When the NFL’s schedule makers slotted Jaguars at Titans into Thursday’s prime-time slot again in April, this clearly wasn’t the matchup they envisioned — a contest of seemingly average-at-best squads clinging to the postseason periphery … although, within the Jags’ case, they stopped clinging a while in the past.
But this recreation is a microcosm of the present scrum of groups scrapping for relevance, whether or not as late-season spoilers or last-minute playoff entries. And “common at greatest” appears fairly apropos this week given almost one quarter of the league’s golf equipment, together with the Titans, are at the moment mired at 6-6.
“We don’t have any time to take a seat right here and waste,” Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel mentioned Monday as his gamers started accelerated preparations for Jacksonville.
His Titans, and people clustered round them within the standings, certainly have little time and no extra alternatives to squander if they need this season to be memorable as an alternative of forgettable.
Here is a have a look at all seven .500 groups, ranked from worst to greatest when it comes to their postseason potential.
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7. Washington Redskins
Glass half full: Among the many break-even NFC outfits, they’ve the best remaining schedule — the Giants at dwelling, adopted by journeys to Jacksonville and Nashville earlier than the Eagles go to FedEx Subject for the regular-season finale. Even at 33, Adrian Peterson actually is not slowing down, evidenced by his 90-yard TD run Monday. However he wants greater than 9 carries. The ‘Skins are 0-2 in opposition to AFC groups, however these are the perfect video games to lose as soon as tiebreakers shake out.
Glass half empty: They have not gained since Alex Smith went down and, barring a miraculous restoration by Colt McCoy, are all the way down to Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson within the quarterback room. The offense was pedestrian even with Smith, however now it is in peril of grinding to a halt. Worse, the protection has cratered. Since November dawned, it is allowed a median of 430.Four yards, in addition to 30 factors per recreation in 4 losses over that interval.
6. Miami Dolphins
Glass half full: They’ve a 5-Four mark in AFC video games; not one of the different 6-6 groups within the convention is best than .500 in that class, a probably key tiebreaker consideration. QB Ryan Tannehill has been again for 2 weeks and enjoying with quiet effectivity. The Fins have gained 4 of 5 at dwelling in opposition to the Patriots however really want to beat them Sunday to launch a viable wild-card drive.
Glass half empty: No person on this staff scares you. Antiquated Frank Gore might be Miami’s MVP, not precisely an uplifting growth. After a 3-Zero begin, the Dolphins have misplaced six of 9, with the protection permitting a minimum of 27 factors and 400 yards in 5 of these video games. With the Chargers having already banked 9 wins, the AFC’s 6-6 groups are all principally preventing for the convention’s second wild card given none are a risk to win their respective divisions.
5. Indianapolis Colts
Glass half full: Earlier than Sunday’s clunker in opposition to the Jags, Andrew Luck had fought his method into the MVP dialog, Indy’s offense averaging 34.6 factors throughout a five-game successful streak. First-year coach Frank Reich is a gutsy play caller and should proceed to be if his membership goes to forge one other sizzling streak. Rookie LB Darius Leonard is changing into a star on a protection that is quietly blossomed right into a top-10 unit. The Colts have a minimum of one takeaway in each recreation.
Glass half empty: They only laid a probably deadly egg in that 6-Zero loss to Jacksonville and should rebound rapidly given they’re going to face the league’s hottest groups, Houston and Dallas, the following two weeks. WR T.Y. Hilton and TE Eric Ebron are nursing accidents that prevented them from working towards Wednesday. The offense has gotten sloppy the final two weeks, committing 5 turnovers.
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4. Tennessee Titans
Glass half full: They might fairly run the desk. The Titans’ ultimate 4 video games are in opposition to the Jags, Giants, Redskins and Colts, all save one (New York) to be performed at Nissan Stadium. Marcus Mariota lastly appears fairly wholesome and is enjoying much better for the reason that Week eight bye, posting a gaudy 114.9 passer ranking in a span that is included three wins in 5 weeks.
