Rooting challenge of the week: Broncos @ Bengals as Cincinnati tries to cash in on their money week 15 effort
It was a fantastic week 15 for the AFC North as the Bengals flashed Manziel’s patent pending call-sign early and often during their intrastate battle, while the Steelers and Ravens held on for wins of their own. The North’s playoff chances drastically improved, and the division currently hold both wildcard spots, as all but two teams fighting for wildcard positioning lost (exceptions being the Chiefs over the Raiders, and the Bills over the Packers). The division’s overall seed was not improved however, as the other three division leaders won, keeping the North in the four spot.
Heading into week 16, three AFC North teams are currently in the playoffs when using everyone’s favorite adage “if the season ended today”, and only the Browns do not control their playoff destiny (and would not just need help from current seeds 6 through 11, but also prayers, and perhaps some Flying J rebate checks to those who have that certain kind of influence). As a matter of fact, the Bengals, Steelers, and Ravens can all clinch a playoff spot by the end of the week if all three win and the Chargers lose or tie. That said, not one AFC North team has clinched a playoff berth, while the leaders of the other three AFC divisions have. Regarding the overall playoff picture, only the top 8 AFC teams have a playoff path that doesn’t include sweeping their remaining two while hoping the current playoff teams lose two. This is a major change from last week where 12 teams had a legitimate shot without the sweep scenario.
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 16’s Rooting Guide, simply winning is the main focus as tiebreakers aren’t as critical to the AFC North’s success, although their importance may be much greater in week 17. As far as the eventual division winner is concerned, only the Bengals have a shot at a seed higher than three, but realistically the best any North team can hope for is to move ahead of Indy. The Broncos and Patriots will most likely battle it out for seeds 1 and 2. With that in mind, the following assumptions will be made this week:
1. It is more important to lock in a playoff spot than to worry about playoff seedings. Once a team is in, anything can happen.
2. With three teams still in line for a division lead this week (and easiest path to a long playoff run), fans would rather see their team leapfrog a fellow Northerner than worry that they might miss out on the playoffs. That said, some divisional pride could finally peak through the clouds this week.
3. “Consensus” picks below include everyone but fans of those teams, who will obviously be rooting for their favorite team.
4. Some fans will let sheer hatred overrule the logical choice.
5. The table below assumes that a team will win out, and reflects the team’s highest possible seed for the week.
Games with playoff implications (Records are listed for non-eliminated AFC teams only. The NFC records are irrelevant):
Chargers (8-6) @ 49ers
Ravens (9-5, #6 seed) @ Texans (7-7)
Browns (7-7) @ Panthers
Chiefs (8-6) @ Steelers (9-5, #5 seed)
Vikings @ Dolphins (7-7)
Patriots (11-3, #1 seed) @ Jets
Bills (8-6) @ Raiders
Indianapolis (10-4, #3 seed) @ Cowboys
Broncos (10-3, #2 seed) @ Bengals (9-4-1)
49ers– As much fun as it is to watch Jim Harbaugh explode when his team is struggling, let’s hope it’s not this week. Ravens fans would like to keep their distance from the Chargers in case of a hiccup this week in Houston, and Browns fans need to root for just about every team ahead of them to lose. Steelers and Bengals fans would also like some breathing room should one of them lose their last two. The Chargers would win a tiebreaker with Pittsburgh if they both end up with a 7-5 conference record
Texans – The Texans don’t pose a threat to the Bengals, but the Ravens are on Cincy’s divisional tail and could overtake them with two wins down the stretch. For Steelers fans, the Texans do own the tiebreaker in a win-two-lose-two scenario with the Pittsburgh, but first things first. The Ravens are in the way of a higher wildcard seed or division title. As for Browns fans, the only way for their team to bypass the Texans AND potentially make the playoffs is for Houston to beat the Ravens this week and lose next week at home to Jacksonville.
Vikings – This is obvious. A Dolphins are playing out of conference, and a loss would eliminate them from contention.
Jets – Unless for some reason fans are rooting for a Pats #1 seed over Peyton Manning and the Broncos, the choice is obviously to see Rex Ryan go out on a high note in this rivalry (or more likely to see Belichick go out on a low note), in what is most likely his last game against the Pats as the Jets’ head coach.
Raiders – The Bills are a team that just won’t go away. They have beaten the odds and are still in contention as they finish up their extremely tough schedule over the last third of the season. A win at Oakland could potentially set up a monster week 17 game in New England if any or all of the top three North teams lose this week. A Raiders win also keeps the Browns slim hopes alive.
