Elizabeth Muirhead ’20 | Assistant Sports Editor
We’re approximately 12 weeks into the NFL season, and teams have played enough games to carve out their places in the league and assess their playoff prospects. NFL teams are broken up into two conferences: the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). At the end of the regular season, there are three rounds of playoffs before the Super Bowl. The first round is called the Wild Card Round. The top two seeds get an automatic bye; the 3rd seed plays the 6th seed, and the 4th and 5th seeds play each other. After those games, we move on to the Divisional Round, where the 1st seed team plays the lower-seed winner from the Wild Card Round, and the 2nd seed team plays the higher-seed team. After those two games, the two Divisional-Round winners move on to the conference championships. The winners of the AFC championship and the NFC championship compete in the Super Bowl.
Right now in the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots are positioned in the first and second seeds respectively, giving them byes for the Wild Card Round — but there’s still enough time for both of those spots to change. The Pats (2nd) are 8-3-0, while the Texans (3rd) are 7-3-0 and the Steelers (4th) are 7-3-1. The 5th and 6th teams respectively are the Chargers and Ravens. Over in the NFC, the Rams and Saints (who are both 10-1-0) are 1st and 2nd, sitting in their spots with a little more confidence. The Bears, Cowboys, Vikings and Redskins are 3rd through 6th for the Wild Card Round.
There are 17 weeks in the regular season, which means that teams have roughly five more games to improve their record and solidify spots in the playoffs. Looking from a New England perspective, the Patriots have positive prospects moving forward. This coming Sunday, December 2, they play the Minnesota Vikings, who only have a 6-4-1 record — including losses to the Bills, whom the Pats beat 25-6 in October.
In every one of the Patriots’ last five games of the regular season, they are going up against teams with worse records. As for the only team above the Pats in the AFC – the Chiefs – they are also going up against worse teams for their final five games. Both teams are expected to win all of their last games and secure their spot in the playoffs. For the Patriots to knock the Chiefs out of the top spot, some underdogs would need to beat the Chiefs in their final weeks of the season.
Even if the Chiefs pose a threat moving forward, the Patriots hit an important milestone in their game against the Jets this past weekend. New England’s quarterback, Tom Brady, surpassed Peyton Manning for the most total passing yards in the NFL, including both regular and postseason. In addition to breaking the record, the Patriots picked up an important victory. Their win against the Jets, who have a losing record of 3-8-0, was crucial after their unexpected loss in their previous game. Two weeks prior, the Pats took on the Tennessee Titans and lost in an embarrassing 10-34 blowout.
Heading into December, New England fans should expect more wins and a spot in the playoffs. Fans should also warily keep an eye on the Chiefs because, if their success continues, the Patriots may see them later in the playoffs. Additionally, fans should keep an eye on the Saints and Rams, whom both have extremely impressive records and strong Super Bowl prospects. For now, though, New England fans can proceed with cautious optimism and enjoy December football.