NFL news: Around the league in 32 plays

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Happy Red Friday Addicts!

Man, what a week for NFL news.  The injury bug has continued to wreak havoc across the league, and has claimed a number of star players.  To counter, and in preparation for playoff runs, we are seeing a number of teams making veteran additions to fortify their rosters.  On the other end of that, a number of teams are starting to trim the fat on their rosters ahead of the offseason.  Expect the market to be busy over the next few weeks as teams make some intriguing moves.

More from Kansas City Chiefs Free Agency

There was also a lot of interesting talk regarding the NFL’s impending move to Los Angeles.  Lines are being drawn in the sand as far as which owners have whose support.  The league meeting in January will likely produce more than just a deal on LA as the various owners attempt to sway votes in their favor.

However, despite all the happenings this week, the lead story was a pretty simple choice.  A playoff picture that was pretty much looking set in stone has suddenly gotten very interesting…

Do the Bengals have the firepower to overcome the loss of the Red Rifle? Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Lead Story: AFC playoff picture suddenly becomes less clear

Two significant events led to fans and media suddenly bringing up a lot of “what if” scenarios that didn’t exist just a week or two ago.

The first of these took place in the Steelers win over the Bengals.  Early in the game, quarterback Andy Dalton broke his thumb on his throwing hand while attempting to stop an interception return.  There aren’t many scenarios worse than that for the Bengals.  Without Dalton, the team will have to turn to backup AJ McCarron, who shouldn’t be instilling much confidence in anybody.  The good news?  Well, the Bengals really only need to win one more game to get into the playoffs, and have the lowly 49ers and Ravens as two of their three remaining games.  The other game on their slate is against the Broncos.  And suddenly that game is very interesting because…

The second big happening was the Denver Broncos falling to the Oakland Raiders.  For many, the outcome of this game had been a “gimme” win for Denver.  That meant hardly anyone was talking about the ramifications of a loss.  Well, now it’s an issue.  That is especially true because the Broncos have the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals up next on their schedule.  While the Bengals are suddenly a lot easier to beat, the Steelers have been called the best team in the NFL right now by many analysts.  And they’ve played like it too.  With the remaining schedules, the season could really go a number of different ways for all teams involved:

Kansas City Chiefs ~ The Chiefs goal here is simple.  Win and they are in.  There is no scenario in which the Chiefs miss the playoffs at 11-5.  In fact, there is even a (remote) chance they could end up with the #1 seed!  So, just go out and win.  Chiefs fans should be confident…except for the fact that we are Chiefs fans and know better.

The Broncos playoff hopes to a major hit in the form of Khalil Mack and the Raiders. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos ~ The Broncos are also in a situation where if they win, they are in.  However, their road to the playoffs is a lot more difficult with their aforementioned schedule.  If they lose to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, they can miss out on the division, and potentially the playoffs altogether.  That is not an easy road to travel, especially with their questionable offense.

Cincinnati Bengals ~ Without Andy Dalton, the Bengals aren’t quite the lock they were.  However, they should still have little to no problem making the playoffs by overcoming the Ravens or 49ers.  One win puts them in the postseason, but I’m certain they are wanting to be sure to lock up the division.

Pittsburgh Steelers ~ The Steelers just have to keep doing what they’re doing.  They have a shot at the AFC North with Andy Dalton out of action for the Bengals.  Outside of their matchup this week with the Broncos, they shouldn’t have any worries on their end.  A Wild Card spot looks pretty secure at this point.

New York Jets ~ The Jets need the most help for a playoff run.  Someone ahead of them has got to stumble, and then they still have to knock off the Patriots.  The door is closing on their chances and there is zero room for error at this point.

Sure, it’s obvious to go the “win and they’re in” route, but all of a sudden that obvious route is a lot tougher for several teams in the AFC playoff race.  This race looks like it is going to be pretty exciting coming down the stretch.  Oh, and I suppose you can’t forget about the Colts, Texans, and Jaguars…since somebody has to win the AFC South.

Next: Dimitroff on the hot seat?