Sports Strength

Examining The Biggest NFL Playoff Clinching Scenarios In Week 18

With the eighteenth and final week of the 2021 NFL regular season on tap weekend, there are three playoff spots, two division titles (AFC East and NFC West), and one conference’s No. 1 seed (AFC) still in flux. And while some teams have a simple path to making the playoffs, others are going to need a lot of help. Below are five of the most prominent playoff-clinching scenarios to watch in Week 18.

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Los Angeles Rams or Arizona Cardinals can clinch the NFC West

The Rams and Cardinals have jockeyed for the division crown all season, but the 12-4 Rams enter Week 18 with a one-game advantage in the standings. The Rams can clinch the division with either a win against the San Francisco 49ers OR a Cardinals’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks; conversely, the Cardinals need to win their own game AND for the Rams to lose.

The Tennessee Titans could clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed

Although the Tennessee Titans and Kansas Chiefs are both 11-5, the Titans hold the tiebreaker because of their head-to-head win against the Chiefs in October. This Sunday, the Titans can lock up AFC’s No. 1 seed by defeating the Houston Texans. If the AFC champ loses, it would allow for the Chiefs (and, to a lesser extent, the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots) to seize a first-round bye.

The Chargers, Raiders, and Colts battle for the AFC’s final two spots

Although there are playoff races throughout the league, the battle for the AFC’s last two Wild Card spots has been the most unpredictable and intense. Given that the Indianapolis Colts lock up a playoff berth by dispatching the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, the Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders will face off in a de facto play-in game for the last spot. If the Colts lose, the situation becomes considerably more muddled, as it opens the door for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens to sneak into the postseason.

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Roethlisberger and the Steelers could extend his career one more week

While the Pittsburgh Steelers are making preparations for life without long-time quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is expected to retire after this season, it might not quite be time for goodbye. If the Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, they could make the playoffs as long as the Colts lose and the Raiders-Chargers game doesn’t end in a tie.

The 49ers and Saints compete for the NFC’s lone remaining Wild Card spot

In recent weeks, the NFC playoff picture quickly came into focus as six of the seven spots have been clinched; the only uncertainty is whether the San Francisco 49ers or New Orleans Saints will be the conference’s final Wild Card. The Niners control their own destiny, clinching a playoff berth with a win against the LA Rams OR a New Orleans loss to the Atlanta Falcons; the Saints only hope would be if they win their own game AND the Niners lose.

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The Cowboys Are In The Top Three of Week 17 NFL Power Rankings

With two weeks remaining in the regular season, nearly every team’s future is now clear as day, with the only question being how will their season conclude? With several teams amid their final push towards the postseason or a high first-round pick in next year’s Draft, chaos is the only thing guaranteed at this time of the year. Below are our latest power rankings before entering Week 17 of this NFL season.

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1. Green Bay Packers (12-3)

The Packers’ defense produced another stellar performance on Christmas as they forced Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield into four interceptions while also sacking him five times. Another highlight from their 24-22 victory was Aaron Rodgers finally becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns (45).

2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)

Not only are the Chiefs maintaining their newfound success on defense, but they’re back to clicking on all cylinders on offense via with their 39 points per game average over their last three games.

3. Dallas Cowboys (11-4)

Fewer wins are more important and impressive than a pair of dominant wins over your most competitive divisional rival. The Cowboys had led by double-digits against the Washington Football Team in seven out of eight quarters, with that lone quarter happening in their first matchup in Week 14.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4)

As expected, the reigning Super Bowl champion let the next man step up, and they continued their path towards a championship repeat by handling the Carolina Panthers, 32-6.

5. Los Angeles Rams (11-4)

By winning their fourth consecutive game last Sunday, the Rams are now the leader in the NFC West and occupy the third seed in their conference. If anything, don’t rule them out of the race for the No. 1 seed!

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6. Indianapolis Colts (9-6)

The surging AFC South competitor (winners of six out of their seven past games) continues to control their postseason destiny by winning a huge primetime game on the road against the Arizona Cardinals. To punch a ticket to the playoffs, the Colts will likely have to win out and eliminate the need for help from any teams.

7. Buffalo Bills (9-6)

The Bills are back in the position many expected them to be, and that’s leading the AFC East. At this point, the Bills have to maintain their lead in their division and aim to grab the AFC’s third seed when the playoffs arrive.

