Rooting challenge of the week: Dolphins @ Broncos (teams who last met Oct 2011, and the outcome launched the severely under-publicized phrase “Tebow Time”)
According to last week’s rooting guide, the AFC North had more downs than ups as two of three consensus picks failed to help the North’s playoff positioning. The Seahawks continued its uninspiring play in a loss to the Chiefs, bolstering Kansas City’s playoff chances; and the Raiders’ defense came out firing against the struggling Chargers, but their offense didn’t get the same message as they gave San Diego playoff life. On the positive side, Peyton Manning and the Broncos somehow managed to lose yet another road game in fine fashion as the Rams picked off the Broncos’ quarterback twice in the 4th quarter to seal the win. In other games outside of the North, the Dolphins won their important divisional battle against the Bills, and the Patriots looked like the team to beat in the AFC as they destroyed Indy in the trenches. Most of the North would have liked those two games to go the other way.
Heading into week 12, less than one game separates first and last place in the AFC North, and 12 of the 16 AFC teams are still realistically in the playoff hunt, thanks to a Texans win in Cleveland keeping hope alive in Houston.
While its always nice to see your favorite team win and improve its playoff position, its almost as fun to
root for others to fail.
In week 12’s Rooting Guide, tiebreakers become more of a focus, as every team will have played the same number of games by the week’s end (although unbalanced conference and divisional records will add a challenge when analyzing tiebreaker scenarios). With that in mind, the following assumptions will be made this week:
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 less than a game separates first and last place, and some tend to enjoy watching fellow divisoners fail.
2. AFC North fans will want North teams to grab the two wildcard spots.
3. 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.
4. AFC North fans expect a division title and not a wildcard spot.
5. 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):
Chiefs (7-3) @ Raiders (0-10)
Browns (6-4)@ Atlanta
Lions @ Patriots (8-2)
Jaguars (1-9) @ Indianapolis(6-4)
Bengals (6-3-1) @ Texans (5-5)
Jets (2-8) @ Bills (5-5)
Rams @ Chargers (6-4)
Dolphins (6-4) @ Broncos (7-3)
Ravens (6-4) @ Saints
Raiders – Maybe a handful of North fans would want to witness a 0-16 humiliating season for the Raiders, and perhaps a few others would like to see the Broncos bounced out of the division lead, but realistically every loss counts. A Raiders win would help keep both wildcard spots open for every team in the North. In addition, a 7-4 AFC West leader could slide a North team into the #2 seed and first round bye.
Falcons – As painful as last week’s Texans loss was to Browns fans, a loss this week to Atlanta could spell DOOM for their playoff chances, and will keep them in the cellar for another week. This contest is one of, if not the easiest game remaining on the Browns’ schedule (on paper anyway…).
Lions – New England needs a shot of humility after handily beating another playoff contender. Detroit is one of four solid teams in a row remaining on the Pats schedule. A Patriots home loss to an historically choking quarterback would be a fantastic start, and would potentially pull the AFC North division leader within a game of the #1 seed.
Jaguars – Do we dare say a Jags win is one in 10,000?? The last two lopsided matchups went to the good guys (1-100 Jets, 1-1000 Rams), so we are saying they have a chance. An Indy loss would knock the AFC South winner into solid possession of the 4-seed, giving the AFC North’s eventual winner a better record after 12 weeks.
Texans – Although both teams are in the playoff hunt, the assumption is of course that AFC North teams expect a division title. A Texans’ loss would cripple their playoff chances and help the North with wild card competition, but a Bengals loss would again inject doubt into the team’s psyche, and confusion into the fans of the NFL’s most schizophrenic team.
Jets – Who isn’t looking forward to this one? The Bills can’t make it to practice, and the Bills’ stadium will be covered in eight feet of snow. In a bubble, the Bills would be the clear rooting choice to beat the odds as they get their football reps in by playing hours of Madden, but in reality, a loss would basically take the Bills out of the playoff mix. Go Jets.
Rams – Can St. Louis do it again and take out the AFC West? Odds say “no”, especially on the road, but their defense is beginning to show signs of their preseason hype. The Chargers are floundering, barely avoiding a 4th straight loss while playing the Raiders at home. A home loss to the Rams might cause a Philip Rivers’ cranial explosion, and who doesn’t want to see that on live TV.
Saints – A Saints win would assure the Ravens of another week cohabitating in the cellar or hanging out solo. However, a Saints loss would elevate the Ravens into 1st place with a Bengals loss and Browns win (Ravens win 3-way head-to-head tiebreaker), or 2nd place behind the Steelers with a Bengals and Browns loss (Steelers win head-to-head tiebreaker), or 3rd place if the Bengals win and Browns lose. As you can see, the AFC North playoff picture is really starting to clear up.
And now for the action… Typically there are up to a half dozen games that fall into this category of partisan support, but even though there are 12 teams in the playoff hunt, they haven’t been playing head-to-head much over the past three weeks. Next week there are three such games, and five in week 14.
Broncos or Dolphins? This is somewhat dependent on the Chiefs/Raiders game, but assuming the Chiefs win, A Dolphins win would keep both the Broncos and the Dolphins in a big pile of 7-4 and 6-5 teams for 2 wild card spots. A Dolphins loss combined with their difficult schedule would push them closer to elimination. If the Chiefs somehow lose to the Raiders, a Broncos loss would give the North division leader a clearer path to the #2 seed. It comes down to a numbers game. Our assumption is that North teams are confident that their teams will win more than the Dolphins down the stretch due to favorable schedules, therefore root for the Dolphins, which would pull the Broncos down within reach.
There you have it. We will do the work for you. Just sit back and watch.