There are just 48 NFL regular season games left to play this year, but there are a plethora of different ways the playoff picture could shake out before the season comes to a close.
In the AFC, the Houston Texans look to be in control despite their blowout loss at New England in Week 14. Provided the Texans win their final three games (two of their final three games are at home), Houston will wrap up the conference's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, with the Patriots claiming the conference's other first-round bye assuming they finish strong as well.
In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons are primed to finish No. 1 and earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the second time in three years. The Falcons will finish up the season against the New York Giants, Detroit and Tampa Bay. And with a favorable schedule of their own, the Green Bay Packers should win out to claim the conference's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
Now, for the Wild Card matchups.
No. 6 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) vs. No. 3 Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
Past playoff battles between AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore have been entertaining to say the least. The two teams met most recently in the postseason in the 2010 AFC Divisional round, with the Steelers surviving at home.
A January matchup between the two sides would be almost impossible to predict, though. Baltimore beat Pittsburgh on the road back in November, but lost to Pittsburgh on its home turf in Week 13.
Two things are for sure, however. It would be a defensive struggle and the game would be decided by just three points—most likely a field goal attempt with the clock winding down.
No. 5 Indianapolis Colts (10-6) vs. No. 4. Denver Broncos (12-4)
With Denver set to play at Baltimore in Week 15, don't expect its eight-game winning streak to continue. As for Indy, two meetings with the Houston Texans should knock it back down to earth, setting up this gem of a Wild Card contest.
Fans would be salivating over this potential playoff matchup, especially fans of awesome quarterback play.
Colts versus Broncos. Andrew Luck versus Peyton Manning. Sign me up.
Sure, Denver would have a huge advantage playing at home in the cold, but given the surprising run Luck and the Colts have been on this season, an Indy upset wouldn't be all that unlikely.
No. 6 New York Giants (10-6) vs. No. 3 Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
Of course, Seattle is benefiting from a questionable call resulting in a Week 3 win over Green Bay, but nonetheless the Seahawks are playing excellent football at the moment, and look ready to overtake San Francisco in the NFC West.
Assuming they knock off the Niners at home in Week 16, Seattle would then get set to play host to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, who have a stiff challenge the next two weeks against Atlanta and Baltimore. Both games are on the road.
Although it's hard to doubt the Giants' championship pedigree, Seattle has been nearly unstoppable at home in 2012. This would be another sensational and hard to pick Wild Card matchup.
No. 5 San Francisco 49ers (10-5-1) vs. No. 4. Washington Redskins (10-6)
In a scenario where the Seahawks win the NFC West, the 49ers would be sent on the road in their Wild Card matchup, most likely playing a hot NFC East champion Washington Redskins team in Landover.
The Niners' next two games are at New England and at Seattle. Although they have the talent to win both, they shouldn't be favored. San Francisco has a defense that will take it far in the postseason, but their difficult season-ending schedule has it poised for a Wild Card berth.
As for Washington, who would have thought the Redskins would be in the mix after starting 3-6?
Either way, they can win the division if they win out and and the Giants slip up at least once, setting up a potential clash between RG3 and Colin Kaepernick.
Current NFL Playoff Picture
1. x - Houston Texans (11-2)
2. z - New England Patriots (10-3)
3. z - Denver Broncos (10-3)
4. Baltimore Ravens (9-4)
5. Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6)
1. z - Atlanta Falcons (11-2)
2. San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1)
3. Green Bay Packers (9-4)
4. New York Giants (8-5)
5. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
6. Chicago Bears (8-5)
x - clinched playoff berth, z - clinched division
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