8. New England Patriots (9-6)

While their recent seven-game winning streak, and being the AFC’s No. 1 seed, might feel like a distant memory, the Patriots have the same record as their divisional rival, the Bills, who are the AFC’s fourth seed. If you were to ask anyone from the Patriots what they care about most right now, it’s making the playoffs by any means necessary.

9. Tennessee Titans (10-5)

The Titans showed a lot of resilience during their 20-17 comeback victory against the San Francisco 49ers last Thursday. Despite their season-long inconsistencies and injury problems, the Titans are now in contention for the first seed in the AFC as they’re currently second.

10. Arizona Cardinals (10-5)

As previously mentioned in last week’s rankings, the Cardinals have to figure out how quickly they can solve their recent struggles. Even with a playoff spot officially clinched, the former NFC West leader needs to right their ship before the playoffs arrive.

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The Packers Regain The Top Spot In Week 16 NFL Power Rankings

It may have taken longer than expected, but a team finally clinched a playoff spot! The Green Bay Packers, the NFC’s No. 1 seed and repeating NFC North champions, punched their ticket to the postseason last Sunday and the stage is set for more teams to join them this coming weekend. Down below are our latest power rankings before we enter Week 16 of this NFL season.

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1. Green Bay Packers (11-3)

Although they’ve relatively flown under the radar, the Green Bay Packers have emerged as the best team in the league. In Week 15, Aaron Rodgers tied Brett Favre for most passing touchdowns in franchise history and helped his team seal up a NFC North division title.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

For the third time in the last four seasons, the Chiefs are once again the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Interestingly, the Chiefs are fueled by a stingy defense while their usually high-octane offense has sputtered at times. At this rate, if the current AFC West leader remains at No. 1, they’ll be the favorite to make a Super Bowl appearance for the third consecutive season.

3. New England Patriots (9-5)

While all NFL fans outside of New England are happy about the team’s seven-game winning stream coming to an end last Saturday, the Patriots’ second-half performance was noteworthy. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones is as good as advertised, and the Patriots are still a threat in the AFC’s playoff picture.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4)

The Buccaneers’ stunning 9-0 home loss against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night capped off a hectic Week 15, but there’s little need for them to panic. Despite losing star receiver Chris Godwin to a torn ACL, the Buccaneers will likely find a way to readjust and be fine come playoff time.

5. Dallas Cowboys (10-4)

Even with the looming cloud of the franchise’s recent postseason failures, the Cowboys are deservedly happy right now. They’ll clinch the NFC East with one more win and are currently the second seed in the NFC, riding an ongoing three-game win streak.

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6. Los Angeles Rams (10-4)

The Rams are a living example of how fast things can change in the NFL. After going winless in November, they are back to playing winning football and could take the lead in the NFC West if they defeat the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday night.

7. Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

Over the course of a long season, every team—no matter how good—endures a tough stretch, as the injury-plagued Cardinals are quickly discovering. Arizona is undeniably a talented team, but now it’s a matter of whether they can right the ship with just three weeks remaining in the season—especially with a division title and higher playoff seeding on the line.

8. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

Led by MVP contender running back Jonathan Taylor, the Colts are beginning to look dangerous, as evidenced by their 27-17 win against the Patriots. Although they’re in the driver’s seat to lock up a Wild Card berth, the Colts face a difficult end to the season, with games against Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders in Weeks 16 and 17.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)

While the Chargers lost a heart-breaker to the Chiefs on Thursday night, they can at least take solace in the fact that their playoff positioning didn’t change at all. The AFC West competitor still holds one of their conference’s three wild-card spots along with tiebreaker advantages over other teams in that race.

10. Tennessee Titans (9-5)

At this point of the season, the Titans are looking at a half-full glass. On the positive side, they’re still in position to win the AFC South title. On the down side, though, they’re likely to be the third or fourth seed, which likely creates a matchup against the Colts, Chargers or Bills, three teams whose records belie their respective goodness.

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NBA Highlights From December 13th-19th

While the NBA’s latest week in action got disrupted because of rising COVID cases, the on-court action managed to stand out in the end. Between history being made for the game’s greatest shooter and a team no one expected becoming the hottest across the league, the stakes continue to rise as Christmas approaches. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action.

Steph makes history in Steph-like fashion
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On Tuesday night, all eyes were on Stephen Curry as he was two made three-pointers away from becoming the NBA’s all-time leader in that category. And besides Madison Square Garden being the perfect place for the long-time Golden State Warrior to make history, the way he did it was genuinely fitting.

While the Warriors were trailing the New York Knicks, 10-9, Curry ran to his spot on the right-wing, and splashed a three within a matter of seconds—a sequence we’ve seen thousands of times throughout his illustrated career—and made The Garden erupt with loud cheers.