Cowboys – An Indy loss brings the North winner one step closer to a #3 seed. The Steelers just need to tie Indy, while the Ravens will require Indy to slip up at Dallas and at Tennessee for any shot at a higher divisional seed. The Bengals just need to equal Indy’s win total to move to the three spot.
and now the rooting challenge…
Browns or Panthers? Divisional pride has finally found its way to the Guide in week 16. As unlikely as a Browns playoff run is, it would be incredible and would be the talk of the NFL. It would also mean a Ravens collapse down’ the stretch, which fans of teams within a similar color palette would celebrate. Its simple, actually. The Browns need the Ravens to lose twice, Houston to win this week then lose to the Jags at home, the Bills to lose at Oakland and at NE, Miami to lose once, and of course the Chargers and Chiefs to lose this week and tie each other when they play next week. A Browns win also assures that every team in the AFC North will be .500 or better for the season. Of course some fans will want the Browns to lose either because they still feel threatened by the .01% chance of making the playoffs, or maybe because its a Ravens fan who doesn’t want Manziel to gain any sort of confidence heading into their week 17 showdown.
Chiefs or Steelers? This game is not in “consensus” solely because of the Browns slim chances, which is tearing their faithful apart. Browns fans know that in order to keep hope alive, they must root for the Steelers (as long as the Chargers don’t win Saturday). Those who think the Browns path to the playoffs is just a pipe-dream, ask a Steelers fan who’s team literally needed close to a dozen games go their way over the last three weeks of 2013. They had less than a 1% playoff chance when the improbable run began in week 15. In the end, their hopes fell just one game short in week 17 as the Chargers mounted a 4th quarter comeback and beat the Chiefs in overtime, eliminating the Steelers. Yes, counting on a tie makes it much more unlikely, but it would be fun for it to get that far. That said, if you are a nonbeliever and would rather see the Bengals or Ravens take the division, join their fans and root for the Chiefs.
Broncos or Bengals? Similar to the previous game, this match up is not in the “consensus” section because of Browns fans. We have listened to the the Dawgpound and responded with this correction. While division pride isn’t necessarily the motivation of Browns’ fans, Steelers hate is. While some Browns fans may root for the Steelers this week, many would rather see the Steelers not make the playoffs. This starts with the Bengals taking the division this week by beating the Broncos coupled with a Steelers and Ravens loss, relieving pressure off Andy Dalton and the Bengals when they travel to Pittsburgh in week 17.
Elimination Scenarios (for the Ravens its a little lengthy, so lets assume two losses moves their probability down to about 10%):
Bengals (win one and they are in). Two losses coupled with two of the following as the Steelers would take up one of the three potential spots:
1. Two wins or one win and a tie by the Chiefs or Chargers (both can’t win two because they play week 17.) If those AFCW teams are tied at 9-6-1, the Chiefs would eliminate the Chargers in a divisional tiebreaker, and would move ahead of the Bengals.
2 Two Bills wins
3. One Ravens win
Steelers (win one and they are in). Two losses coupled with just one of the following because KC will own the tiebreaker:
1. One Ravens win
2. Two Chargers wins (the Chargers would own the tiebreaker with the Steelers, but again KC would eliminate the Chargers if tied)
2. Two wins by either the Bills or Texans
Ravens (one win and they are in with a Steelers loss and Bengals loss, or a Steelers win and Chargers loss or tie). One Ravens loss coupled with two of the following:
1. One Steelers win
2. 2 wins by the Bills
3. 2 wins by either the Chiefs or Chargers (both cannot win two)
|Seed||standings||Best week 16 Bengals||Best week 16 Ravens||Best week 16 Steelers||Best week 16 Browns||Projected finish|
|1||NE 11-3||NE 11-4||Den 12-3||Den 12-3||Den 12-3||NE 13-3|
|2||Den 11-3||Den 11-4||NE 11-4||NE 11-4||NE 11-4||Den 12-4|
|3||Ind 10-4||Cin 10-4-1||Ind 10-5||Pit 10-5||Ind 10-5||Pit 11-5|
|4||Cin 9-4-1||Ind 10-5||Bal 10-5||Ind 10-5||Cin 10-4-1||Ind 11-5|
|5||Pit 9-5||Pit 9-6||Cin 9-5-1||Cin 9-5-1||Pitt 9-6||Bal 11-5|
|6||Bal 9-5||Bal 9-6||Pit 9-6||Bal 9-6||Bal 9-6||Cin 9-6-1|
|7||KC 8-6||Hou 8-7||KC 8-7||Hou 8-7||Hou 8-7||KC 9-7|
|8||San 8-6||KC 8-7||San 8-7||KC 8-7||KC 8-7||Mia 9-7|
|9||Buf 8-6||San 8-7||Buf 8-7||San 8-7||San 8-7||Buf 9-7|
|10||Hou 7-7||Buf 8-7||Cle 8-7||Buf 8-7||Buf 8-7||Hou 8-8|
|11||Mia 7-7||Cle 8-7||Hou 7-8||Cle 8-7||Cle 8-7||San 8-8|
|12||Cle 7-7||Mia 7-8||Mia 7-8||Mia 7-8||Mia 7-8||Cle 8-8|
There you have it. We will do the work for you. Just sit back and watch.