Breaking Down the Race for Every NFL Playoff Seed

Zach KruseSenior Analyst IDecember 3, 2012

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 22: Arian Foster #23 of the Houston Texans runs for a first down as Stephen Tulloch #55 of the Detroit Lions gives chase during the game at Ford Field on November 22, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. The Texans defeated the Lions 34-31. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Developments in Week 13 of the NFL season helped provide a much clearer playoff picture for the final four weeks of this season. 

Four teams—a third of the postseason qualifying field—clinched spots in the playoff dance over the weekend. Losses from several other teams all but eliminated their chances of making the postseason, leaving a more defined set of teams to focus on over the last month of the season. 

Below, we break down the race for every single NFL playoff seed, from the top of each conference to the final wild card spot. 


National Football Conference (NFC)

No. 1 (First round bye)

At 11-1, and with no other NFC team having more than eight wins, the Atlanta Falcons remain the clear front runners to secure the conference's top seed. Two wins over the last four games clinches the position, but losses from either the 49ers, Giants, Packers or Bears could speed up that process. 

Prediction: Falcons


No. 2 (First round bye)

The 8-3-1 49ers currently hold a tenuous lead for NFC's other first-round bye, but there's plenty of competition. Both the Packers and Bears are 8-4 and capable of running off four wins to finish the season, while the Giants could also get to 8-4 with a win over the Washington Redskins Monday night. They are as dangerous as any team in the NFC. When the Falcons clinch the bye, the battle will turn to the slot San Francisco currently holds. 

Prediction: 49ers


No. 3 (Division winner)

The Packers, by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bears, currently hold the NFC's third seed. That could change if the Giants beat the Redskins tonight, which would elevate New York into the third slot (head-to-head tiebreaker). More than likely, either New York or the NFC North winner will head into the postseason as the conference's third-seeded team. 

Prediction: Giants


No. 4 (Division winner)

The division winner with the worst record will hold the fourth seed. As of Monday afternoon, the Giants occupy that position. It appears as if the winner of either the NFC North or NFC East will also eventually win the fourth seed, but the 49ers could be a candidate if there's a few hiccups down the stretch. 

Prediction: Packers


No. 5 (Top wild card)

The top wild card slot is looking more and more like it will go to the loser of the race in the NFC North. The 8-4 Bears are currently that team. But let's not forget about the 7-5 Seattle Seahawks, who hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over both the Packers and Bears. Four weeks is plenty of time for the Seahawks to make up a one-game deficit. 

Prediction: Seahawks


No. 6 (Second wild card)

The NFC has a handful of teams still alive in the wild card hunt. As it stands, Seattle holds the final spot with a 7-5 record. But the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings are each 6-6, and the St. Louis Rams are 5-6-1. The Seahawks hold head-to-head tiebreakers over both the Cowboys and Vikings. 

Prediction: Bears



No. 1 (First round bye)

Much like the Falcons in the NFC, the Houston Texans are 11-1 and in control of the top seed. The game that could help decide the No. 1 seed in the AFC comes Sunday, when the Texans travel to New England to take on the Patriots. A win there all but locks up the franchise's first top seeding. The Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos are 9-3, although the Texans have head-to-head tiebreakers over both the Ravens and Broncos. 

Prediction: Texans


No. 2 (First round bye)

The Patriots are currently the No. 2 seed, thanks to conference-record tiebreakers over the Broncos and Ravens. But with all three teams at 9-3, the race for the second seed couldn't be any more wide open. All three teams are more than capable of winning the necessary games to secure the first-round bye. 

Prediction: Broncos


No. 3 (Division winner)

The division winner with the third best record will occupy the conference's third seed. Currently, the Ravens hold the spot. Take your pick between the Patriots, Broncos and Ravens. With three really good football teams and four games left, it's a crapshoot at this point. 

Prediction: Patriots


No. 4 (Division winner)

The division winner with the worst record gets the fourth seed. As is the case for No. 2 and 3 seeds, it's anyone's best guess on how the three teams will finish. Regardless of how the teams are positioned, the fourth seed in the AFC has just as good a chance at making the Super Bowl as the teams seeded higher. 

Prediction: Ravens


No. 5 (Top wild card)

It's still almost unbelievable, but the 8-4 Indianapolis Colts hold a firm grasp of one wild card slot. Securing the fifth seed might not happen, but the Colts are nearing a "lock" status for the postseason. Indianapolis' only real competition for the top wild card position are the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) and Cincinnati Bengals (7-5).

Prediction: Steelers


No. 6 (Second wild card)

Pittsburgh currently holds the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, thanks to a head-to-head win over the Bengals earlier in the season. The two teams play again in Week 17, a game that will likely decide who goes to the postseason and who stays home. The 5-7 teams—the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills—are the longest of long shots to make any postseason noise. 

Prediction: Colts