The Cavs (yes, the Cavs!) might be the hottest team in the league
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Even during an 82-game regular season, there are certain developments you didn’t expect to witness. If you were to ask anybody before this season about the Cleveland Cavaliers, their answers would have likely involved them being near the top of the NBA Draft Lottery. But the Cavaliers holding the league’s active longest-winning steak? And being the third seed in the Eastern Conference? No way.

The 19-12 Cavaliers are proving to be viable playoff contenders who could make much noise next spring. Their combination of a dynamic youth movement and impactful play by their veterans will cause further speculation of what’s next for the Central Division competitor.

Various teams are middle of the pack and can’t get out
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Through the league’s first 30 games of every season, we witness teams adjust to sudden changes, discover their identity, and experience the ups and downs of life on in the middle. But when that second part of the season begins and specific trends haven’t changed, it leads to questions about whether or not a team actually has the potential to improve.

Several teams, including playoff contenders such as the Celtics, Hawks, and Trail Blazers, are mired in a vast pack of average teams across the league and are likely to go through the rest of this season as a fringe-playoff contender or worse, a low-end Draft Lottery participant.

The league battles postponements of games and troubling test results
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Despite daily news of various players entering the league’s health and safety protocols becoming standard, so is the reality of games getting postponed. Since the start of this past weekend, the NBA has postponed five games, and it’s not a reach to believe only more games will receive the same fate.

With a growing number of players entering protocols and missing extensive action and teams struggling to field a roster of enough players, questions have come to rise about the NBA either changing its testing methods or ultimately pausing the season in the coming weeks.

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Ranking The Five-Best WNBA Games In 2022

After what was arguably the league’s most successful season ever, the anticipation for the 2022 WNBA season is at an all-time high. So what other way to keep building on that momentum than by releasing next season’s schedule? That’s what the WNBA chose to do last Thursday, so fans of the league can now start planning their schedule around next season’s tip-off on May 6th.

Make no mistake: the W will provide plenty of action every night, but here are the five absolute can’t-miss games for the 2022 WNBA regular season.

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Chicago Sky vs. Los Angeles Sparks on May 6th

It’s opening night, and not only will we see the hometown hero (Candace Parker) and home team (Chicago Sky) receive their rings at home, but they’ll do so in front of Parker’s former team, the Los Angeles Sparks. When Parker and guards Kahleah Copper and Courtney Vandersloot square off against former MVP Nneka Ogwumike and Erica Wheeler, it’s the definition of must-see TV.

Phoenix Mercury vs. Las Vegas Aces on May 6th

Besides having a massive amount of star power between the two of them (Diana Taurasi, A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage, and Brittney Griner), the Mercury and the Aces are battle-tested. Their match-up on opening night will be a fitting sequel to their epic playoff battles last year, when the Mercury upset the second-seeded Aces in a decisive Game Five on the road in the semifinals.

Chicago Sky vs. Phoenix Mercury on May 31st

Fewer things scream “must-see TV” more than a rematch of the previous year’s Finals. For both the Mercury and Sky, this is a substantial measuring-stick kind of game and it’ll have a playoff-atmosphere as a result.

New York Liberty vs. Seattle Storm on June 19th

Even though the Eastern and Western Conference competitors will be facing each other for the third time at this point of the season, the date of this matchup gives it more importance. With three weeks remaining before the All-Star break, will Sabrina Ionescu and the upstart New York Liberty be able to build on their gains of last season? Will the Storm remain their usually competitive selves, despite Sue Bird’s potential retirement? When the Liberty and the Storm square off, it’ll be a fascinating barometer for who these teams are and who they may become.

Dallas Wings vs. Las Vegas Aces on August 4th

Lost in the noise of last year’s playoff race, the Dallas Wings snuck in as the seventh-seed because of their late-season play. Guard Arike Ogunbowale is coming off of three consecutive seasons with at least 18 points per game, and this game is likely to help determine the Wings’ playoff push– especially with the season concluding ten days later.

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NBA Highlights From November 29th-December 5th

As everyone’s focus is to either improve or build upon what happened during the first quarter of this NBA season, the quote “iron sharpens iron” becomes a living reality. Whether it’s conference-leading teams going toe to toe or young stars taking on their idols, the season’s second quarter becomes a proving ground before the All-Star break. Below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

The league’s past, present and future are having memorable battles
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It’s normal for the league to have its first heavy slate of important matchups when the calendar turns to December, but it doesn’t make it less exciting. Now on a nightly basis, there’s a matchup that pits any cominbation of the league’s past, present, and future stars against each other. Accordingly, on Sunday night, we watched an incredible duel between guards Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell.