Glass half empty: A protection as soon as surrendering the fewest factors within the league has slipped to sixth in that division. Tennessee has permitted 94 factors over the previous three weeks. Additionally, not sufficient momentum-shifting performs from a gaggle that is generated simply 10 takeaways and 29 sacks. Mariota’s surge apart, the offense continues to underwhelm general and has left Vrabel experimenting with O-line mixtures.
3. Carolina Panthers
Glass half full: Former MVP Cam Newton could also be having his greatest season — simply ask him — although questions arose about his shoulder within the aftermath of his four-INT efficiency Sunday in Tampa. Elsewhere, LB Luke Kuechly is sweet as ever, and Christian McCaffrey has developed into one of many league’s premier backs and will change into simply the third ever to have 1,000 speeding and receiving yards in the identical season. Wins over the Cowboys and Eagles might assist in the tiebreaking division. The Panthers are out of the division race however, not like the AFC groups, a part of a combination the place each wild playing cards are nonetheless up within the air.
Glass half empty: They’re in a rut that is laborious to elucidate — although coach “Riverboat Ron” Rivera appears to assume it has extra to do together with his now-altered defensive workers than a few of his personal questionable gambles. In equity, the secondary has been laughably dangerous these days, and Carolina has only one takeaway throughout a dropping streak that is reached 4 weeks. Perhaps Rivera’s resolution to imagine the play calling will end up higher than, say, going for 2 factors and the win in Detroit final month. TE Greg Olsen was misplaced to one more foot harm. Losses to the Redskins and Seahawks could possibly be penal … although may additionally be irrelevant given the Panthers should nonetheless face the Saints twice.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Glass half full: Beating the Giants and depleted Redskins hardly places the reigning champs in excessive cotton, however they’re now within the midst of their first “successful streak” of 2018. The long-dormant working recreation has woke up with rookie bruiser Josh Adams teaming with Darren Sproles, whose hamstring is permitting him to play ultimately. WR Golden Tate lastly had a breakout recreation together with his new staff after three invisible weeks. And, not like Carolina, the Eagles are in play for each the NFC East crown and a wild card.
Glass half empty: Even when Philly wins in Dallas on Sunday and pulls right into a tie atop the division, the schedule subsequently serves up the Rams and Texans. Dates with Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and even Lamar Miller loom as very problematic for a run protection that is gone to items within the second half of the season. A loss to the Panthers in Week 7 might come again to hang-out them.
1. Denver Broncos
Glass half full: They’ve caught hearth on the proper time, successful three straight — a streak that would billow right into a full-on blaze given Denver’s subsequent three opponents are the 49ers, Browns and Raiders. Even a Week 17 date with the Chargers has vital potential to be meaningless to the Bolts, barring a collapse, except the AFC West remains to be at stake on the ultimate day of the common season. The coaching wheels are off rookie Bradley Chubb, who now types half of the league’s most potent move rush tandem reverse Von Miller. After a Rocky Mountain begin, QB Case Keenum is turnover-free the previous 4 video games, helped largely by the efficiency of rookie Phillip Lindsay, now the AFC’s No. 1 rusher. And there is definitely a strong alternative to catch the Ravens (7-5), who at the moment maintain the AFC’s second wild card but in addition have upcoming street journeys to Kansas Metropolis and Los Angeles to face the Chargers.
Glass half empty: CB Chris Harris broke his leg Sunday however might ultimately return. The information wasn’t almost nearly as good for WR Emmanuel Sanders, who suffered a torn Achilles in follow. The choice to dump Demaryius Thomas on the commerce deadline might come again to hang-out GM John Elway. Keenum should now get by with a extremely inexperienced trio of wideouts (Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, DaeSean Hamilton), which is unlikely to discourage defenses from attempting to gang up on Lindsay.
Comply with Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis