Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers are still atop the NFC West.
This time of year in pro football is where the regular season meshes in with the postseason, as games during the final weeks can be considered NFL playoff games.
With plenty of divisional contests remaining, a loss in Week 16 could virtually doom a team's chances and/or confidence leading into January. Victory, on the other hand, simply takes that specific team one step closer.
Just look at the San Francisco 49ers.
Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh and the 'Niners edged out Tom Brady in his own backyard. San Francisco can still earn a postseason bye, whereas the New England Patriots are now fighting for that extra week of rest.
Ahead are the projected seeds for those looking to appear in Super Bowl XLVII.
AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
|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|
Texans clinch home-field advantage with win in Week 16 or Week 17 OR Denver and New England losses in Week 16 or Week 17.
Broncos clinch first-round bye if they finish with a better record than New England. Patriots get first-round bye if two teams have the same record.
Ravens clinch AFC North with win in Week 16 or Week 17 OR Bengals Loss in Week 16 or Week 17
|WILD CARD LEADERS|
|No. 5 Seed Indianapolis Colts (9-5)|
|No. 6 Seed Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)|
Colts will clinch playoff berth with win in Week 16 or Week 17 OR Jets, Steelers and Bengals lose in Week 16 or Week 17
Bengals will clinch playoff berth with two wins. They will also clinch with one win AND one Steelers loss and one Jets loss.
|IN THE HUNT|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)|
|New York Jets (6-7)|
|Miami Dolphins (6-8)|
Steelers must defeat Cincinnati in Week 16 to stay alive. Jets own tiebreaker over Bengals and Colts if teams finish with the same record. Dolphins must win out and have Cincinnati and Pittsburgh lose out and the Jets lose two of three.
NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
|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 (10-4) Clinched NFC North|
|No. 4 Seed Washington Redskins (8-6) Lead NFC East|
Falcons clinch home-field advantage and first-round bye with win in Week 16 or 17 OR Green Bay and San Francisco losses in Week 16 or Week 17
49ers clinch NFC West with win in Week 16 or Week 17. Clinch home-field advantage with win in Week 16 and 17 AND losses by Atlanta in Week 16 and Week 17. Clinch first-round bye if they have the same number of wins as Packers.
Redskins clinch NFC East with wins in Week 16 and Week 17.
|WILD CARD LEADERS|
|No. 5 Seed Seattle Seahawks (9-5)|
|No. 6 Seed Minnesota Vikings (8-6)|
|IN THE HUNT|
|Chicago Bears (8-6)|
|Dallas Cowboys (8-6)|
|New York Giants (8-6)|
|St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)|
| New Orleans Saints (6-8)|
The Houston Texans need to win just one more game to clinch the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Currently sporting a 12-2 record, the Texans host the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16 and then play at the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17.
Houston defeated the Denver Broncos back in Week 3, and that victory is paying dividends at the moment. Holding that tiebreaker is keeping the Texans on pace for the No. 1 seed even though the Broncos are just one game back.
So, either sweep the Colts or take care of business vs. Minnesota and the AFC's postseason goes through Houston.
Courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers, the Denver Broncos now sit in the AFC's No. 2 spot.
Sporting an 11-3 record, the Broncos must finish better than the Patriots to claim a January bye, because New England defeated Denver in Week 5.
Without question the Broncos have become the product of a weak schedule during the season's second half. Then again, Denver's losses are to the Atlanta Falcons, Texans and Patriots.
This team has defeated everyone it was expected to defeat and thrashing the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday was impressive. Hosting the Cleveland Browns this week, Denver is in prime position for the No. 2 seed as the Kansas City Chiefs visit in Week 17.
Fear not New England Patriots fans, Tom Brady will get at least one home game in January.
Now, the loss to the 49ers certainly doesn't help.
New England controlled its own destiny for a playoff bye and was in strong position for the one seed. Getting that top seed is still possible, but the Patriots need help from the Texans and Broncos.
Nevertheless, with games at the Jacksonville Jaguars and hosting the Miami Dolphins to finish the season, New England will likely get to 12-4. In the worst-case scenario the Patriots will get the No. 3 seed, but getting the No. 1 is not out of the question just yet.
The Baltimore Ravens are sliding, and fast.
Entering December the Ravens were 9-2 and in the mix for a playoff bye.
Since then, Baltimore has dropped three consecutive and holds a mere one-game lead in the AFC North. The Ravens are hosting the New York Giants in Week 16, and Big Blue is also in a funk.
In short, expect Baltimore to finally win and clinch the division.
Despite traveling to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17, the Ravens have a better divisional record over Cincy and defeated the Bengals in Week 1. Provided the offense can find a rhythm and the defense can get healthy, Baltimore could be a playoff sleeper.
Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts catch a break in Week 16: the Kansas City Chiefs.
