The Washington Commanders entered their bye week just out of the playoffs. Now, as they prepare to return from the break, the Ron Rivera-led team is suddenly sitting as the sixth seed.
Washington jumped two spots in the standings without playing a game as the results of Sunday’s contests went the team’s way. Crucially, the Philadelphia Eagles blew out the New York Giants (7-5-1), while the Carolina Panthers upset the Seattle Seahawks (7-6) to help the Commanders’ postseason chances.
NBC’s “Path to the Playoffs” forecast now gives the Commanders (7-5-1) a 74% shot at making the postseason.
Before Sunday, the same analytical model had Washington at 69%.
“You can see they are hot,” NBC analyst Steve Kornacki said of the Commanders during halftime of Sunday’s Chargers-Dolphins game. “6-1-1 in their last eight games”
Despite holding the same record as the Giants, the Commanders are listed as the sixth seed because they have a better winning percentage in their division.
All four teams in the NFC East, however, would make the postseason if the playoffs started today. The 12-1 Eagles sit atop the conference, while the 10-3 Dallas Cowboys sit as the fifth seed. Behind Washington, the Giants are in the seventh spot. The NFL expanded to having three wild card teams in each conference in 2020.
But there’s still a lot to be determined. With every bye week now completed, each team in NFL now has four games left to play. That stretch will make or break a lot of teams’ chances — including the Commanders.
Washington has a pivotal showdown with the Giants again next Sunday when the Commanders host New York at FedEx Field in prime time on “Sunday Night Football.” NBC listed Washington’s win probability for the matchup at 66% — the highest such percentage on the Commanders’ remaining slate.
After the Giants, the Commanders travel to San Francisco (a 33% win probability), host the Browns (55%) and close the season with the Cowboys (42%).
New York and Seattle, meanwhile, have been reeling. The Giants have lost four of their last six, though NBC still gives the Giants a 53% chance at making the postseason. In addition to facing Washington, New York’s final stretch includes them traveling to face the 10-3 Vikings, hosting the 4-8-1 Colts and facing the Eagles in Philadelphia.
The Seahawks’ loss to the Panthers might have been the most damaging result of the weekend to a team’s playoff hopes — with Seattle’s odds falling from 64% to 42%. Seattle, which has lost three of four, also has a tough slate to close as it’ll face the 49ers, Chiefs (away), Jets and Rams. The Seahawks will likely be favored over the Jets and the Rams, but they’ll need to upset San Francisco or Kansas City to have a serious shot at a wild-card berth.
Seattle, though, has seemingly lost control of winning the NFC West. The 9-4 49ers, even with third-stringer Brock Purdy, took a firm two-game lead in the division Sunday thanks to their dominant 35-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
San Francisco once appeared to be a team on the fringe this season. But the 49ers have won six straight games and are regarded as a legitimate Super Bowl contender in part because of their top-rated defense. San Francisco is holding teams to just 15.2 points per game, an NFL best.
Elsewhere, the Detroit Lions seem to be making a late-season push for the postseason. While they’re still on the outside looking in, the Lions have won five of six and are coming off a huge win over the Vikings.
Detroit’s victory, according to NBC, improved its postseason chances from 7% to 21%. The Lions face the Jets, Panthers (away), the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers (away) over the final four games.
The Lions (6-7) have already beaten the Commanders and the Giants this year, which could help if tiebreakers come into play.
“Keep this one in mind, too: 6-7 maybe not a bad place to be sitting,” Kornacki said during a “Football Night in America” segment. “The last four years, at least one team that was 6-7 ended up making the playoffs.”
But the Commanders, once 1-4, are in a fortuitous spot because of thein surge — and some breaks along the way.