NFL Postseason Push: Making Sense of Cluttered Playoff Picture

Marques Eversoll@MJEversollAnalyst IDecember 19, 2012

NFL Postseason Push: Making Sense of Cluttered Playoff Picture

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    There are already a handful of teams that have their tickets punched for the postseason.

    However, when it comes down to the AFC North, the NFC West, and the Wild Cards, the playoff picture becomes a complete and utter mess.

    Three teams—Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh—are still in contention to win the AFC North. The Ravens and Bengals each control their own destiny, while the Steelers need to win out and get help in order to earn a home playoff game.

    In the NFC East, there are also three teams still in contention to win the division. If either Dallas or Washington wins out, then the division will be settled. But there is still a glimmer of hope for the New York Giants to win the always-competitive division.

    Let's put the playoff picture under the microscope and forecast the first-round playoff matchups.

AFC North

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    Baltimore (9-5) vs Giants, at Bengals

    Cincinnati (8-6) at Steelers, vs Ravens

    Pittsburgh (7-7) vs Bengals, vs Browns

    Fourteen games into the season, the AFC North is still up for grabs.

    The Baltimore Ravens still have the clearest path to winning the division. Even if they lose at home to the New York Giants this week, the Ravens would clinch the AFC North by beating the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17.

    In order for the Bengals to make the playoffs, they'll need to win at least one of their last two games. This week, Cincinnati plays at Pittsburgh, before they host the Baltimore Ravens next week. Despite being in second-place right now, Cincinnati's two remaining divisional games leave the door wide open.

    And despite being .500 with just two games remaining, the Pittsburgh Steelers still have a decent shot at winning the division.

    Assume the Steelers win their last two games—one against the Bengals and one against the Browns—Pittsburgh would finish 9-7 and maintain a chance at winning the AFC North. If Baltimore loses to the Giants this week and the Cincinnati Bengals next week, Pittsburgh would own the tie-breaker, and thus, win the division.

    Both the Ravens and Bengals control their own destiny, but the Steelers are not dead. Yet.

Best Guess: AFC Playoff Seedings

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    AFC Playoffs

    1) Houston - BYE

    2) Denver - BYE

    6) Pittsburgh at 3) New England

    5) Indianapolis at 4) Baltimore

    Houston had already clinched the AFC South with a win over the Indianapolis Colts, and Denver has already clinched the AFC West. If both teams win out, they'll earn the first-round byes in the AFC playoffs.

    After a loss to the 49ers, New England has fallen out of the No. 2 spot but still won't finish any lower than the AFC's No. 3 seed.

    Pittsburgh needs to win each of its last two games in order to make the playoffs, but the Steelers have owned the Bengals in recent years and they should beat the Browns in Week 17. If they win both games, it will be Pittsburgh at New England in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.

    The Colts are locked in as the top Wild Card in the AFC. At 9-5, the Colts could finish 1-1 against the Chiefs and Texans and still earn the fifth seed. If they lose out, they could fall to the No. 6 seed, but the Colts are in the playoffs.

    Even if the Baltimore Ravens lose to the Giants this week, they'll control their own destiny in the final week of the regular season. The Ravens look like a safe bet to win the AFC North and earn the No. 4 seed despite their recent slump.

NFC East

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    Dallas (8-6) vs Saints, at Redskins

    Washington (8-6) at Eagles, vs Cowboys

    NY Giants (8-6) at Ravens, vs Eagles

    For the Cowboys and Redskins, it's simple: if either team wins out, they win the NFC East.

    On paper, it certainly looks like the Washington vs. Dallas matchup in Week 17 will be for the division championship. However, there is still a scenario in which the New York Giants win the division.

    If the Cowboys lose at home to the Saints this week, and Dallas beats Washington Week 17, the Giants are the division champions if they win their last two games.

    I think all three teams win this week—Giants over Ravens, Cowboys over Saints and Redskins over Eagles. In Week 17, I have the Giants over the Eagles and the Cowboys over the Redskins.

    If this happens, the Dallas Cowboys would win the division, and the Giants would sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card. The Giants would still be a Wild Card if the Redskins defeated the Cowboys in Week 17. To me, this seems like the most likely scenario.

Best Guess: NFC Playoff Seedings

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    NFC Playoffs

    1) Atlanta - BYE

    2) Green Bay - BYE

    6) NY Giants at 3) San Francisco

    5) Seattle at 4) Dallas

    If the Atlanta Falcons defeat the Detroit Lions on Saturday night, they're the top seed in the NFC. There are still many people who doubt the Falcons, myself included, but a dominant victory over the New York Giants cannot be ignored.

    After the Falcons at No. 1, things get really interesting in the NFC. If the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals to end the season, they're the No. 2 seed. But with the way Seattle has been playing lately, that's far from a guarantee.

    When forecasting the playoff seedings, I gave the Seahawks a win over San Francisco. This would leave the door open for the Green Bay Packers to overtake the 49ers as the No. 2 seed. The Packers figure to finish 2-0, as they play Tennessee at home in Week 16 and travel to Minnesota in Week 17.

    Although the Giants have lost four of their last six games, if they beat the Ravens and Eagles, they'll be in the playoffs as a Wild Card. I think the Giants get it done, setting up an NFC Championship rematch in the Wild Card Round.

    If both the Cowboys and Redskins win this week, then the Week 17 matchup between Dallas and Washington will become the NFC East Championship. The Redskins beat the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but something tells me Dallas will be in the playoffs this year.

    And with Seattle being a Wild Card, whoever wins the NFC East has a good chance at advancing to the Divisional Round, considering the Seahawks have struggled on the road this year.