Fourteen NFL teams will qualify for the post-season this year, up from the usual 12.
Even with 11 weeks still to play, there’s a strong likelihood we already know eight of them. Probably nine, actually.
According to the NFL, 80% of teams since 1990 that began a season with a 4-1 record or better wound up making the playoffs. Entering Monday’s doubleheader to wrap up Week 6, the following eight teams were 4-1 or better:
— In the NFC, Seattle (5-0), Chicago (5-1) and Green Bay (4-1);
— In the AFC, Pittsburgh (5-0), Tennessee (5-0), Baltimore (5-1), Kansas City (4-1) and Buffalo (4-1). The latter two played Monday night.
All division champs receive an automatic playoff berth — yes, even the winner of this season’s woebegone NFC East. Dallas is the only team in that division with an offence remotely capable of scoring 30 points in any game, so the Cowboys probably for now ought to be considered the ninth likely playoff participant.
If we presume, for the sake of argument and percentages, that all nine of the above teams will make the playoffs, that’d leave five other berths.
Fourteen teams, by record, have the best shots at those five spots. Entering Monday night, seven had two losses, seven had three, as follows:
— Tampa Bay (4-2), Los Angeles Rams (4-2), New Orleans (3-2) and Arizona (3-2) in the NFC, and Indianapolis (4-2), Cleveland (4-2) and Las Vegas (3-2) in the AFC;
— San Francisco (3-3), Carolina (3-3), Detroit (2-3) and aforementioned Dallas (2-3) in the NFC, and Miami (3-3), Denver (2-3) and New England (2-3) in the AFC.
Can you believe we went 262 words into a late-October story about likely NFL playoff participants before mentioning the Patriots?
New England finished Week 6 in third place in the AFC East, with its first losing record through five games since October 2001, Tom Brady’s first year as NFL starter. The Pats are now in danger of not making the playoffs for the first time since 2008, which would end their NFL record of consecutive playoff appearances at 11 years.
Look, there’s a lot of football yet to be played in 2020. Occasionally a team that starts poorly, even 1-4, makes the playoffs. None of this week’s 10 one-win or no-win teams looks capable of it.
Playoff-likelihood percentages appear more meaningful than usual this season.
FIVE FAST FACTS
Neither the Jets nor Dolphins converted a single third down against one another … Green Bay is 18-5 under Matt LaFleur, but the losing margins average 18 points … Derrick Henry is the first NFL RB to have a 200-yard game in three straight seasons … Brady is the first Bucs QB with 14 TD passes through Week 6 … Baker Mayfield has completed seven passes in the fourth quarter all season, by far the fewest among season-long starting QBs.
Monday began with the promising news there were no further positive COVID-19 tests reported by any of the league’s 32 teams … The day got worse. Hours later, NFL Network said the Las Vegas Raiders were placing CB Damon Arnette on the COVID-19/reserve list, for being either infected with the coronavirus or being a close contact of someone with it, inside or outside the team … Dallas reportedly did the same thing with OL Cam Erving, who already was on regular IR … Then came reports the Carolina Panthers closed their facilities through Tuesday after receiving word of an unconfirmed positive test. Results of the retest were due Tuesday morning … Browns TE David Njoku still wants to be traded by the Nov. 3 deadline, per Cleveland.com … Cincinnati signed DT Margus Hunt and waived DT Andrew Brown.
TAKING A KNEE
Most people expected it’d take a month or two for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offence to get on track, what with new quarterback Brady learning a new system.
They were right.
What people aren’t talking about enough — and which bodes at least as well for the Bucs — is the team’s defence.
After Week 6’s Sunday games, the Bucs ranked No. 1 in the NFL in yards per game allowed (282.0), yards per play (4.6), rushing yards per game (64.3), rushing yards per attempt (3.0) and first downs allowed (16.8) — and they’re No. 2 in sacks per pass play (22 on 236 drop-backs, or 0.093 per play).
We saw evidence of such statistical mastery on Sunday in Tampa Bay’s smashing 38-10 defeat of the previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers.
The Bucs defence, coordinated by former New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles, eventually rendered the great Aaron Rodgers harmless. Indeed, Tampa shut out the Pack over the final three quarters, not only limiting Rodgers to just 8-of-23 passing for 53 yards, but coming just a few feet short of twice pick-sixing him in the second quarter.
All this after Rodgers and the Packers looked supreme in jumping out to a 10-0 lead.
The turnaround was no fluke. These Bucs are talented at all three levels on defence. And they’re very well coached.
“We made great adjustments on the sideline,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said Monday of the second-quarter pancake-flip. “It was just a matter of letting loose, not being afraid to make a mistake and just go play.”
Jamel Dean is looking like the league’s next great cornerback. The way he eyed Rodgers then jumped on his short sideline pass to star receiver Davante Adams was one gem of an elite play.
Pro Bowl linebacker Lavonte David aptly summed up the performance: “We just took control of the game.”
Look, if the Bucs can do that to a team that had been 4-0, and to a QB and offence that had been THAT prolific, well, the rest of the NFL must be more than a little concerned.
And get this: The Bucs prospectively got even better after the game.
In a Sunday night trade they acquired one of the New York Jets’ best defenders, nose tackle Steve McLendon. The trade won’t become official until McLendon passes a physical.
He’d effectively replace Vita Vea, who’s done for the year with a broken ankle, suffered two Thursdays ago in Chicago.
“Hopefully we can get (McLendon) past the physical and get the trade through,” Arians said. “He’s really a quality human being, and a hell of a player. Losing Vita, we just needed to shore up against some of these big-time running teams.”
