NFL Playoff Race Following Week Seven


Photo courtesy of AP

Diontae Johnson of the 6-0 Steelers celebrates a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans.

AJ Swiatek, Reporter

Through seven weeks of the NFL season, the playoffs are really shaping up. The 32 teams have finally begun to show their true colors, allowing analysts to finally shine a light on the potential playoff teams come New Years. 

The Contenders: The Steelers, Chiefs, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Packers, Titans and Ravens

The Tiers are finally becoming more narrow as NFL fans across the country can finally get a grasp on where each team is headed when it is time for the playoffs. These eight teams have separated themselves from the pack as the teams that feel like they have a true identity. Each and every contender can win, and more importantly, they know how to win with their pieces. Junior Troy Walker gave his opinion on the contenders that have emerged thus far.

“These eight teams have set themselves apart from every other team,” Walker said. “The Steelers defense is insane and Big Ben being back is huge for them. Tom has been playing like his vintage self and with the addition of AB they will only get better. Russ is having an MVP season as the Seahawks offense scores like nothing. Patty [Mahomes]  isn’t even playing his best football and the Chiefs are still elite. The defense has been looking sharp as well. Lamar and the Ravens’ defense have been on a roll so far and the ravens have added some new additions to their roster, making them even better. Aaron Rogers has proved he is like no other player in the league. He’s playing like a maniac and the Packers defense is just unreal. Since the titans have started Ryan Tannehill as their QB he has changed their team around making them a top team. King Henry is playing like a complete monster and with AJ Brown back they have only been playing better.”

The Rest of the West: The Cardinals, Rams and 49ers

The NFC West has emerged as one of the best divisions through seven weeks of all time. Every team is over .500 and feels like they have a legitimate shot at making it to the Superbowl this season. These teams will continue to beat each other in a rather random way, but as of right now (regardless of the Cardinals win over them) the Seahawks seem to have set themselves apart from the rest of the division as the true contender. Senior Gavin Hughes gave his forethoughts on the remainder of the NFC West.

“The Cardinals one of my favorite teams to watch,” Hughes said. “ Young coach, young versatile quarterback, [and] one hell of an offense. Lack of experience and defense could hurt them in the playoffs. Los Angeles is always a weird team, at the end of the day we know how good their defense has performed. They have to show up for them to really make an impact and I just can’t see that happening this year. Niners have suffered from the injury bug but Kyle Shanahan is one of the best play-callers in the league and when you have that secondary anything is possible. At the end of the day, I think it will be Russ and the Seahawks winning the west for obvious reasons, however, it won’t be a cakewalk” Hughes said.

The Chills: The Saints, Colt and Chargers

The Chills are a group of teams that all have a serious shot at contending, but have the common problem of feeling like something is holding them back from taking their play to the next level. These three teams had very different expectations entering the year but all three wound up in the same position following week seven. Junior Connor Groya spoke regarding this tier.

“All three of these teams are missing a key player that they need to make big plays when needed or just to be consistent during their games,” Groya said. “I would say two out of those three are missing that player due to injuries and those being the Michael Thomas on the saints and Austin Ekeler on the chargers. If all three of those teams can take that next step need they will be a great group and serious contenders.”

The Pretenders: The Bears, Bills and Browns

If you just looked at the Pretenders records it would be easy to assume that these three teams were considered contenders around the league; however, the Bears, Bills and Browns have made it clear in their own right that they are not ready for the big stage, regardless of what their record shows. Junior Eric Rutherford took a deeper dive into the weaknesses of these three squads.

“For the Browns, four of their five wins come against sub 500 teams – Cincinnati (twice) Washington, and Dallas,” Rutherford said. “The two best teams they’ve played (Steelers and ravens) they’ve gotten outscored by a combined 76-13… showing they’re far from being a contender, even though some people would consider them at 5-2. For the bears, last year they started off well too at 3-1, but weren’t able to maintain that because their offense finished 29th in scoring and in yards per game. A good defense can only carry a bad offense for so long, and I believe that is the case this year. Similar to the browns, they are 5-2 but only have a point differential of -2. The offense this year is like that of last year, as they rank 27th in points scored and 29th in yards a game. In today’s NFL, you can’t win with that so unless their offense turns it around, they r a pretender. The Bills are also one of the league’s biggest pretenders. Through the first four weeks, Josh Allen was right there with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers as the MVP front-runner, however, the last three games he’s looked anything but an elite QB, let alone MVP front-runner. The first two contenders the bills faced were the titans and chiefs in weeks five and six, and they got outscored in those two games by a combined 35 points. Just last week, they squeaked by the pitiful Jets, failing to get into the end zone. Let me remind you, the Jets are historically bad, sitting at 0-7… their defense gave up 37 points a few weeks ago to Brett Rypien, yet Allen and the Bills offense could only create 18 points against them. Until further notice, the Bills are pretenders.”

