Written by Bill Barnwell at ESPN.com
We might be approaching one of the most unlikely NFL playoff brackets in recent memory. As of right now, eight of the 12 teams that made it to the 2016 postseason won’t be making a return trip to the playoffs this season. The Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs and Falcons are currently penciled in for meaningful football after New Year’s Eve, and Atlanta is one loss away from being in a four-way tie for the sixth seed in the NFC. So we might even see nine fresh faces this January.
Interestingly enough, three of those teams are in line to go from worst to first in their divisions. The Eagles already have clinched the NFC East at 12-2. The Jaguars took a huge step toward winning the AFC South on Sunday, when they routed the Texans and the Titans lost in San Francisco. The Jaguars’ magic number with two games to go is one, and ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Jacksonville a 95.3 percent chance of winning its division.
Likewise, the Los Angeles Rams all but clinched the NFC West on Sunday with one of the most dominating performances of this or any season. They simply annihilated the Seahawks from start to finish, scoring 34 first-half points en route to a 42-7 victory in Seattle. While brutally avenging their Week 5 defeat at the hands of Russell Wilson & Co., the Rams essentially confirmed that they’ll host the first playoff game in Los Angeles since 1993. They have a 98.0 percent chance of winning the West.
All three of these teams deserve to be commended for their 2017 seasons, but the Rams stand out. Virtually nobody saw this coming. I didn’t think the Jaguars were likely to win their division, but as I wrote this summer, underlying metrics suggested they were the team most likely to improve in 2017. The Eagles weren’t far behind on the same list. There wasn’t the same sort of underlying quantitative basis for the Rams, who were also missing a first-round pick after what looked to be a disastrous Jared Goff trade.
Vegas also concurs here. When the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook posted each team’s odds of winning their respective divisions in May, the Eagles were listed at 7-2 (22.2 percent) and the Jaguars were at 5-1 (16.7 percent). The Rams were at 25-1 (3.9 percent). By July, their odds had improved, but they were still given only a 15-1 shot (6.3 percent) of winning their division. FPI gave them a 3.0 percent shot of winning the West before the season, and the Rams weren’t even FPI favorites to win their first NFC West title in 14 seasons until Week 10.
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