Such as division arch-rival New Orleans.
The Bucs enter Week 7 in first place in the NFC South, with a 4-2 record. The Saints, coming off a bye, are 3-2 — and appear to have blown their big chance to get a comfortable little lead in the division, before these Bucs got rolling.
On both sides of the ball now.
UNDEFEATED TITANS, STEELERS LOSE STARS TO ACL TEARS
Each team in Sunday’s mammoth matchup of undefeated AFC powers has lost a key performer for the season, with a blown-out knee.
The 5-0 Tennessee Titans lost starting left offensive tackle Taylor Lewan with a torn right ACL, suffered in overtime of the Titans’ thrilling comeback victory over Houston.
“Don’t feel sorry for me,” the three-time Pro Bowl player tweeted Monday. “I’m going to handle this rehab like a pro and come back better than ever.”
The 5-0 Pittsburgh Steelers lost impact second-year linebacker Devin Bush in Sunday’s runaway win over Cleveland. Head coach Mike Tomlin termed it a “significant” knee injury afterward.
Multiple reports on Monday said Bush indeed suffered a torn ACL, as feared.
HERBERT SO FAR THE PREMIER THIRD-DOWN PASSER
The Los Angeles Chargers are coming off a bye week. But something came screaming out of the Week 6 weekly NFL stats package on Monday.
Guess who far and away leads the league in third-down passing? Chargers rookie Justin Herbert.
He has been that good, if you haven’t caught one of his games yet.
After four starts — all against teams with .500-or-better records — the 22-year-old on third downs possesses the NFL’s best passer rating (150.9), best completion percentage (74%), best yards-per-attempt (11.47), fewest interceptions (tied with many with zero) and second best touchdown-passes total (six).
Never mind the four narrow losses. Few QBs in modern times have begun their careers with such impressive splash and poise.
All 32 starting QBs, after Sunday games, with last week’s rankings in brackets:
1. Russell Wilson, Seattle (1). Coming off a bye.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City (2). Played Monday night.
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (3). Roughed up, flustered.
4. Josh Allen, Buffalo (4). Played Monday night.
5. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay (8). Still got it, if only now in spurts.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans (5). Coming off a bye.
7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (11). Masterful once again.
8. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee (14). A legit MVP candidate. Wow.
9. Derek Carr, Las Vegas (6). Coming off a bye.
10. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore (8). Work in progress as pure passer.
11. Philip Rivers, Indianapolis (12). Now that’s more like it.
12. Cam Newton, New England (9). Hopefully it was just the rust.
13. Kyler Murray, Arizona (14). Played Monday night.
14. Jared Goff, LA Rams (7). Only wins vs. NFC East teams.
15. Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina (15). Inches from game-winner.
16. Matt Ryan, Atlanta (16). So much better when Atlanta’s up.
17. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati (17). Gonna get there fast, isn’t he.
18. Deshaun Watson, Houston (21). Did more than enough to win.
19. Matthew Stafford, Detroit (23). Great stuff. Now keep it going.
20. Andy Dalton, Dallas (20). Played Monday night.
21. Justin Herbert, LA Chargers (27). Coming off a bye.
22. Nick Foles, Chicago (22). Has so much more potential.
23. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland (18). Sore ribs + Steelers D = pain.
24. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia (24). Has little time to do anything.
25. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco (29). Much, much better.
26. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami (26). Maximizes talents impressively.
27. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota (19). Terrible. Like, really terrible.
28. Drew Lock, Denver (31). Totally ineffective in Pats red zone.
29. Gardner Minshew, Jacksonville (25). Needs playmakers.
30. Daniel Jones, NY Giants (28). Better runner than passer?
31. Kyle Allen, Washington (32). Tough gig, but that two-pointer.
32. Joe Flacco, NY Jets (30). Ravens heyday seems so far away.
Quick thoughts on Week 7 games (all on Sunday unless noted):
Giants at Eagles, Thursday, 8:20 ET: Victor will have two whole, verified, for-real wins on the season.
Lions at Falcons, 1 ET: Each team looking for its second win in a row, to end October on a ROLL, baby.
Browns at Bengals, 1 ET: After being blown out by Ravens and Steelers, maybe Browns can still throttle Bengals.
Packers at Texans, 1 ET: Another road game for Packers. Should be able to put up 35+ on Texans.
Panthers at Saints, 1 ET: Hey, if Carolina wins, guess which team will have the better record? Yup, Panthers at 4-3.
Bills at Jets, 1 ET: First AFC East rematch of the season. Buffalo coasted first time. This time score will reflect it.
Steelers at Titans, 1 ET: Game of the week. Battle of the unbeatens. Fab matchup of great O vs. great D.
Cowboys at Football Team, 1 ET: Only one can move the ball (Dallas). Only one can stop the other (Washington).
Seahawks at Cardinals, 4:05 ET: Division foes usually play exciting, close games. This could be real fun.
Jaguars at Chargers, 4:25 ET: Rested Chargers ought to handle a team just blown out — by Detroit.
Chiefs at Broncos, 4:25 ET: Hey, Denver is one of the few teams that plays actual defence. Pretty dang well, too.
49ers at Patriots, 4:25 ET: Jimmy Garoppolo returns to New England. You’ll hear about this 500 times by kickoff.
Buccaneers at Raiders, 8:20 ET: Another delicious matchup with sitting-room-only availability at Allegiant Stadium.
Bears at Rams, Monday, 8:15 ET: Can the Bears ship all their smoke and mirrors to the West Coast in time?
BYES: Baltimore, Indianapolis, Miami, Minnesota.
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