We’re officially at the final-quarter pole of the NFL season and it’s do-or-die for many teams with playoff berths and seeding implications on the line. With a slew of divisional games now and on the horizon, the games have never meant more for teams hopeful of playing games in January.
There are nine AFC and 10 NFC teams with a realistic chance of reaching the postseason and the races at the top are close. A loss this time of year can drastically change the playoff picture.
Let’s examine the top three teams facing must-win games this week.
Kansas City Chiefs: 6-6, T-1st place in AFC West
After a 5-0 start to the season and being the last team to experience a defeat, it appeared the Chiefs would run away with the AFC West. Instead, Kansas City has lost six of its last seven games and is suddenly in a three-way tie with the Chargers and Raiders atop the division.
Despite their recent struggles, the good news for the Chiefs is that they still control their own destiny. Facing the Raiders this week followed by the Chargers in Week 15, Kansas City can quickly get back on track and bring home the division crown as it did last year.
It’s easier said than done, but certainly head coach Andy Reid is preaching a message to his team that all of its goals are still right in front of the Chiefs — starting with winning the division.
If Kansas City can win the next two games, it finishes with manageable games against the slumping Dolphins and Broncos. Sunday’s game against the Raiders is also the first of a three-game homestand.
Should the Chiefs continue their downward spiral, they will need help to reach the postseason and they would no longer control their own fate.
Atlanta Falcons: 7-5, 7th in NFC
With a three-game losing streak sandwiched between three-game winning streaks, the Falcons’ season has been up and down in defense of its NFC championship last year.
Currently a game behind the 8-4 Panthers for the final wild card spot, Atlanta plays host to the 9-3, division-leading Saints. Two of Atalanta’s next three games are against the Saints and could enable them to leap to the top of the NFC South standings if they can win both contests. All four of the Falcons’ remaining games are against division opponents. They have an opportunity to rearrange the standings if they can catch fire.
Winners of nine of their last 10 games, New Orleans is among the hottest teams in the league and is led by a dynamic one-two punch in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in the backfield. The Falcons are in the bottom half of the league in run defense, so they must overcome a current weakness.
A loss against the Saints would put a cloud over both the Falcons’ chances to win the division and qualify for the postseason.
Philadelphia Eagles: 10-2, T-1st in NFC
How can a 10-2 team face a must-win game this week? That’s because at 10-2, just making the postseason isn’t good enough.
After consecutive 7-9 seasons, the Eagles are suddenly a contender in the NFC and their sights must be set on a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Los Angeles Rams are competing for the same goals and the teams square off this week.
The difference between winning and losing could mean not having an all-important wild-card bye. In a highly competitive conference, there will be no cupcakes in the wild card round. Not securing a bye could mean a date with the Seahawks, Panthers or Falcons.
The winner of the game will be in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye since it would hold the tiebreaker. After Sunday, Philadelphia doesn’t play a team with a winning record, so taking care of business against Los Angeles is a must.
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