Tuesday trends: Playoff races, leaders, more

As the temperature drops, the playoff race is getting hotter. Two teams have a chance to clinch a spot this weekend, but several spots in both conferences are wide open as the last month of the regular season arrives.

With tightly contested races atop the conference playoff standings, only two teams can clinch a playoff spot in Week 14, and the scenarios for the rest of the top six in each conference are mind-numbing.

The Indianapolis Colts can clinch a playoff berth and the AFC South title with a win against the Cleveland Browns and a Houston Texans loss.

The Denver Broncos can clinch at least a playoff spot with a win and having numerous other scenarios play in their favor with the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Browns, Texans, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs.

The Miami Dolphins are back in the “top six” in the AFC, meaning they are back to controlling their own destiny in the playoff picture. But they needed to snap a long streak to make it happen, and the road won’t get any easier.

The Dolphins ended a 48-game streak of losing road games when they trailed by seven or more points in the fourth quarter, according to Elias Sports Bureau, when they came back for a 16-13 win over the New York Jets. It also put the Dolphins at 7-5 on the season and back as the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff chase with a better division record than the Buffalo Bills, who are also 7-5 and split their series with the Dolphins.

The Dolphins face the Jets again in the regular-season finale, but they will have to get through games against Baltimore, New England and the Minnesota Vikings before the last game of the regular season.

Meanwhile, the Bills have the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Patriots and Oakland Raiders remaining on their schedule.

Along with the Dolphins and Bills, the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and Ravens all have 7-5 records in what promises to be a tight race to get into the AFC playoffs.

Ahead of them all are – in projected seeding order – the Patriots (9-3), Denver Broncos (9-3), Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1), Indianapolis Colts (8-4-0) and San Diego Chargers (8-4-0).

The NFC gets a little weirder with poor showing in the NFC South so far. The NFC has only one 7-5 team (the San Francisco 49ers) that is currently out of the top six seeds. In addition, the 8-4 Dallas Cowboys are currently out of the top six.

The Arizona Cardinals are reeling a bit after dropping their last two games and falling to 9-3. Technically, they are still ahead of the 9-3 Packers in the NFC race, but the Cardinals face the gauntlet of three NFC West teams in their final four games – hosting the Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks and going on the road to face the St. Louis Rams and 49ers.

During that time, the Packers play two losing teams – the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – as well as the Bills before closing out the season with what could be another meaningful season finale against the Detroit Lions.

The other four NFC teams currently in the top six are, in order, the Philadelphia Eagles (9-3), NFC South-leading Falcons (5-7), the Seahawks (8-4) and the Lions (8-4).

Of the NFC teams on the outside edge of the playoff bubble, the New Orleans Saints (5-7) have the easiest road back into the playoff race. They don’t face one winning team in their remaining four games, setting up a good chance for them to overtake Atlanta. The Saints face the Panthers (3-8-1), Bears (5-7), Falcons (5-7) and Bucs (2-10).


While most teams are technically still alive for a playoff spot – although the chances are remote for some – five teams are tightly in the race for the first overall draft pick.

The Oakland Raiders are currently in the “lead” with a 1-11 record, followed by the 2-10 teams: the Bucs, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and New York Jets.

The New York Giants, Washington Redskins are both 3-9, and the Panthers are 3-8-1. They are followed by the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and the Saints and Rams, all with 5-7 records, to round out the top 10 (plus) for draft order next spring.


  • The Dolphins’ comeback, while critical to their playoff hopes, was hardly the best comeback of the week. While it won’t matter in the playoff race, the Jaguars overcame a 21-0 deficit in a 25-24 win over the New York Giants, marking the fourth time this season a team overcame a deficit of 21 points or more to win, tied for the most in NFL history (2013, 2011, 1999).

    There have also been 34 comeback wins from 10 or more points down, the most through Week 13 in NFL history.

  • The NFL needs two more games in which a quarterback throws five touchdowns or more to tie the 2004 record of 11 such games. Drew Brees, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andrew Luck made it nine games in the NFL this year that a quarterback has thrown five touchdowns when they did it in Week 12.

  • With two interceptions against the 49ers on Thanksgiving, Seahawks CB Richard Sherman raised his career total to 23 interceptions, fourth-most in a player’s first four seasons since 1970. Ahead of him are Lester Hayes (Oakland) and Everson Walls (Dallas) with 25, and Kenny Easley (Seattle) with 24. Sherman has four more games to break the record.


  • The NFL now has eight quarterbacks with a rating above 100 on the season – Aaron Rodgers at 118.6, Peyton Manning at 107.8, Tony Romo at 106.2, Luck at 103.0, Philips Rivers at 102.8, and Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees at 101.7. Rodgers is the only among those with fewer than eight interceptions and he has only three interceptions compared to 32 touchdowns.

  • Luck leads the league with 35 passes of 25 yards or more, and Roethlisberger is the only other one with more than 30 such passes (he has 31).

  • Colin Kaepernick leads the league 38 sacks when passing. Others with more than 30: Cam Newton (36), Matthew Stafford (35), Blake Bortles (34), Alex Smith (33), Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson with 31.

  • Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray leads the league in rushing yards with 1,427, and rushing plays for more than 10 yards with 38. Justin Forsett is second with 35 rushing plays of more than 10 yards.

  • Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy has the most carries (34) for zero yards or a loss, eight more than anyone else.

  • There is a tight race for the receiving yardage leader in the NFL. The Steelers’ Antonio Brown has 1,258 and the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas has 1,255.

  • The Colts’ T.Y. Hilton leads the league with 15 catches of more than 25 yards. Mike Evans (Bucs), DeSean Jackson (Redskins) and Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos) all have 12 such receptions.

  • The Bears’ Matt Forte (674) and the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell (637) are the only players with more than 600 yards after the catch.

  • Kansas City’s Justin Houston continues to lead the league in sacks with 14, followed by Philadelphia’s Connor Barwin and Baltimore’s Elvis Dumervil with 12.5 each.

  • Philadelphia CB Bradley Fletcher leads the league with 20 passes defensed, following by Indianapolis’ Vontae Davis (18).

  • Cleveland’s Tashaun Gipson leads the NFL with six interceptions, followed by Miami’s Brent Grimes with five. Nine players have four interceptions.

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