Pretender or contender? Labeling potential playoff teams after Steelers flop

Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes had been all however crushed on Thursday evening by an abysmal loss to the lowly Patriots (3-10). With back-to-back losses in opposition to two-win groups, the Steelers (7-6) have solidified themselves as a postseason pretender. 

Here is a take a look at the place 5 different groups within the playoff hunt land on the pretender-to-contender scale.

Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4): Contender

Remaining video games: at Browns, vs. Ravens, at Bucs, vs. Panthers, at Titans

The Jaguars confronted an enormous scare in Week 13 when quarterback Trevor Lawrence crumpled to the turf with what seemed to be a season-ending harm. Thankfully for Jacksonville, he suffered “solely” a high-ankle sprain and can play once more this season.

Even when Lawrence misses a recreation or two, the Jaguars have the items wanted to climate the storm. Jacksonville’s protection, tied for fifth within the NFL in interceptions per recreation (one) and opponent dashing yards per recreation (93.1), has carried the crew a lot of the season. 

RB Travis Etienne, in the meantime, is having a fantastic season, rating sixth within the league in dashing yards (771) and seventh in dashing touchdowns (eight).  

Minnesota Vikings (6-6): Pretender

Remaining video games: at Raiders, at Bengals, vs. Lions, vs. Packers, at Lions

Joshua Dobbs’ magical run was enjoyable whereas it lasted, however the “Passtronaut” crashed to earth in Minnesota’s 12-10 loss to the Bears earlier than the crew’s bye. The 28-year-old threw 4 interceptions within the defeat, prompting HC Kevin O’Connell to think about benching him for Week 14. The Vikings, nevertheless, are sticking with him.

Although star wideout Justin Jefferson — a full participant in follow this week — is prone to return from a hamstring harm for Week 14, the Vikings might not be capable to overcome the lack of Kirk Cousins, who suffered a season-ending torn Achilles harm on Oct. 29. Minnesota faces a tricky highway to the playoffs, with two video games in opposition to the Lions and one in opposition to the Packers to shut their season.  

Inexperienced Bay Packers (6-6): Contender

Remaining video games: at Giants, vs. Bucs, at Panthers, at Vikings, vs. Bears

The emergence of quarterback Jordan Love has positioned the Packers firmly within the playoff dialogue. Over Inexperienced Bay’s lively three-game win streak, the 25-year-old has accomplished 74-of-108 (69%) passes for 857 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.

For the Packers to make a run, nevertheless, they have to get wholesome. Star working again Aaron Jones continues to rehab from a sprained MCL he suffered in Week 10, whereas cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and huge receiver Christian Watson (hamstring) are additionally coping with accidents. 

Regardless, current wins over the Lions and Chiefs show the Packers can cling with one of the best.

Indianapolis Colts (7-5): Pretender

Remaining video games: at Bengals, vs. Steelers, at Falcons, vs. Raiders, vs. Texans

The Colts have stayed afloat regardless of shedding standout rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson 5 weeks into the season. It appears unlikely, nevertheless, they will make the playoffs.

Indianapolis will likely be with out its finest participant for its postseason push, with working again Jonathan Taylor anticipated to overlook three to 5 weeks after present process surgical procedure on his thumb.

Though Taylor’s substitute, Zack Moss, is assured — “I believe I am fairly rattling good,” he told — the Colts have little margin for error. That is as a result of rookie QB C.J. Stroud and the Texans (7-5) are respiration down their neck within the division. Each groups face off in Week 18, seemingly setting the stage for a win-and-in recreation.    

Cleveland Browns (7-5): Contender 

Remaining video games: vs. Jaguars, vs. Bears, at Texans, vs. Jets, at Bengals.

The Browns have overcome a large number of accidents at key positions due to their elite protection. Cleveland’s unit ranks first within the NFL in opponent yards per recreation (260.5) and opponent passing yards per recreation (153.4).

Whereas the Browns’ revolving door at quarterback hasn’t stopped spinning, Cleveland has seemingly discovered a serviceable starter in veteran Joe Flacco. The 38-year-old performed properly in Week 13, finishing 23-of-44 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. 

Protection nonetheless wins championships, and the Browns have the most effective within the NFL. With first rate play at quarterback, Cleveland might make a run.

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