The Outsiders: The Raiders, Panthers, Lions, Dolphins, and Patriots

These five teams all have the potential to be considered sleepers and seeing as the NFL is one of the most surprising leagues out there, don’t be surprised if one of these teams sneaks into the playoffs and even potentially steals a win from a more popular team in the playoffs. Many of these teams are surprisingly competitive this season, and fantasy football junkie Nick Tanny provided his thoughts on this grouping of teams.

“These teams could be out of the playoffs if they lose to teams that are easy wins,” Tanny said. “They need to win the easy games and even the ones that are evenly matched. Expanded playoffs should help these teams this year though as there are more spots for 9-7 teams.”

The Disappointments: The Vikings, Texans, Broncos and Falcons

Entering the 2020 season many thought teams in this tier would be real playoff threats and potential Superbowl winners. But with a combined record of 5-21, this group has been nothing short of a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a trainwreck. Walker provided his two cents on what went wrong for these teams.

“These four teams were supposed to shine this year and for some reason have been playing terrible,” Walker said. “The Falcons have an elite offense which makes every game close but there defense is so bad that they choke every game. If they want success they need some defense. The Broncos have had many injuries to their team and even some positive Covid tests on the team. They have been unlucky and they have a young talented roster. Give them a few years and they will be up at the top of the league. The Vikings have a pretty good offense but they lack a good defense and just made it a little worse getting rid of Ngakoue. If they wanna win they need a defense. The Texans getting rid of DeAndre was the worst trade they could’ve made and it shows. Deshaun does not have any stud he can work with and therefore the Texans are only going downhill from that trade.”

The NFC Least: The Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Football Team

Never in an NFL season has a division been unable to produce a three-win team through seven weeks of a season. Well, that was until 2020. The NFC East has been historically bad this season, and it is not showing any signs of stopping. Week in and week out these teams beat themselves upon the field, and this division has been the laughing stock of the league. But, due to the NFL’s ruleset one of these teams must make the playoffs, so to get a better understanding of how truly awful this division has been, Hughes stated his opinion on the NFC East.

“2-11-1 as a division…unfortunately an NFC East team still has to get into the playoffs,” Hughes said. “It’s four organizations running around with their heads cut off and there’s just no way this can end well. There’s nothing spectacular about any of these teams, it’s sad. New York’s is gonna New York, Washington’s gonna Washington, Philly’s gonna Philly, and Dallas doesn’t have Dak. There is no recipe for success anywhere.”

The Lightning Strikes: The Bengals and Jaguars

The chances of one of these teams sneaking into the playoffs feel as rare as being struck by lightning. These two have separated themselves from the rest in a bad way, and are likely in a multiple-year rebuild process to even attempt to make it to a tier like the Outsiders. Rutherford spoke on how poorly these teams have performed this season.

“The Bengals might have a good future, but they are still terrible this year,” Rutherford said. “They have one win in seven games, yet their schedule has been easy – they’ve played the Browns twice, the Jaguars, and the Eagles. Joe burrow may look like a future star, but he’s been pace to be sacked more than 70 times, and has turned it over in six out of seven games. Add a bad defense to that, and the Bengals are one of the worst teams this season. The Bengals might have a good future, but they are still terrible this year. Their schedule has been easy – they’ve played the browns twice, the Jaguars, and the Eagles. Joe burrow may look like a future star, but he’s been pace to be sacked more than 70 times and has turned it over in six out of seven games. Add a bad defense to that, and the Bengals are one of the worst teams this season. The Jaguars are also one of the leagues worst teams. Following an upset win over the Colts in week 1, and look to be neck and neck with the Jets for the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. Their defense, so dominant just three years ago, is in complete rebuild mode. Their offense relies too much on an undrafted rookie RB, and Gardner Minshew, like Joe Burrow, has taken a beating behind a below-average offensive line. Don’t expect the Jags to win more than four games this season.”

The Jets: The Jets

The Jets have done nothing to show they can even come close to winning a game this year. Adam Gase has made himself look like a fool six times on televisions across New York, and this team has shown zero fight week in and week out. Sam Darnold feels like he is regressing, and it seems like every position other than left tackle is a hole for this team. Senior Bobby Hessling provided remarks on the Jets.

“This was a Jets team that I didn’t know much about to begin with, but another year with Darnold who gets overlooked at quarterback,” Hessling said. “I thought this was a 7-9, 8-8 season for the Jets with No Brady, they drafted well. But when Adam Gase is coaching at a poor level and are BY FAR the worst team in the NFL the defense is atrocious. The Jets become the Worst Team in the NFL the 2017 Browns might be a little better, or even the ’08 Detroit Lions.”

So there you have it, not even at the halfway point of the NFL regular season, but the playoff chatter is growing louder by the minute. Anyone can win on any given Sunday, and anyone can make the playoffs… Except the Jets.