Realistic case: It’s another middling year for the Dolphins with a revamped offensive line struggling in front of Tannehill. The Dolphins will fall just outside the race for the AFC wild cards.
New York Jets:
Best case: Geno Smith grows into the role of Jets leader by engineering several late-game comebacks that allow the Jets to claim one of the AFC wild cards.
Best case: Receiver Sammy Watkins heats up the Bills offense and leads them to a Week 17 win at Gillette Stadium (first in franchise history) to claim the final wild card and their first playoff spot since 1999.
Projection: 10-6. Beats Pittsburgh in wild-card round, loses at Denver in divisional playoffs.
Projection: 9-7. Wild card, loses at Baltimore in first round.
Projection: 11-5. Beats San Diego in wild-card round, loses at New England in divisional playoffs.
Best case: Ryan Fitzpatrick becomes a smart game-manager who limits his mistakes. Then the defense, with J.J. Watt and top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney menacing quarterbacks, points the way to a wild card.
Best case: New coach Ken Whisenhunt injects confidence and accuracy into QB Jake Locker, whose rapport with breakout receiver Justin Hunter powers the offense, and the Titans make a bid for a wild card.
San Diego Chargers:
Best case: Philip Rivers thrives in new coordinator Frank Reich’s no-huddle and the Chargers’ offense carries them to a 10-win campaign that gives them a wild card behind the Broncos.
Projection: 9-7. Wild card. Loses at Indianapolis in first round.
Best case: Quarterback Tony Romo has a career year at the center of a talented offense that makes up for a defense that can’t put opponents away. The offense wins enough slugfests to earn a wild card.
Projection: 10-6. Wild card. Wins at Philadelphia in first round, then loses at New Orleans in divisional playoffs.
Best case: Adrian Peterson finishes the job he started two years ago and surpasses Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record (2,105). New coach Mike Zimmer’s defense is vastly improved and Peterson’s record-clinching day helps the Vikings lock up a wild card in Week 17.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Best case: Logan Mankins helps turn Josh McCown into a Pro Bowl QB who makes Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans 1,000-yard receivers as new coach Lovie Smith leads the Bucs, 4-12 a year ago, to a wild card.
Projection: 9-7. Wild card. Loses at Seattle in first round.
Best case: The Panthers ride the defense back to the postseason as Cam Newton, working with an unheralded corps of receivers, puts the offense on his back and churns out a 10-6 record that claims a wild card.
Realistic case: Ryan and his receivers are too talented not to compete if they all remain healthy. They are not as deep as the teams that went 36-12 from 2010-12, but these Falcons should contend for a wild card.
Realistic case: The defensive subtractions hurt, but the Cardinals have the depth and a good coach in Bruce Arians to weather those on their top-10 unit. The Cardinals have an impressive receiving corps, headed by Larry Fitzgerald, that makes it easy for Palmer to thrive. They’ll be in the hunt for a wild card.
Team – Predicted record
New England Patriots 12-4
Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6
Indianapolis Colts 10-6
Denver Broncos 11-5
San Diego Chargers 9-7
Philadelphia Eagles 9-7
Green Bay Packers 11-5
New Orleans Saints 10-6
Seattle Seahawks 10-6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7
San Francisco 49ers 10-6
AFC WILD CARD GAME 1
Judy Battista: Cincinnati Bengals. Two new coordinators could make for a tough transition, but Hue Jackson should get the best — and maybe a playoff win — out of Andy Dalton.
Brian Billick: San Diego Chargers. The Chargers made the playoffs as the third team in the AFC West last year, and they’ve only gotten better. San Diego added key free agents in Brandon Flowers and Donald Brown and lost little to no production from last year’s team.
Gil Brandt: Bengals. Andy Dalton gets better each year, and Cincy’s defense is still top-notch. Yes, there are two new coordinators (Hue Jackson on offense and Paul Guenther on defense), but both were promoted from within, which should greatly reduce the potential of any hiccups.
Gregg Rosenthal: Chargers. They are a legitimate top-10 team led by a legitimate top-five quarterback.
Chris Wesseling: Baltimore Ravens. I’ve bought into the changes on Gary Kubiak’s offense. The running backs and Steve Smith are in for bounceback seasons.
AFC WILD CARD GAME 2
Judy Battista: San Diego Chargers. If freshly minted offensive coordinator Frank Reich can continue Philip Rivers’ renaissance, the Chargers should be able to manage a brutal schedule and edge out the quarterback-needy Texans for this slot.
Brian Billick: Baltimore Ravens. Last year was an anomaly (the first time in the Harbaugh/Flacco era that the Ravens missed out on the postseason). Baltimore will get back on track in 2014 with a rejuvenated offense under the guidance of new coordinator Gary Kubiak.
Gil Brandt: Chargers. I was really impressed with the additions the Chargers made this offseason, in both free agency — running back Donald Brown and cornerback Brandon Flowers stand out — and the draft. First-round pick Jason Verrett will be a good cornerback for them.
Gregg Rosenthal: Ravens. Just getting the offense back to mediocre should be enough for 10 wins.
Chris Wesseling: Chargers. The Bolts’ offense is underrated. The secondary and pass rush are much improved.
