chiefs fans are far superior to Seattle’s, and to my knowledge, the Chiefs don’t employee any sink-a-college-program-and-run offenders. That said, a Chiefs’ loss would certainly benefit the entire division, especially with their current 5-2 conference record.
Saints – A Saints victory seems to be accepted throughout the community, but we will take it one step further and root for a lopsided Saints win and a bad Bengals offensive showing… just to stave off any “moral” victories the Bengals may try to claim. This is a must loss as it is one of the toughest remaining game on their schedule.
Rams – This game is in the one-in-1000 category, but last week’s 1-100 game went the Jets’ way. Peyton Manning has struggled on the road at times this year, although the Raiders (Manning’s last opponent) were the perfect confidence booster. The Rams are an offensively challenged team, they don’t pressure the QB, they are 2nd to last in both interceptions and passes defended, and they play comfortably indoors. Its the perfect scenario for Manning. Go Rams!
Raiders – Speaking of Raiders, they get to follow up last weeks miserable performance with a trip to San Diego, who alwasy seem to be “the best ‘fill in underachieving record’ team in the NFL”. This year they are a respectable 5-4 and in the playoff mix. We hope the Raiders don’t “play like a Raider” and they actually compete in this one.
Titans – All AFC North teams have been in the “consensus” category when not playing each other, as they have either played NFC teams or AFC bottom-feeders. This one is no different. The Steelers should win this one, but that’s when Pittsburgh seems to be at their worst. The Titans have an overly confident rookie QB who if not pressured can make some throws, but the key word is “rookie”. You can’t find an article with “LeBeau” in the content without mention of his record against 1st year QBs.
And now for the action… Typically there are up to a half dozen games that fall into this category of partisan support, but this has not been the case over the past two weeks.
Bills or Dolphins? From strictly a tiebreaker perspective, root for the Bills. The Dolphins have a 4-2 conference record, while the Bills stand at 2-4. Beyond that, the last four games on the Bill’s schedule are brutal as they travel to Denver, host Green Bay, then head across the country week 16 before finishing the season at New England. The rooting choice may not as obvious for Ravens fans as their team controls it’s destiny slightly better with a Bills loss. The Ravens travel to Miami’s opposition-friendly Sun Life Stadium week 14.
Patriots @ Indy? Are you rooting for the eventual AFC North division winner to grab the #1 seed? As funny as that sounds to many in the media, the North is only one game back in both record and tiebreakers (which are as clear as mud with 6 to 7 game remaining). Both Indy and the Pats have relatively easy schedules down the stretch, and although Indy’s might be a bit easier with their toughest games at Cleveland and Dallas (by a wide margin), the Patriots are the current #1 seed. If you think your team has a shot at the #1 seed, root for Indy. If not, take the Patriots. We expect most to root for Indy.
There you have it. We will do the work for you. Just sit back and watch.