Can A 9-7 Team Make The AFC Playoffs?

This was the pertinent question last Thursday when Philadelphia played Seattle with both teams at 4-7 and continuing the run of prime-time clunkers, it again is the relevant issue tonight when San Diego faces Jacksonville on Monday Night Football. While the Jaguars are already long gone, at 3-8 and having fired coach Jack Del Rio, the Chargers are at 4-7 and hoping against hope for a miracle run that will prevent their own coach, Norv Turner, from suffering a similar fate. But is it already too late? Let’s look at the AFC playoff picture and see if a 9-7 team making it in is feasible.

You can write off the top wild-card spot, as Pittsburgh & Baltimore are already at 9-3 (if it ends in a tie the Ravens take the AFC North based on a head-to-head sweep) and neither team is going to lose all four remaining games. For the second and last berth the contenders are at 7-5. Here’s the rundown…

*NY Jets: They have a home game against offensively challenged Kansas City next week which is quite winnable. A Week 17 game in Miami is suddenly looking awfully tough. Therefore the key would lie in the two middle games, at Philadelphia and a game with the Giants in their shared home at the Meadowlands. The Jets at least have a shot at taking three out of four and getting to 10 wins. And from the San Diego perspective, even if New York makes it to 9, the Jets won a head-to-head game earlier this year.

*Cincinnati: If the Bengals can lick their wounds from yesterday’s shellacking by Pittsburgh and get back on their feet, they can win a tough home game next week with Houston and another in Week 16 Arizona. A road game in St. Louis is a gimme, and it’s possible that for their final home game with Baltimore the Ravens may be in a position to rest starters. Cincy’s chances of winning three games in this stretch look good.

*Tennessee: Next week’s at home with New Orleans and the finale is in Houston. Between those two are road date in Indianapolis and a home game against Jacksonville, both games Tennessee should win. Again, a good shot at 10-6.

*Denver/Oakland: It’s unlikely both of these teams make it to 10-6 and if only one does, then obviously they would win the AFC West and not be a part of this discussion. The Raiders are the ones with the best chance to falter, going to Green Bay next week, and having a home game with Detroit. And from the perspective of San Diego it’s preferable the Raiders stumble, because the Bolts go to Oakland for the season finale.

The bottom line? If San Diego wins out, they likely finish second in the AFC West, but just as likely find that it’s not good enough. Between the Jets, Bengals and Titans it seems likely that at least one would get to ten wins (and other than the Jets, we’re giving San Diego the benefit of the doubt on tiebreakers). The real question we should be asking is if a 10-6 team would be left on the sidelines come January 8 when the postseason begins. That’s bad news for San Diego, bad news for Norv and general manager A.J. Smith, who may follow him to the unemployment line and bad news for ESPN. Because there’s no reason to watch this game tonight and I think I’ll watch the Bruins-Penguins on the hockey package followed by Rizzoli & Isles on TNT. Nothing like an evening with Boston’s finest.