There are exactly six weeks left in the NFL season, which is late enough that almost every team has a pretty good idea as to whether or not they're going to make the playoffs.
But that's still 3/8ths of the season, 37.5 percent. That's a lot. One of the virtues of the NFL season is that you can almost always turn it around. There's still enough time left for a miracle.
Which brings me to one of my yearly joys around these parts: Fun With ESPN's NFL Playoff Machine. The web tool, which is always introduced after Week 11 of the NFL season, allows you to simulate every single NFL game the rest of the year and see where teams end up landing in the 12 playoff spots. It factors in tiebreakers, and all seeding possibilities: It basically lets you toggle every possible scenario going into the final month-and-a-half.
And you'd be amazed at what you can come up with. Usually at this point of the season, I use the Playoff Machine to try to finagle my Arizona Cardinals -- typically about 3-7 at this point -- into the playoffs (it's a lot easier now at 9-1). But that doesn't mean you can't play with it to make anything happen. Time to tinker.
We'll show you the results each time I played around with the winners each week. Click on the hyperlinks to see the full projected record breakdown so you can see how the machine arrived at the final playoff picture. Note: I didn't try to get every single team on the bubble into the playoffs. This exercise is purely for enjoyment, discovering what exactly is possible.
First off, let's go with the most likely scenario, or at least the ones that corresponds to my actual predictions the rest of the season. Here's how that one lands:
The biggest surprises there: Defending champion Seattle misses the playoffs entirely, Houston sneaks into the AFC's No. 6 playoff spot and Green Bay passes Arizona for the No. 1 seed in the NFC despite currently being two games behind them.
Now let's get into some of the crazier scenarios. First off, the most challenging of all: Can I get the currently 0-10 Oakland Raiders into the playoffs? The answer: No, sadly. The Raiders were mathematically eliminated after last week's 13-6 loss to San Diego. That's actually the earliest in the season a team has been eliminated from the playoffs since the 2004 Miami Dolphins. So already the NFL Playoff Machine has its first failure. But as you'll see, it's the lone failure.
For example: Can we get the sad Jets in the playoffs? We can!
How about the Jacksonville Jaguars? They're 1-9. They're barely better than the Raiders! But look:
Here's a fun one: Can you get the Cleveland Browns to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC? You can! It's not even that hard!
Tampa Bay is 2-8. How high can you get them? Can you say No. 2 seed?
Look, you can even get the Washington Football Team there too. After Dan Steinberg's brilliant piece last week on what it's truly like to sit in the stands at FedEx Field, there wouldn't be anything much more depressing that home playoff games there.
And lastly from the "no hope" squad … don't worry about that blizzard, Buffalo fans, because there is always this possibility.
All right, so how about from the other direction, thinking negatively rather than positively? My beloved Arizona Cardinals are 9-1 and have the best record in the NFL. Last year, they won 10 games but still missed the playoffs. Could it happen again this year? You bet.
Here's a nightmare for CBS's ratings: What if New England, Denver, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis all fail to make the playoffs?
And how about the most fun scenario of all? Brian Hoyer loses the starting job to Johnny Manziel, who sends the Browns on a crazy run while the Cowboys take off in the NFC, giving each team the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences and setting up a Manziel vs. Cowboys Super Bowl. I feel like people would be into this.
It's that time of year, where no matter how wrong things have gone up to this point, there is still hope. Unless you're the Raiders.