Volume 97 Issue 5 Sports

NFL playoff races tightening as postseason approaches

by Zach Seyko

Following the conclusion of week 13 of the NFL this past, the postseason is rapidly approaching. are only four more weeks away from the postseason. Playoff standings are beginning to take shape, but there are teams battling it out for the final wild card spots and division titles, such as the Packers and Vikings in the NFC North, along with the Colts and Texans in the AFC South. It is truly geared up for a fantastic finish at the end of the regular season, but who will emerge from the pack?

The new look Minnesota Vikings (8-4) have played incredibly well thus far. The return of star running back Adrian Peterson has been a crucial one. The former MVP currently leads all running backs in the league with 1,164 total rushing yards. Peterson’s presence and the Vikings stout defense are taking enormous amounts of pressure away from sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has progressed nicely in his second season.

The Green Bay Packers (8-4) have are still battling to retain their division crown. The injury bug hit Green Bay in 2015. They lost Pro Bowl wide receiver Jordy Nelson in the preseason and have had injuries all across the starting offensive line and secondary. While this is not Green Bay’s prototypical path to the postseason, Aaron Rodgers and the Cheese-Heads are continuing to maintain pace with the rival Vikings. They defeated the Vikings convincingly by a score of 30-13 earlier in the year and have one more meeting in Green Bay during the last week of the season.

In the AFC South, the Houston Texans have reemerged as division contenders after a very slow start. Courtesy of a midseason turnaround headed by the defense, the Texans are tied at (6-6) with the Indianapolis Colts. The Texans have fought their share of injuries, as well. The Texans have been without their running back Arian Foster, twice this season. But, his loss is being overshadowed by wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’s breakout year. The Clemson graduate has 81 receptions, 1,081 receiving yards (third in the league) and nine touchdown catches. Besides lighting up the stat books, he is constantly making phenomenal acrobatic grabs. J.J. Watt is taking the NFL by storm yet again. Watt’s recent play has put him into the league MVP discussion and has this team headed in the right direction.

The Colts, on the other hand, have had an up and down season to this point. The Colts began the season (2-2) and have looked solid coping with quarterback Andrew Luck’s absence. The team fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton midway through the season, giving a breath of fresh air to that side of the ball. Head coach Chuck Pagano was on the hot seat momentarily, but secured an excellent victory against the Denver Broncos, ending their perfect record. Backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is doing an admirable job filling in for Luck and is 4-1 in the three games he has played in. The Colts have struggled on the defensive side of the ball, particularly against opposing passing attacks. Until Luck returns, the Colts do not have much of an offensive identity. Part of the reason for the Colts’ slow start was a result of Luck’s injuries and ineffective play. It will be interesting to see if he can improve upon his return after such a disgraceful start.

Moving over to the abysmal NFC East division, the Washington Redskins and New York Giants are tied for the lead boasting records at (5-7). The ‘Skins hold the tiebreaker after defeating the Giants 20-14 in week 12. Fans are excited in D.C. after two consecutive seasons of embarrassment. The team is being led by a good quarterback presence, and too most, it is not the player that first comes in mind. Kirk Cousins, not Robert Griffin III, is guiding the Redskins to their first playoff berth since the 2012-2013 season. The Redskins have holes; offensively they are still not sound and have not established a solid running game.

The Giants, who split the season series with Washington, have not done much to this point in the season. Aside from nearly upsetting the New England Patriots, the Giants are turning in an average season as their record shows. Eli Manning is playing inconsistently, but Odell Beckham Jr. is continuing to establish himself as a top receiver in his second season. The Giants have the fifth scoring offense in the NFL, but their defense is a liability when defending the run.

In addition to the division battles, the wild card race is heating up in both the AFC and NFC. Five teams are either tied or separated by one game in each conference. The Seahawks (7-5), Falcons (6-6), Buccaneers (6-6), Giants (5-7) are all within reach of the playoffs, similarly to the Chiefs (7-5), Jets (7-5), Steelers (7-5) and Bills (6-6). As of right now, the Seahawks look like the favorites to lock up the final seed in the NFC as the Packers currently sport the fifth seed with a two game lead. They have all the momentum, especially after the emergence of rookie running back Thomas Rawls, who replaced Marshawn Lynch due to injury.

There are two seeds open in the AFC wild card, currently owned by the Chiefs and Jets due to tiebreaker rules. The Chiefs do not play a team with a .500 or better record for the rest of the season. Their easy schedule could play really well in the final outcome of the season. The Steelers have been described as the favorite to get the last seed because of the talent around them, but have not been able to find rhythm. Riddled by numerous injuries to players Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Ryan Shazier and Kelvin Beachum, the Steelers do not look like the team they fielded in week one.

Until week 12, the NFL had two undefeated teams in the New England Patriots (10-2) and Carolina Panthers (12-0). The Patriots dropped their first game to the Denver Broncos (10-2) and Brock Osweiler, while the Panthers continue to play perfect football. The Panthers are difficult to assess because they do not have the look of typical undefeated teams. They are not dominant and do not overwhelm their opponents, but they do win games, which is the objective of any sport. Quarterback Cam Newton is in the MVP discussion along with Patriots QB Tom Brady, but Newton has posted average numbers to this point. The Panthers would be a much different team without his presence, but he is complimented well by Carolina’s shut down defense.

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