Breaking Down NFL Playoff Scenarios for Every Team
Only two weeks are left in the 2012 NFL regular season, and yet there are still 20 teams mathematically alive for a playoff berth.
"Mathematically alive" doesn't always mean a team is really alive, as some teams will need some major help to get in while others are already in and fighting for seeding in the playoffs.
How does the playoff picture look after a thrilling Week 15, and what are the playoff scenarios? Let's take a look at each team's chances of chasing the Lombardi Trophy come January.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)
Kansas City Chiefs (2-12)
Philadelphia Eagles (4-10)
Detroit Lions (4-10)
Oakland Raiders (4-10)
Tennessee Titans (4-9)
Buffalo Bills (5-9)
Arizona Cardinals (5-9)
Carolina Panthers (5-9)
San Diego Chargers (5-9)
Cleveland Browns (5-9)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
These are the 12 teams that are officially eliminated from the 2012 postseason. However, each one of them will have the chance to play the spoiler in Week 16 with the exception of the Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers, who play each other.
The Titans could actually play a role in the playoff chase as early as Monday night, when they host the New York Jets.
Miami Dolphins (6-8)
For Miami to get into the postseason, it will obviously need to win out and finish 8-8.
That guarantees nothing, though, unless the Jets lose two out of their last three games, the Bengals have to lose their last two and the Steelers will have to lose in Week 17 to Cleveland. The reason they would get in under these circumstances will be the tiebreakers.
If the Dolphins win out, not only do they finish 8-8, but they will finish with a conference record of 6-6. They own the tiebreaker over Cincinnati, so if there's a tie between the Bengals and Dolphins, Miami gets in.
If Pittsburgh finishes 8-8 with a win over Cincinnati and a loss against the Browns, the Dolphins will own the conference record tiebreaker, as Pittsburgh will finish 5-7 within the AFC.
It's a lot to ask, but Miami can still get in.
Final Two Games: Home vs. Buffalo (Dec. 23), at New England (Dec. 30).
New Orleans Saints (6-8)
For New Orleans to get into the playoffs, they will need to win their final two games (at Dallas, vs. Carolina), with the Minnesota Vikings losing their last two games.
Even then, the Saints are at a huge disadvantage because the Washington Redskins and New York Giants hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over them and both are also two games up on the Saints.
Final Two Games: At Dallas (Dec. 23), Home vs. Carolina (Dec. 30).
New York Jets (6-7)
For the Jets, it starts on Monday night against Tennessee. If they win that game, that puts them in a tie with the Steelers, who own the tiebreaker over the Jets. If the Jets win out, they'll have a fighting chance. They will still need Cincinnati to beat the Steelers in Week 16 and then lose to Baltimore in Week 17.
However, even if the Steelers beat the Bengals, the Jets will still have a shot if they continue to win, provided that Pittsburgh loses to Cleveland in Week 17.
The Jets have the advantage of finishing the season against the Titans, Chargers and Bills. Those games should be won by the Jets, which would put them at 9-7.
If that happens, Rex Ryan should win Coach of the Year. I'm being dead serious. Considering the circus surrounding the Jets all season long, a playoff berth would be a miraculous ending to the season.
Considering this team's recent history, I probably wouldn't want to face them come playoff time.
Final Two Games: Home vs. San Diego (Dec. 23), at Buffalo (Dec. 30)
St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)
St. Louis' tie against the San Francisco 49ers still helps the Rams out, as it's possible that they can finish 8-7-1 and half a game ahead of any team that finishes 8-8.
The Rams also have the tiebreaker over the Washington Redskins, but they are on the wrong side of the tiebreaker with the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings.
If St. Louis does win out while the Redskins, Giants, Bears and Vikings lose out, then the Rams will sneak into the final playoff spot by a slim half-game margin.
Final Two Games: At Tampa Bay (Dec. 23), at Seattle (Dec. 30)
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
Despite a 7-7 record, the Pittsburgh Steelers still control their own destiny.
If the Steelers win their final two games, they're in the playoffs. And a loss by the Indianapolis Colts would put Pittsburgh in the fifth seed as opposed to the sixth seed.
However, if the Steelers win their last two games while the Ravens lose their last two, the two teams would be tied.
But Baltimore would win via tiebreaker as it would have the better record within the AFC North (the Steelers already have six losses within the conference, while the Ravens at most would have five losses within the conference).
Final Two Games: Home vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 23), home vs. Cleveland (Dec. 30)
Minnesota Vikings (8-6)
The Vikings don't control their own destiny, but winning their last two games of the regular season would likely put them in good shape to sneak into the playoffs.
The bad news: Their last two games are against the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers.
Final Two Games: At Houston (Dec. 23), home vs. Green Bay (Dec. 30)
Chicago Bears (8-6)
Chicago can still get to the playoffs by winning out, but it will still need some help.
The Bears own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas, so if they finish tied for the final playoff spot, Chicago would get in.
However, the Bears will have to become Packers fans in Week 17, because Minnesota holds the tiebreaker over the Bears within the NFC North.
Seattle and San Francisco both own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bears, which puts Chicago at an even bigger disadvantage.
Final Two Games: At Arizona (Dec. 23), at Detroit (Dec. 30)
New York Giants (8-6)
The Giants are now in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East, but they will have to win out in order to win the division, thanks in part to a 2-3 division record.
Victories for the Redskins and Cowboys in Week 16 will knock the Giants out of the race for the NFC East. While the Giants would still be tied with both teams and will only be one game back of both teams with a loss, Dallas and Washington play each other in Week 17.
If the Redskins and Cowboys are both 9-6 as they face off each other, then the winner of that game will win the East because of their division records.