Garland, the third-year Cleveland Cavalier who’s having a breakout year, had 31 points and five assists, and Mitchell, the Utah Jazz’s soon-to-be superstar, finished with 35 points and six assists in a 109-108 thrilling Jazz victory. As the game inched closer to its conclusion, both players weren’t shy to score and guard each other in the clutch while already being the two best players on the court.

The NY Knicks are struggling to build upon last season’s success
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After being one of the league’s biggest surprise stories last season, the Knicks have struggled to regain that spark as they’re currently 11-12 and sitting outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race due to their ongoing three-game losing streak. And while this season’s Knicks team is more talented, they certainly don’t have the determination and focus that powered last season’s team to a surprise playoff appearance.

“We gotta look ourselves in the mirror and decide what we want the season to be,” Julius Randle said after the team’s 113-99 loss against the Denver Nuggets last Saturday. “I know what I want it to be. I know what the guys want it to be. But we have to commit to it, and that’s just really what it is.”

CanWill Damian Lillard find his swagger before it’s too late?
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To say it’s been a crazy handful of months for Lillard is an understatement. In between readjusting to a new head coach, daily rumors surrounding his unhappiness with the Portland Trail Blazers, and him and the team’s constant struggles, Lillard now has one more problem: injuries.

The multi-time All-Star will be out of action for at least ten days due to an abdominal injury, and it couldn’t have happened at the worst time. Despite averaging his lowest points per game average since his third NBA season (2014-’15), Lillard was beginning to regain his previous form, as witnessed by his 39 and 32-point performances against the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings between November 20th-24th.

The Thunder are simply bad and there isn’t much to say about that
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While it’s already unfathomable that the Oklahoma City Thunder lost by 73 points last Friday, it’s crazier when you realize they lost by 57 points less than six months ago. And even though the NBA can’t do anything about the Thunder and their rare, historic losses, some say an eye should be kept on their performance moving forward.

In the spirit of competitiveness and further eliminating the thought of tanking, which at one point plagued the mind of sports fans, the Thunder must turn the corner in that department, even if it doesn’t produce a more wins.

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Which NFL Teams Are In Danger Of Missing The Playoffs?

Although it gets accepted that life in the NFL can change at any moment, teams aren’t always prepared for when it does. Whether it’s due to injuries, inconsistency, or a tough schedule, teams often regress throughout the regular season and can suffer the enormous consequence of missing the playoffs as a result of their failure.

As we enter Week 13 of the NFL season, which teams are currently in danger of missing the playoffs? Take a look down below at the five teams who qualify for this conversation.

Buffalo Bills (7-4)
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Yes, the Bills certainly have enough talent to get back on track and reestablish themselves as a Super Bowl contender, but their remaining schedule doesn’t do them any favors. With just a one-game lead over three other teams in the AFC Wild Card race, the Bills face the daunting task of playing the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers three times within the next month. Even more concerning, they’ll be without All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.

Dallas Cowboys (7-4)
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The Cowboys are now involved in a closely-contested divisional race against Washington Football Team, who are not only playing better football than Dallas but are healthier and have a slightly easier remaining schedule. Having lost three of their last four games, the Cowboys desperately need to scrape together some wins if they want to salvage what’s quickly becoming a lost season.

San Francisco 49ers (6-5)
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Immense credit has and will be given to the 49ers for turning their ship around and grabbing one of the NFC’s Wild Card spots, but their remaining schedule creates doubt about their chance of making the postseason. Four of their final six games are on the road and this slate includes contests against divisional rivals (Seahawks and Rams) and playoff-contending teams (Bengals and Titans).

Los Angeles Chargers (6-5)
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The case against the Chargers making the postseason surrounds their inconsistency which has been horrid to watch. With three more playoff teams to face on their schedule, including the 7-4 Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday, the Chargers have the opportunity to strengthen their grasp on the AFC’s last Wild Card or lose it for good.

Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
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Amongst the lower to middle-tier teams competing to make this year’s playoffs, the Colts have arguably the best chance to rise out of the muck and make the postseason. Other than possessing enough talent and coaching to win games, the Colts have given up leads or fallen short at the end of four games this season, most recently against the Buccaneers last Sunday. If they won at least two of those games, the Colts would be 8-5 and in line to win the AFC South division instead of looking from the outside at the AFC Wild Card race.