NFL Playoff Picture 2012: Teams Facing Must-Win Games in Week 16

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 16:  The helmets of Justin Tuck #91 and Chris Canty #99 of the New York Giants sit on the turf with the initials S.H.E.S in honor of the shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on December 16, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For a handful of teams in the NFL, losing is no longer an option.

With only six spots in the playoffs still up for grabs—four wild-card spots and two division titles—a team's next loss could be the one that seals its playoff fate.

Let's take a look at what the playoff picture in each conference looks like and the teams whose playoff lives will be hanging in the balance in Week 16.




 No. 1 Seed Houston Texans (12-2) Clinched AFC South
 No. 2 Seed Denver Broncos (11-3) Clinched AFC West
 No. 3 Seed New England Patriots (10-4) Clinched AFC East
 No. 4 Seed Baltimore Ravens (9-5) Lead AFC South; Clinched Playoff Berth

 No. 5 Seed Indianapolis Colts (9-5)
 No. 6 Seed Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)


 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
 New York Jets (6-7)
 Miami Dolphins (6-8)


Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)

The Steelers picked the wrong time to go into a tailspin.

After losing to Dallas in overtime in Week 16—Pittsburgh's fourth loss in its past five games—the Steelers now sit two games behind the Indianapolis Colts and one game behind the Cincinnati Bengals for the two AFC wild-card spots.

Pittsburgh, which beat Cincinnati in Week 7, takes on the Bengals at Heinz Field in Week 16. A loss to Cincinnati will officially knock the Steelers out of the playoff race, marking only the second time in the Mike Tomlin era that the Gold and Black was not participating in the postseason.



Indianapolis Colts (9-5)

After losing to the Houston Texans in Week 15, the Colts still sit in excellent shape to clinch a playoff spot.

All Indy needs to do is defeat the Kansas City Chiefs (2-12) in Week 16 and it clinches one of the two AFC wild-card berths.

The Colts could conceivably lose to the Chiefs and still get in with a win against Houston in Week 17, but there's no reason for the team to tempt fate like that.

Indy must beat KC in Week 16. 


New York Jets (6-7)

Despite getting virtually no production from its quarterbacks, the Jets are still alive in the hunt for a wild card spot in the AFC.

Rex Ryan's team needs to win out, a possibility with games remaining against Tennessee (4-9), San Diego (5-9) and Buffalo (5-9).

But gang green could use some help from elsewhere, namely losses by the Bengals and/or Colts.

Should the Jets finish the season tied with either team, New York would get into the playoffs thanks to holding the tiebreaker.



Miami Dolphins (6-8)

The Dolphins playoff chances are on life support. Miami needs to win each of its last two games against Buffalo (5-9) and New England (10-4), something that seems like a stretch.

Even if the unthinkable happens and the Dolphins do run the table, Miami needs the Jets, Bengals and Steelers to lose out.

There's virtually no chance of that happening.



 No. 1 Seed Atlanta Falcons (12-2) Clinched NFC South
 No. 2 Seed San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) Lead NFC West; Clinched Playoff Berth
 No. 3 Seed Green Bay Packers (9-4) Clinched NFC North
 No. 4 Seed Washington Redskins (8-6) Lead NFC East

 No. 5 Seed Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
 No. 6 Seed Minnesota Vikings (8-6)

 Chicago Bears (8-6)
 Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
 New York Giants (8-6)
 St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)
 New Orleans Saints (6-8)


Chicago Bears (8-6)

Not only did Chicago's fifth loss in its past six games on Sunday sting, seeing as it came to the Green Bay Packers—who clinched the NFC North with the victory—but the team no longer controls its own destiny.

Chicago has seemingly winnable games against the Arizona Cardinals (5-9) and Detroit Lions (4-10), and the Bears must win both in order to stay alive for one of the two NFC wild-card sport. But Lovie Smith's crew needs both the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants to lose at least once over the next two weeks to sneak back in.

Da Bears are in real danger of becoming only the second team in the past 23 years to start the season 7-1 and fail to make the playoffs.



New York Giants (8-6)

The vaunted pass rush was nowhere to be found and Eli Manning looked as if he'd never seen a NFL defense before. The defending Super Bowl champions were totally embarrassed by the Atlanta Falcons, getting shut out for the first time since 1996.

Now sitting in third place in the NFC East behind the Washington Redskins (by way of division record tiebreaker) and Dallas Cowboys, New York still, amazingly enough, controls its own destiny. 

Wins against Baltimore (9-5) and Philadelphia (4-10) would be enough to slide into one of the two NFC wild-card spots, as the Giants hold the tiebreaker over both the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings.



Minnesota Vikings (8-6)

On the back of Adrian Peterson (who I believe should win the MVP award, for what it's worth), the Vikings took care of business against the St. Louis Rams in Week 15, keeping hope alive for a wild-card berth in the NFC.

The Vikings need to continue winning, which could be easier said than done considering the opponents left on tap: Houston (12-2) in Week 16 and Green Bay (10-4) in Week 17.

Minnesota needs to finish the season above the New York Giants, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys since the Vikings lost the tiebreaker (conference record) to Seattle. The Giants currently hold the tiebreaker on the Vikings.



Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

For the second consecutive week, the Cowboys relied on the foot of kicker Dan Bailey, who kicked a 21-yard field goal in overtime to take down the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15.

The Cowboys are in a three-way tie for the NFC East lead, but Washington currently holds the head-to-head tiebreaker on the Cowboys.

Dallas needs to win against New Orleans in Week 16, which would find its Week 17 game against the Washington Redskins the one that determines the NFC East and which of the two teams advances to the playoffs.



Washington Redskins (8-6)

Playing without dynamic QB Robert Griffin III, the Redskins took care of business against the Cleveland Browns, moving into first place in the NFC East and in control of its playoff fate.

A win next week in Philadelphia and then at home against Dallas in Week 17 assures the Redskins of winning the NFC East and playing in the postseason.

A loss opens up a can of worms that the Redskins want nothing to do with.