If the Giants win out, they will have at least the wild-card spot. Their record within the NFC is better than both the Bears' and Vikings' records.
Final Two Games: At Baltimore (Dec. 23), home vs. Philadelphia (Dec. 30)
Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
The Cowboys control their own destiny. If they win out, they're NFC East champions.
But if they lose one game, they will still have a shot at the postseason. Of course, that is provided that the Giants lose one, the Bears lose both games and Minnesota loses at least once.
Dallas is on the wrong end of the tiebreaker against Chicago and Seattle due to early-season losses against both teams.
Final Two Games: Home vs. New Orleans (Dec. 23), at Washington (Dec. 30)
Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
The Bengals' playoffs have officially begun.
With a victory over Pittsburgh in Week 16, the Bengals will move to 9-6. This won't clinch the final wild-card spot unless the Jets lose either against the Titans or Chargers.
It would clinch their second consecutive winning season, eliminate the Steelers and make playoff seeding and home-field advantage in Round 1 an interesting race if Baltimore loses to the Giants.
If that were to happen, then the Bengals and Ravens would play a winner-take-all game for the AFC North. The Ravens have already clinched a playoff spot, so this game would decide playoff seeding more than anything.
Final Two Games: At Pittsburgh (Dec. 23), home vs. Baltimore (Dec. 30)
Washington Redskins (8-6)
If the season ended today, the Redskins would be the NFC East champions, thanks in part to their 3-1 record within the division.
The 'Skins control their own destiny much like the Cowboys. If they win out, they win the division. But they can technically afford to lose to the Eagles, provided the Giants lose to Baltimore. It would still set up a matchup against Dallas on the last day of the season where the winner would win the NFC East.
This is due to another tiebreaker advantage the Redskins have. If they lose to the Eagles in Week 16 and beat Dallas in Week 17, the Redskins would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys.
Washington also holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vikings, which means if those two teams are tied for the final spot, Washington gets in.
Final Two Games: At Philadelphia (Dec. 23), home vs. Dallas (Dec. 30)
Indianapolis Colts (9-5)
The Indianapolis Colts had a golden opportunity on Sunday: beat Houston and not only would they clinch a playoff berth, but they would also force a winner-take-all matchup with the Texans for the AFC South title in Indianapolis in Week 17.
This wouldn't come to pass, but the Colts can still clinch a playoff berth if the Jets lose to the Titans on Monday Night Football in Week 15.
However, if the Jets win out while the Colts lose out, New York holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Colts could conceivably miss the playoffs.
Final Two Games: At Kansas City (Dec. 23), at home vs. Houston (Dec. 30)
Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
Seattle clinches a playoff berth with a win against San Francisco next week or a Giants loss, but it still has a punchers' chance at winning the NFC West.
The Seahawks will have to defeat the 49ers in Week 16 at home, then follow that up with a victory over St. Louis. After that, the 49ers would have to lose to the Arizona Cardinals.
This would put Seattle at 11-5 and San Francisco at 10-5-1, which would win the NFC West for the Seahawks.
Final Two Games: home vs. San Francisco (Dec. 23), home vs. St. Louis (Dec. 30)
Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
The Ravens' free fall has been perplexing, and while it won't keep them out of the playoffs, it could keep them from hosting a playoff game.
A Ravens loss and a Cincinnati victory in Week 16 sets up a Week 17 matchup that decides who will host a wild-card game and who's going on the road. However, if the Ravens defeat the Giants in Week 16, they will clinch the AFC North title.
If the Ravens win out and New England loses out, the Ravens will also clinch the third seed in the AFC.
Final Two Games: home vs. New York Giants (Dec. 23), at Cincinnati (Dec. 30)
Green Bay Packers (10-4)
The Packers have already clinched the NFC North thanks to a victory over the Chicago Bears. Now it's just a matter of where they will be seeded.
Currently the Packers have the third seed in the NFC. One more Falcons victory will shut Green Bay out of the running for the top seed. But if the Falcons lose out and the 49ers lose at least one game, then Green Bay would claim home-field advantage.
Final Two Games: Home vs. Tennessee (Dec. 23), at Minnesota (Dec. 30)
New England Patriots (10-4)
New England already won the AFC East. However, the Patriots' attempts at gaining home-field advantage were tripped up by a loss to the 49ers.
The Patriots are now currently the AFC's third seed. They will need to finish with the same record as Denver in order to claim the second seed because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos.
In order to claim home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Patriots would have to win out while the Texans would have to lose their last two games.
Final Two Games: At Jacksonville (Dec. 23), home vs. Miami (Dec. 30)
San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1)
The 49ers have already clinched a playoff berth; however, a win over Seattle in Week 16 would clinch their second consecutive NFC West title.
If the 49ers win out, they would clinch a first-round bye. If the Falcons lose their last two games, the 49ers would have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Final Two Games: At Seattle (Dec. 23), home vs. Arizona (Dec. 30)
Denver Broncos (11-3)
The Broncos have already clinched the AFC West, but if they win out, they will hold onto the second seed in the AFC.
But in order to get home-field advantage, they will need for Houston to lose its last two games as well.
Final Two Games: Home vs. Cleveland (Dec. 23), home vs. Kansas City (Dec. 30)
Atlanta Falcons (12-2)
Atlanta has already clinched the NFC South and with one more victory will clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Final Two Games: At Detroit (Dec. 22), home vs. Tampa Bay (Dec. 30)
Houston Texans (12-2)
The Texans clinched the AFC South with a victory over Indianapolis. One more victory will clinch home-field advantage in the AFC.
Final Two Games: home vs. Minnesota (Dec. 23), at Indianapolis (Dec. 30)