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SportFour NFL teams poised to play spoiler in playoff picture

14:06  06 december  2018
14:06  06 december  2018 Source:   usatoday.com

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But the real chance to play spoiler could come against the Ravens, who already fell to Cleveland in overtime earlier this year. A coach on the hot seat, oscillating starting quarterbacks and a repeatedly scorched defense are typical traits of a team poised to wilt down the stretch rather than make a stand.

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Four NFL teams poised to play spoiler in playoff picture© Provided by USA Today Sports Media Group LLC Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) reacts after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mathematically, the Raiders and 49ers are the only NFL teams to have been eliminated from the playoffs thus far in 2018. Realistically, more than a handful of others will soon join them in having to acknowledge that the calendar year isn't the only thing that's coming to an end.

At the quarter pole of the season, there's a sharp divide between franchises still firmly in the mix for January action and those operating on borrowed time. Yet the latter group might have more than just draft positioning on the mind.

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Which Teams Are in Best Position to Play Spoiler to the Playoff Picture ? Quickly. These conference championship game participants without a simple way For one, Ohio State is the only team playing in a title game—or ranked among the top 25—that features both a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense.

Whether it's as a means for setting the right tone for next year or simply a last-ditch attempt to salvage what's left of this campaign, winning still matters to many outfits that will soon find themselves home on Sundays. And more than a few of them have the makeup and motivation to be bothersome for those looking ahead to the playoffs.

Contenders, beware: These four teams could play spoiler in the final weeks.

Jacksonville Jaguars

After enduring a seven-game losing streak that proved to be the tipping point for benching Blake Bortles, Jacksonville looked like a candidate to fold its tent given the mounting frustration of a disappointing follow-up to last year's run to the AFC Championship Game. But a shutout of the Colts for the first time in Andrew Luck's 82 career starts highlighted that the Jaguars still want to strut.

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All three teams hold playoff spots at the moment. The 9-4 Rams lead the NFC West, the 9-4 Jaguars lead the AFC South, and the 8-5 Titans hold one of the two AFC wild card berths. Jimmy Garoppolo has emerged as a presence for the 49ers, with two wins and throwing for more yards in his first two starts

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By resolving coverage busts and ramping up its pass rush against Indianapolis, the otherwise formidable defense demonstrated itself capable of recapturing last year's elite form. Getting running back Leonard Fournette back from his one-week suspension should also help new starting quarterback Cody Kessler, whose primary offensive directive appears to be avoiding the turnovers that so often plague Bortles.

Despite the disparity between the team's potential and production, Jacksonville matches up well with its remaining slate of playoff hopefuls, especially against the fading Redskins and Dolphins. And while Thursday's showdown against the rival Titans provides another chance to foil an AFC South foe, the Jaguars' best chance to shake up the postseason picture will be in the finale against the Texans — and they may be playing for home-field advantage in Week 17. Houston has won an NFL-best nine consecutive games but mustered just 272 yards against the Jags in Week 7.

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Some atypical contenders are poised to join the usual suspects in the upcoming NFL playoffs . Baltimore could still be back if Cincinnati plays spoiler in Week 17. Most of the credit goes to stout defense and special teams , but Joe Flacco has rebounded from a sluggish start to total 1,063 passing

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Cleveland Browns

Buoyed by a bevy of young players seemingly energized by organizational changes after Hue Jackson's midseason firing, Cleveland is now displaying a loose manner befitting of its core. And after the team tallied just one win in the previous two seasons, building on this year's 4-7-1 mark isn't something the Browns' talented newcomers appear to be taking lightly.

Last week's loss to the Texans might have proved humbling, but the defeat also could provide valuable lessons for Baker Mayfield down the stretch. As he struggled to crack Houston's deceptive coverages, the No. 1 pick threw three first-half interceptions and put his team in a substantial hole. But he persevered in the final 30 minutes, posting 351 yards and a touchdown in that span. If interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens can help him return to the consistent form he displayed in the previous three weeks, Mayfield can once again wake up "feeling dangerous."

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The NFL playoffs are a single-elimination tournament held after the National Football League ( NFL )'s regular season to determine the NFL champion.

There are eight teams vying for four spots behind the front-running Patriots and Steelers.

In the next two weeks, the Browns can deliver a serious blow to the hopes of both the plummeting Panthers and the surging Broncos. But the real chance to play spoiler could come against the Ravens, who already fell to Cleveland in overtime earlier this year. Bumping Baltimore from the playoffs, as the Bengals did in last year's regular-season finale, is an opportunity Mayfield and Co. would undoubtedly relish.

New York Giants

Having already tripped up the Bears in overtime last Sunday, despite a series of late-game missteps, Pat Shurmur's crew shouldn't be taken lightly by contenders. The Giants have won three of their last four and are enjoying a welcome cultural shift after nearly two years of turbulence.

Even as the riddle of how to address a post-Eli Manning future at quarterback remains, Saquon Barkley has helped stabilize the offense. The apparent leader for offensive rookie of the year honors has racked up 100 yards from scrimmage in all but one game, serving as a centerpiece while creating opportunities for others.

New York is alive in the NFC East chase only by the slimmest of margins, but Shurmur has made it known that, above all, his focus is on reaching 8-8. Closing in on that accomplishment will require dispatching three teams (Redskins, Titans and Colts) trying to claw their way back into the playoff picture before a home date with the Cowboys in Week 17. Regardless of whether a .500 record is on the table by then, the Giants still might be a thorny matchup for Dak Prescott and Co.

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Nine teams had already guaranteed themselves a chance to play in January. Three other teams officially punched a ticket on New Year’s Eve. NFL playoffs 2018: Bracket, schedule, scores, and more. In the AFC, there was a four - team race between the Ravens, Titans, Chargers and Bills for two

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A coach on the hot seat, oscillating starting quarterbacks and a repeatedly scorched defense are typical traits of a team poised to wilt down the stretch rather than make a stand. Yet as Dirk Koetter and Jameis Winston make their closing arguments ahead of their potential expulsion from Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers aren't going out quietly.

After a three-game suspension to start the season and a subsequent benching, Winston has found at least a degree of stability in his last three games, completing 72.6 percent of his passes while committing only one turnover. Limiting giveaways has been one of the biggest factors in back-to-back victories, as Tampa Bay's league-worst 23 interceptions have helped widen the schism between the offense's ability to rack up yards (ranking first league wide with 442.7 per game) and its scoring output (10th with 26.5 points per contest).

Replicating their season-opening stunner against the Saints will be difficult for the Buccaneers, but two other opportunities for disruption await against the Ravens and Cowboys. Neither group has the passing prowess to exploit Tampa Bay's sieve of a secondary, so upsets could be within reach if Winston can maintain his efficiency.

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Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Four NFL teams poised to play spoiler in playoff picture

What 'American Thanksgiving' NHL standings positions say about playoff chances.
Since 2005-06, 75% of NHL teams that were in a playoff spot on Thanksgiving also had one when the regular season was completed. It's 75% dating back to 2005-06. With that in mind, here are teams that could either fall out or rise into the playoffs before the season is completed: Vulnerable Anaheim Ducks:  Averaging 2.17 goals per game, 30th in the NHL, the Ducks are short on offense and it starts with a 46-point pace for Rickard Rakell. Their power play (15.6%) has also been among the league's worst. They haven't played well (3-6-0) on the road, and their defense has been undermined by injury.

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