Rooting challenge of the week: Chargers @ Chiefs, the last line of defense preventing an AFC North wildcard sweep
Week 16 provided the AFC North with two confirmed playoff teams, and two teams who wished they had stayed home. The Bengals and Steelers both won and clinched playoff berths, setting up an epic AFC North week 17 battle in prime time. On the flip side, the Ravens watched the Chargers win in miraculous fashion (again), and then were embarrassed in Houston as the offense sputtered out of the gate for a third week in a row, this time for four quarters. The combination of both results cost the Ravens a chance at controlling their playoff destiny. Meanwhile, the Browns continued their annual trend of failing down the stretch as they lost for the 5th time in six games, eliminating the chance for the entire division to finish over .500 this season.
Heading into week 17, there are only a two AFC North playoff questions remaining (minus seeding and opponent): Which team win the AFC North? Will the Chiefs and Ravens win to give the North a 3rd playoff team?
Whether your team is in the playoffs, in desperate need of help, or on the outside looking in, it still feels good to
root for others to fail.
In week 17’s Rooting Guide, there may only be two games of vital importance to the North, but many games can affect playoff seeds and therefore opponents. The Bengals can end up with either the #2, 3, or 5 seed, while the Steelers control their own fate with a win (#3 seed) or loss (#5 seed). While the team at number five will be guaranteed a trip to Indianapolis, fans of the #3 seed have a major rooting decision to make, as they will end up playing either the Ravens, Chargers, Texans, or Chiefs. With that in mind, the following assumptions will be made this week:
1. Division pride will take precedence over rivalry hatred in terms of their success (and fact that perhaps a team within the division doesn’t scare them as much as another team would)
2. “Consensus” picks below include everyone but fans of those teams, who will obviously be rooting for their favorite team.
3. Indianapolis is the #4 seed, and New England is the #1 seed regardless of outcome, so they won’t be included in the guide. Feel free to root against them as you normally would.
4. Some fans will let sheer hatred overrule the logical choice.
Games with playoff implications (Records are listed for non-eliminated AFC teams only. The NFC records are irrelevant):
Browns @ Ravens (9-6)
Chargers (9-6, #6 seed) @ Chiefs (8-7)
Jaguars @ Texans (8-7)
Raiders @ Broncos (11-4, #2 seed)
Bengals (10-4-1, #3 seed) @ Steelers (10-5, #5 seed)
Ravens– With apologies to Browns fans, the consensus pick is up to fans of teams not playing in this game. A Ravens win isn’t just about division pride and a chance at getting a 3rd AFC North team into the playoffs. Its also about allowing the worst possible team into the playoffs because it is almost assured that the AFC North division winner will be facing the #6 seed.
Chiefs – Sticking with the theme above, the Ravens don’t get in unless the Chiefs win. In addition, nobody wants to see the Chargers travel to their city after a confident Philip Rivers directed two straight 10+ point 4th quarter road comebacks.
Raiders – A Broncos loss and a Bengals win would give the AFC North a bye. Unfortunately for the Steelers, if they beat the Bengals, they would lose in a “strength of victory” tiebreaker with Denver, the downside of playing the NFC South. Both would have identical conference records (9-3) and common games record (3-1).
and now the rooting challenge…
Jaguars or Texans? At first glance, this game almost ended up in the consensus section as a Jaguars selection due to J.J. Watt and their potentially intimidating defense. They are gaining more and more confidence heading into the playoffs, at least on defense (they are in with a win and losses by the Ravens and Chargers). Fortunately for their future opponent, they have an inexperienced quarterback and an average offensive line. That is a bad combination in a playoff road environment. If the Ravens don’t get the #6 seed, fans would most likely root for the Texans as their second choice.
Bengals or Steelers? This type of game is one Roger Goddell has been waiting for when forcing schedulers to make all week 17 games divisional contests (even though the teams would still likely be in the same boat if both were playing someone outside the division). The winner will almost certainly get the #3 seed, and if the Ravens finished with the #6 seed, their fans would most likely prefer to play in Cincinnati. However, terms of pregame excitement, their fans would rather see a game in Pittsburgh. In Cleveland, most Browns fans will root for the Bengals due to decades of built-up hatred for the Steelers.
|Seed||standings||Best week 16 Bengals||Best week 16 Ravens||Best week 16 Steelers||Best week 16 Browns*||Projected finish|
|1||NE 12-3||NE 12-4||NE 12-4||NE 12-4||NE 13-3||NE 13-3|
|2||Den 11-4||Cin 11-4-1||Den 12-4||Den 11-5||Cin 11-4-1||Den 12-4|
|3||Cin 10-4-1||Den 11-5||Cin 11-4-1||Pit 11-5||Den 11-5||Pit 11-5|
|4||Ind 10-5||Ind 10-6||Ind 10-6||Ind 10-6||Ind 10-6||Ind 11-5|
|5||Pit 10-5||Pit 10-6||Pit 10-6||Cin 10-5-1||Pitt 10-6||Cin 10-5-1|
|6||San 9-6||Bal 10-6||Bal 10-6||Bal 10-6||KC 9-7||Bal 10-6|
|7||Bal 9-6||KC 9-7||KC 9-7||KC 9-7||San 9-7||KC 9-7|
|8||Hou 8-7||San 9-7||San 9-7||San 9-7||Bal 9-7||San 9-7|
|9||KC 8-7||Buf 9-7||Buf 9-7||Buf 9-7||Hou 8-8||Buf 9-7|
|10||Mia 8-7||Hou 8-8||Hou 8-8||Hou 8-8||Mia 8-8||Hou 8-8|
|11||Buf 8-7||Mia 8-8||Mia 8-8||Mia 8-8||Cle 8-8||Mia 8-8|
|12||Cle 7-8||Cle 7-9||Cle 7-9||Cle 7-9||Buf 8-8||Cle 7-9|
*Cleveland can win, finish 8-8, and essentially keep their same draft position (within one), because they will win the strength of schedule tiebreaker over every other 8-8 team (or lack of strength). That said, they also own the tiebreaker versus the five current 6-9 teams, and a Browns loss coupled with a loss from any of those teams would improve their draft position up to five spots. They currenly sit at #13.
There you have it. We will do the work for you. Just sit back and watch.
Have a Merry Christmas, and hopefully you and your team will be in the giving spirit this holiday season (but not ON the field, as some were all too generous in week 16).