If the Indianapolis Colts could skip ahead and simulate the remainder of the 2017 season, you suspect they would happily fast-forward to February.
14.2 percent. The Lions have lost three of their past four games and have struggled to keep Matthew Stafford upright, as he has taken 23 sacks, second most in the NFL. Detroit’s chances of winning the division are low, but with five division matchups remaining and Aaron Rodgers out, they could start to climb.
5.7 percent. The Broncos have lost three of their past four games, with Trevor Siemian throwing two touchdowns (and five interceptions) over that stretch. The offense hasn’t mustered more than 16 points in the past four contests, and Denver’s chances of winning the division have dropped below 6 percent as a result.
Dan Graziano, NFL writer: Sure, it has to. Attrition via injury is such a huge part of any NFL season, and the healthier teams tend to be the ones standing at the end. If this were one stand-alone injury, the Patriots likely could weather it. But set in the larger context of the defensive attrition they’ve already endured, it makes you wonder how much more they can take. Buffalo and Miami both are mounting challenges in the AFC East, and Pittsburgh looks like it could cruise to a No. 1 seed. This has to affect the way you view New England’s chances, even if they’re still your favorite.
Our definition of tanking is when a team with little to no chance of contending purposefully plays a weakened roster, knowing that losing will make it more likely it comes away with a cornerstone piece for the future in the draft(s) to come. You might fairly raise moral questions about a team that doesn’t try to win with all its heart every single time out, but the economic structures leagues have built in American sports — the combination of a player draft alongside the artificially depressed salaries of young players — incentivizes teams to either be very good or very bad. It’s not going anywhere.