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NFL Thanksgiving: How the Playoff Picture Changed

[lead align=”default”]There were three NFL Thanksgiving games yesterday, all of which had direct playoff implications.[/lead]

It’s sometimes the case that one of the three games on this November Thursday mean something. If you’re lucky, two mean something. This year, Thanksgiving meant three big games. How did they shift the playoff picture?

NFL Thanksgiving Game 1: Minnesota at Detroit

First Impact: The Lions took sole possession of first in the NFC North. Who knew that Detroit had it in them, but they beat Minnesota twice this season. This win got them into first place all by themselves, and why can’t they win the division? Minnesota is clearly compromised, Green Bay is terrible, and the Bears skidded off the runway.

Second Impact: The Vikings dropped back into the wild card race, on the outside looking in. Minnesota is not out of the playoff hunt if they lose the NFC North. The thing is, they do eventually need to win again, and they’re not doing such a good job of it lately. One figures that about ten wins gets you in, whether division or wild card. This doesn’t look like a team that’s going 4-2 down the stretch, but we’ll see.

Third Impact: Since it wasn’t a tie, a division leader at 7-4 makes it more unlikely the Packers will come back to win the NFC North. One of these teams was going to 7-4 save for a tie. The Packers are now 2.5 games out and on a losing streak. The Lions and Packers play again, but in Detroit. If they take another loss or two, Green Bay is done.

NFL Thanksgiving Game 2: Washington at Dallas

First Impact: The Cowboys are nearly certain to win the NFC East, especially if they beat the Giants. At 10-1, pretty easy to argue that Dallas is the division champion. Don’t pencil them in for 15-1 just yet, but the playoffs are a near guarantee and the NFC East is close to it. If the New York Giants beat them again, maybe Big Blue has a shot, but it’s an outside chance at this point. Assuming Dallas wins that game, it might wrap up the division officially.

Second Impact: The Redskins are all but out of the NFC East race. Washington is 6-4-1 and about three games out of the division race. Dallas probably is not losing four games at the rate they’re going. For Dallas (or the Giants) to have any real chance at the division, Washington had to win Thursday and they didn’t.

Third Impact: The Redskins no longer have much of a cushion in the wild card race, but that tie is saving them. At 6-4-1, Washington is barely ahead of 6-5 Minnesota. Two teams, the Eagles and Bucs, are at 5-5 right behind them. No question, Washington is in a tense situation. Still, having just four losses and a tie as opposed to five losses is keeping them just in front of the field.

Fourth Impact: Assuming the Giants don’t pick up a disastrous loss in Cleveland, they will have wild card breathing room. If the Giants win this weekend, they’re 8-3 and a bit more clear of Washington in the race for the first wild card. The Dallas win on Thursday was bad for the Giants’ hopes of winning the division, but good for their overall playoff chances.

NFL Thanksgiving Game 3: Pittsburgh at Indianapolis

First Impact: The Steelers are in sole possession of first in the AFC North, for now. Pittsburgh is unimpressive at 6-5, but right now, that’s good enough. If Baltimore wins this weekend, they hop back over the Steelers on the tiebreaker.

Second Impact: The Ravens are on the outside looking in. Baltimore faces a very disappointing Cincinnati this Sunday, but they have to win to get back on the right side of the picture. The Steelers were down and Baltimore could have really put some distance in that division, but it didn’t happen. Who knows, the AFC North could look like this all the way to the finish.

Third Impact: The Colts are all but out of the wild card race, and hurting in the AFC South. Indy fell to 5-6 last night with their loss. The AFC West has three very strong teams and are favorites to get three teams in the playoffs. Indianapolis fell further behind those teams, and let’s be honest, they didn’t look great WITH Andrew Luck. As for the AFC South, Houston’s not so fantastic that they can’t be caught, but nobody else has a winning record.

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