NFL Playoff Picture Week 9: AFC and NFC race heating up

NFL Playoff Picture, Week 9: The Cincinnati Bengals blew a golden opportunity, and the Carolina Panthers saved their season.

With the NFL season’s midway point just a week off, it’s not too early to get a sense of the league’s playoff picture. The 1 PM window saw the upset of the week (the Jets over the Bengals), featured three meaningful divisional showdowns — Titans-Colts, Steelers-Browns, and Falcons-Panthers — plus a tougher-than-expected afternoon for the Buffalo Bills against a terrible Miami Dolphins team.

NFL Playoff Picture for Week 9

Carson Wentz might have just thrown away the Indianapolis Colts’ last best chance to change their season. Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills’ offense still need work. But the biggest storyline of the early games that impacted the NFL standings was an explicable loss by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Current AFC Playoff Picture

1. Tennessee Titans (6-2)
2. Las Vegas Raiders (5-2)
3. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
4. Buffalo Bills (5-2)
. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
7. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3)

Cincinnati Bengals choke away No. 1 seed

Disclaimer at the top — the Bengals got screwed. A terrible officiating decision late in regulation directly contributed to their 34-31 loss to the Jets. Cincinnati stopped Ty Johnson short of the sticks and should have had one last chance to tie the game or go ahead.But the refs decided Mike Hilton initiated helmet-to-helmet contact by lowering his head.

They were wrong. Johnson was the one who lowered his head, so at worst, it should have been a no-call either way. Still, the game should never have been that close. Joe Burrow threw a devastating late pick on a busted screen, and the supposedly vaunted Bengals defense got absolutely roasted by an unheralded quarterback making his first start.

Mike White lit up the Bengals for 405 yards on 37 of 45 passes. Take your time getting healthy, Zach Wilson. Let’s see more of what White can do. The loss not only knocked the Bengals (5-3) out of the No. 1 seed, it put them behind the Ravens in the AFC North. Brutal.

Elsewhere, Colts quarterback Carson Wentz threw 2 late interceptions (including a pick in overtime), and Indianapolis blew a 14-point lead in a loss to the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans.

In the afternoon games, the Chargers remain in a Wild Card spot after their loss to the Patriots. However, they are now in a big group of teams with four wins. New England’s victory ensured they are still truly in the playoff race at 4-4 after eight weeks.

Current NFC Playoff Picture

1. Green Bay Packers (7-1)
2. Arizona Cardinals (7-1)
3. Dallas Cowboys (6-1)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)
5. Los Angeles Rams (7-1)
6. New Orleans Saints (5-2)
7. Carolina Panthers (4-4)

Saints get a statement win over Buccaneers

If the Saints were going to stand any chance of competing for the NFC South title this year, they needed to defeat the Buccaneers in Week 8. In a back-and-forth encounter, Trevor Semien and the New Orleans’ defense got the job done after Jameis Winston left with an injury. The Buccaneers are still leading the division, but the Saints have put themselves a couple of wins ahead of the chasing pack.

Panthers get back on track but QB concerns remain

We can say with a pretty high degree of certainty that Sam Darnold will not be the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback in 2022. After suffering a concussion on a nasty hit Sunday, he might not even be the Panthers’ starter in Week 9. But Darnold still has a plausible path to start a playoff game in 2021.

Hard to believe? Believe it. Darnold and the Panthers got off the schneid Sunday with a 19-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. They paid for the pleasure, with both Darnold and Robby Anderson getting tattooed. But the Panthers are back to .500 after losing four straight, and Christian McCaffrey could be back soon.

The defense got it done Sunday, holding the Falcons to 213 yards. Stephon Gilmore had an interception in his Panthers debut. We can see why David Tepper had interest in Deshaun Watson. This would be a dangerous team with good quarterback play.

The biggest news of the day for the Falcons came far away from the field. Calvin Ridley announced that he’s going “to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental wellbeing.”

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