The final weekend of the NFL regular season is already delivering some chaos.
Early Sunday afternoon, the Jaguars, in line for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, upset the AFC South rival Colts 26-11 in a stunning defeat.
The Colts entered Sunday with an 88 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight, needing only a win to guarantee themselves a spot in the AFC field. Now, they are placed in the uncomfortable position of having to wait out their fate.
But the Jacksonville win doesn’t just rock Indianapolis. Now, the “Sunday Night Football” matchup between the Raiders and Chargers could see both teams — originally faced with a winner-take-all matchup to enter the playoffs — make the postseason, pushing the Colts out and holding the second-place AFC North team out of the picture in what would be a unique event.
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What Jaguars’ win means for NFL playoff picture
The Colts needed a win to move to 10-7 and stay above both the Chargers and Raiders, who each enter the “Sunday Night Football” matchup at 9-7. If the Colts and Raiders both won, the Raiders would have the higher seed by virtue of the tiebreaking edge, while Indianapolis would be in a spot above Los Angeles.
However, the win now means the Chargers and Raiders could both make it into the playoffs, joining the AFC East runner-up, as wild-card teams if they both tie. This unique circumstance has amped up the theory among fans that both teams might just kneel down the entire game, run out the clock and accept the tie for both teams to make the playoffs.
Why would this work? At 9-7-1, the Chargers and Raiders would each have a better win-loss record over the Colts, who are now at 9-8. The Steelers lost to both Los Angeles and Las Vegas, so even with a win over the Ravens, they would not have the tiebreaker over either team. The only other team left in the picture, the Ravens, would have moved to just 9-8 with a win over the Steelers, which would match them with Indianapolis and hold them out.
But don’t think that NBC and NFL executives are sweating the game out too much just yet. The Raiders and Chargers are rivals, after all, and earlier in the week, Los Angeles head coach Brandon Staley splashed cold water on the idea of a game full of kneel downs, saying that the game matters too much for them to throw it. For both Staley and Raiders coach Rich Bisaccia, there is also the risk that the team with the ball at the end of regulation would just throw up a deep pass or kick a field goal to win the game anyway and eliminate their AFC West rival from the postseason.
NFL PLAYOFF SCENARIOS: Chargers | Raiders | Colts
Los Angeles Chargers
Overall, this doesn’t impact the Chargers as much as it does most other teams.
Los Angeles entered Sunday in a win-and-get-in mentality, and that remains the same. If the Chargers beat the Raiders, they make it into the playoffs. Not only would they make it into the playoffs, but they’re now shaping up to be the No. 6 seed in the field with the win.
There is still even a possibility they could leap up as high as No. 5 with a win. The Patriots play the Dolphins and the Bills play the Jets during the 4:25 p.m. ET window. Should the Bills lose to the Jets and the Patriots beat the Dolphins, Los Angeles would jump up to the No. 5 spot, and the Bills would drop to No. 6.
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Las Vegas Raiders
Because Pittsburgh beat the Ravens, the Raiders are in a win-or-tie scenario, just like the Chargers. If the Raiders beat the Chargers, they can move as high as No. 5 if the Patriots lose to the Dolphins or if New England wins the AFC East. Otherwise, a win would move them up to No. 6. Should the two teams tie, the Raiders would be the No. 7 seed.
This loss is a crushing blow to the Colts, who appeared set on making the playoffs as the only needed a win against one of the NFL’s worst teams.
But after losing to Jacksonville, the only hope they have is for the Steelers-Ravens game to end in a tie. That didn’t happen, eliminating Indianapolis from the postseason.
The Steelers always seem to find a way. And following their win against the Ravens and the Colts’ loss to the Jaguars, Pittsburgh will make it into the playoffs UNLESS the Chargers and Raiders finish in a tie. If that happens, both AFC West teams will make it into the playoffs, and PIttsburgh will be left on the outside looking in.
Given how rare ties are, and reports that neither team will play for a tie, Pittsburgh has to feel comfortable with where it is at.
In case anyone was wondering, based on the conversations I had with the Chargers and Raiders, i(f the Jags win), LA and Vegas will not purposely tie to both get into the playoffs.
Let’s see how this plays out…
— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) January 9, 2022
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Impact on the 2022 NFL Draft
This game would have figured to have major draft implications as Jacksonville held the No. 1 spot. With a win and a loss by the Lions to the Packers, Detroit would move up (or down, depending on your perspective) to the No. 1 spot.
However, the Packers rested most of their starters against the Lions, and Detroit was able to pick up their third win of the season, moving to 3-13-1 on the year to stay behind Jacksonville.