NFC WILD CARD 1
Judy Battista: Chicago Bears. They certainly would have been a playoff team last season if the defense had been even marginally better.
Brian Billick: Green Bay Packers. Even with a steady rushing attack, the Packers aren’t anything without Aaron Rodgers — keeping him healthy has to be priority No. 1. Green Bay gave up 45 sacks last season; only the Cardinals have given up more since 2009. If Rodgers plays all 16 games, the Packers make the playoffs.
Gil Brandt: San Francisco 49ers. I think San Francisco has a chance to have as good a defense as any in the NFL, even with the uncertain availability of NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. That should carry the Niners, though Frank Gore and the running game will slow down.
Gregg Rosenthal: Arizona Cardinals. In Bruce Arians we trust. (And Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Ellington, Michael Floyd and John Brown.)
Chris Wesseling: 49ers. Jim Harbaugh has a lot working against him this year, but the other wild-card contenders just aren’t strong enough to overtake his team.
NFC Wildcard Game 2
Judy Battista: San Francisco 49ers. The expected extended absences of Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman are the difference between winning the division and getting a wild-card spot.
Brian Billick: 49ers. The 49ers are the second-best team in the NFC, but unfortunately for them, they are also the second-best team in their division. San Francisco will make the playoffs for the fourth time in four seasons under Jim Harbaugh.
Gil Brandt: Carolina Panthers. I think everybody’s kind of writing off the Panthers, given how much receiving talent they lost, but the pass catchers they ended up with — including first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin — are as good as last year’s guys. Plus, their defense is still excellent.
Gregg Rosenthal: Bears. The defense has to get better, but the passing game should be among the league’s best.
Chris Wesseling: Lions. Defenses can’t find a way to double-team Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, Golden Tate and Eric Ebron.
“The Packers won’t be as explosive as everyone expects. The Lions will underwhelm with Jim Caldwell. The Bears will ride a rollercoaster to a wildcard berth. This is the Vikings division to lose.”
Las Vegas sets lines(odds) for NFL teams to win or lose each week during the regular season. Some teams will be favorites to win games while others will be projected to lose.
One hidden gem Vegas also offers are odds for which NFL teams are likely to make the playoffs. Since Vegas isn’t in the business of losing money, the odds they set for these types of sporting events can be a good starting point if we are trying to determine what teams have the best chance of making the playoffs.
Below are Sportsbook lines for teams that are likely to make the playoffs:
San Diego Chargers +180
Detroit Lions +175
Chicago Bears +135
Pittsburgh Steelers +115
Cincinnati Bengals -105
Philadelphia Eagles -165
Indianapolis Colts -200
New Orleans Saints -225
Green Bay Packers
San Francisco 49ers -250
Seattle Seahawks – 360
Denver Broncos -500
New England Patriots -550
If you are looking at this list you’ll notice two things; The teams at the top are least favorite to make the playoffs while the teams at the bottom are heavy favorites to make the playoffs. Secondly, I have listed 13 teams when only 12 will actually get in. I have included 13 teams as they are the closest in terms of odds, while the rest of the NFL teams are heavy underdogs to make it into the playoffs.
So what can we learn from this list?
First, The Broncos and Patriots are very likely to make the playoffs. Secondly, The Seahawks, 49ers, Packers, Saints, Colts and Eagles and Bengals are are favorites or heavy favorites to make it in.
The interesting thing here is the Steelers, Bears, Lions and Chargers are all in the mix to make it into the playoffs as Wildcard teams. This is a pretty important distinction to make from the rest of the teams on the list, as it gives us a look into which NFL teams are expected to have the best record from their conference, but not necessarily win their division.
If the Divisions were expected to pan out the way these odds indicate, it would look something like this
AFC East winner – Patriots
AFC North Winner – Bengals
AFC West Winner – Broncos
AFC South Winner – Colts
AFC Wildcard Teams – Steelers, Chargers
Of note here is the Steelers are considered likely to be in the wildcard matchup, but are so close to the Bengals(in terms of odds) that either could end up winning the division and the other would get in as a wildcard team.
NFC East Winner – Eagles
NFC North Winner – Packers
NFC West Winner – Seahawks
NFC South Winner – Saints
AFC Wildcard Teams – (Two of Three) Bears, Lions, 49ers
The AFC is a lot of fun to look at. The Seahawks are favorites to win the NFC West which would mean the 49ers would have to get into the playoffs as a wildcard team, which would then knock out either the Bears or the Lions. The odds also indicate (+135, +175 respectively) that the Bears and Lions are very close to being in a dead-heat going in, even though only one is expected to make it in.
To wrap this up, these of course are predictions based on numbers set by people in Vegas, and are ever-changing based on many different factors that seem to pop up in the NFL. If we can view this list as a ‘Power-ranking-odds-system’ of what teams are projected to do, it can be a good starting point of what to watch for throughout the NFL regular season and how each week the playoff race may shape up.
“Jets at Dolphins, Dec. 28: Expect this season finale to have playoff implications. The Dolphins are good enough to have a shot at a wildcard berth in the final game, and appropriately enough it comes against their bitter AFC East rival. This game could be the difference between coach Joe Philbin returning or being fired.”