Winning simply gets the Colts into the postseason after going 2-14 in 2011.
Talk about an immediate turnaround. If the Colts secure the No. 5 seed and play Baltimore in the Wild Card Round, they could pull off an upset. The Ravens struggle against the pass and are just as vulnerable to the run.
Factor the Colts' continued improvement of balance, and Indy can outscore Joe Flacco. Doing so would likely give Luck and Co. a third shot against the Texans.
Right now the Cincinnati Bengals are the AFC's No. 6 seed.
Don't, however, get too excited because Cincy plays at the Pittsburgh Steelers and then hosts the Ravens to close out the regular season.
Earlier this year, the Bengals fell to both teams. Cincinnati also went 0-4 against the Steelers and Ravens during the 2011 season as well.
Fortunately, the Bengals are playing much better at the moment than Pittsburgh. The Steelers have dropped four of five and Cincy has a bit more rest since it played on Thursday night. Expect the Bengals to beat Pittsburgh.
Cincy can still take the division by winning out and Baltimore flopping in Week 16 against the Giants. Regardless, when the Bengals have played at their best this year, they've proved they can hang with anyone.
A Week 16 victory and the NFC's road to Super Bowl XLVII goes through the Atlanta Falcons.
That is, if the Falcons can manage to win a postseason game and press onward through January.
During the Matt Ryan era, the Falcons have always finished with a winning record, and 2012 will be their fourth playoff appearance. Atlanta, though, has not won a playoff game with Ryan under center despite the impressive regular season consistency.
On the bright side, the Falcons dusted the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants at home in Week 15. That performance after a tough road loss to the Carolina Panthers was impressive, because responding in a resilient manner displays a different Falcons team in 2012.
Still, the true identity of the Dirty Birds will be revealed next month.
Throughout the first three quarters on Sunday night we saw the San Francisco 49ers' ultimate potential.
Then, Tom Brady and the Patriots exposed San Francisco's pass defense and nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback.
Winning in New England is definitely no easy task, but the 'Niners play at the red-hot Seattle Seahawks in Week 16. Seattle is nearly an exact replica of San Francisco, because it plays physical defense and slams the rock with Marshawn Lynch in the trenches.
Next week's NFC West duel will significantly impact the playoff picture, because the Green Bay Packers can still sneak into the No. 2 spot.
Excluding a dud performance against the New York Giants, the Green Bay Packers have been quite consistent since mid-October.
Going 8-1 over the past nine games earned Titletown another division title and an outside shot for a playoff bye.
Hosting the Tennessee Titans this week, expect Green Bay to be 11-4 when visiting the Minnesota Vikings thereafter. On Sunday, we saw how excessively dominant the Packers can be with Clay Matthews applying quarterback pressure.
As one of the NFL's premier pass-rushers, Matthews is a competitive advantage for the Pack. Factor in play-making cornerbacks and Green Bay is arguably the NFC's most dangerous team right now.
The Washington Redskins have been an intriguing team for the 2012 season.
After beginning 3-6 in their first nine games and entering a bye week, Washington has since rolled off five straight wins to take the NFC East lead.
Interestingly enough, Mike Shanahan's team is doing so with two rookie signal-callers at the helm. Kirk Cousins has proven to be just as dependable as Robert Griffin III, and the defense continues to generate turnovers.
Washington travels to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16 and then welcomes the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17. Having already bested each rival earlier in 2012, anticipate the Redskins to hit a 10-6 record and earn the No. 4 seed.
This team simply possesses far too much confidence to fall short in either of its next two games.
As we move into Week 16 the Seattle Seahawks are on a three-game winning streak.
And during this streak Seattle has outscored its opponents 131-34.
The Seahawks are also in excellent position regarding the Wild Card, because Pete Carroll's team owns head-to-head tiebreakers over the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys. So, even with a loss to San Francisco in Week 16, the Seahawks won't entirely diminish their postseason chances.
Week 17 is another divisional game in hosting the St. Louis Rams. For as well as Seattle has controlled the trenches on both sides of the line in 2012, the Rams and 49ers logged wins over the Seahawks earlier this season.
The Seahawks have worked nicely outside the division, but these final two weeks will be telling for the Great Northwest.
Even though the Chicago Bears faded back in recent weeks, the remaining schedule is quite favorable.
In Weeks 16 and 17 the Bears hit the road and face the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions.
Certainly those are two winnable contests that will get Chicago to 10-6.
The Bears' postseason odds are better than at first glance as well, because the Minnesota Vikings get the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers these next two weeks.
Just by comparison of opponents, Chicago appears to have a simpler path to January than Minnesota.
Also, the Bears hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dallas Cowboys courtesy of the Week 4 Monday night win. Chicago may appear to be headed for an early playoff exit, but qualifying for the postseason is realistic despite having lost five of its previous six games.
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