We've reached that time in the NFL season, you know the one — you've become a walking Beautiful Mind gif or impersonation of Charlie Day in Horrible Bosses, with yarn, push-pins and piles of paper connected on a vision board, trying to make sense of all the potential playoff picture scenarios. It's an exhilarating time of the year. We're heading into the NFL's final five games of regular season action and at this point in the season anything can happen. Wild upsets and unexpected collapses are all but guaranteed in December.
If the playoffs started today, a lot of teams would be left heartbroken. Luckily there is plenty of time remaining for a shake-up and those in the hunt are hanging on for dear life. Although it's better to be hanging on by a thread than to already be splattered into a million pieces on the ground. So let's take a look at the season's currently seated underdogs, on the cusp of the playoff bubble, hoping they can get lucky enough to break on in.
Here we go NFL fans, let the relentlessly evolving playoff picture carousel begin. We're in for a wild final five weeks of regular season entertainment — buckle up.
Can the New England Patriots Wild Roller Coaster Season End with a Playoff Berth?
It's been a roller coaster season for the legendary Bill Belichick and his New England team and the Patriots' remaining schedule isn't a cake walk either, specifically their final three challengers.
Bill Belichick's Patriots could head into the last three weeks of NFL regular season play rocking an 8-6 record, defeating the Arizona Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders on the road, which seems attainable. The final three competitors blocking the Patriots' playoff dreams will be the Bengals and Dolphins at home and a regular season finale on the road in Buffalo.
If the Patriots are able to steal at least three W's in the final five, they'd end the season 9-8. Depending on how the Jets and Chargers seasons conclude, the AFC East could find themselves all heading into postseason battle. It's also worth noting that New England is ahead of Los Angeles based on their conference records, so that adds another element of nail biting excitement.
Patriots fans, hold on for dear life and pray to the football gods, all hope isn't lost — the hunt is still alive.
A Commanding Playoff Potential In Washington
With the best record of any team on the bubble, 7-5-1, Washington is holding on with the least desperate grip. It didn't look like Washington would turn it around early in the season after suffering a four-game losing streak early on with a lot of controversy at the helm.
However, once the Commanders handed the keys to Taylor Heinicke, Washington's losing ways faded in the rear-view mirror. Since Heinicke's take over, Washington has gone 5-1-1. Simply put,, the Commanders are on an inspired run.
They've got a late season bye week, but unfortunately there are fierce competitors lining their final stretch - the Giants, 49ers, Browns and Cowboys. It's no easy path for the Commanders, who will have to fight for the right to pop the playoff bubble. It's a tight race in the NFC and as we edge closer to the regular season finish line the hunt has potential to be a true nail biter.
Can the Los Angeles Chargers Bolt Up the Playoff Picture?
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The AFC feels locked up, but there's actually a lot of opportunity for chaos to ensue. Los Angeles is neck and neck with New England.
Justin Herbert's injuries added to Los Angeles's hurdles this season and it's hard to not worry about the team's overall strength at this point in the season. What's with all the injuries for the Southern California football clubs? I mean Herbert hasn't even had his top wide receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams together for an entire game. Fully healthy or not, the Chargers have to find ways to win in this final stretch because the margin of error is beyond slim.
If they could squeeze out three, or ideally four wins, they could pull it off. However, they've got to beat either Miami or Tennessee to do that and they haven't beaten any powerhouse teams so far this season, so it's a big ask this late in a banged up year.
Deshaun Watson's Week 13 Debut Gives Cleveland a New Sense of Optimism
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The NFL's longest long shot wouldn't have made this list if it hadn't been for Week 13, but after last week's performance Cleveland's stock is trending up. The Browns stand at third in the AFC North and third in line to burst the playoff bubble.
The Browns have managed to beat some heavy hitters this season like the Bengals Week 8, despite their losing record. And yes, Watson's Browns debut did result in an encouraging win, despite his stats leaving a lot to be desired. If Cleveland fans are expecting Watson to lead the team up the playoff ladder, they're going to need the controversial quarterback to play better.
Deshaun Watson's return may have invigorated the team, but they've got a tough upcoming lineup facing the Bengal's in Cincy and then the Ravens at home. For the Browns to cut to the front of the bubble line they'd need a swarm of teams to lose as they win out.
The remaining regular season matchups will only add to the uphill battle for the Browns who will be contending with the Saints, Commanders and Steelers. That's a challenging gauntlet for any team in the league, especially one contending with so many disruptions and cohesion. If this long shot manages to find itself within striking distance it would be a dramatic comeback season to say the least.
Rooting for the Longest Shot: the Detroit Lions
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Ok, I know the Lions are sitting on a 5-7 record, but — and it's a big but — we've been saying all season the Lions are one of the best worst teams in the league. An embarrassing 1-6 start has transformed into an impressive upswing. Following a close loss to Miami Week 8, the Lions have managed to win four of their last five games and things are looking brighter. This gives hope for the final five weeks of regular season battles.
There's less to worry about in the final three weeks of NFL regular season bloodshed. The Lions schedule pits them against the Panthers, Bears and Packers, three teams the Lions should be able to beat. They've already beaten Chicago and Green Bay this year and the Panthers have been spinning all season so you'd expect the Lions to claw Carolina to a win.
If Detroit can manage to upset Minnesota and New York in the upcoming weeks, we've seen them beat big teams before, it can be done. They'll still need a sprinkling of magic to happen, namely the Commanders, Falcons and Packers will need to add some L's to their resume. Listen, crazier things have happened. And to be clear, Detroit is statistically still hanging on for dear life and could pull off a playoff miracle.
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