The NFL playoff picture improved for a lot of teams on Dec. 22. Many clubs are getting hot at the right time, which tends to be the way to win Super Bowls these days. However, while the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers are getting hot with a clear path to the playoffs, other contenders have started winning when it still might be too late.
The Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers may be among the hotter teams fighting for playoff spots, after their statement wins this month. Nevertheless, there's a good chance all of them will miss the postseason, with the Cardinals risking being left out with 11 wins.
The Cardinals shook up the NFC by upsetting the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle -- proving that the Seahawks can be beaten at home in January. But because the 49ers also won on Dec. 23, the Cardinals cannot get into the playoffs by beating them on Dec. 29. Even if they win and get to 11-5, they will be out if the New Orleans Saints also go to 11-5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Superdome.
Although the Cardinals shattered the Seahawks' home invincibility, the Saints' unshakable home field is another story, especially against a 4-11 Buccaneers club. As such, Arizona may become the most unlucky team in the NFL, although it did win a bit too little, too late. The same can also be said of those fighting for the AFC's final wild card spot.
The Steelers started 2-6, but are now up to 7-8 and could be dangerous in January. However, their horrific first half is the reason why they will miss the postseason anyway, unless they beat the Cleveland Browns and the Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins all lose.
The Chargers are another club that has blown countless chances to get out of an early hole. Despite beating the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs on the road in recent weeks, the Chargers will still fall short without some help. The Ravens are also paying for starting 4-6, although it looked like they would survive until the New England Patriots blew them out.
Many playoff teams will be lucky if they avoid the Cardinals, Ravens, Chargers and Steelers in January. Yet if those squads were luckier a lot sooner, then the playoff picture would look quite different.