NFL Playoff Format 2013: Explaining Wild Card Scenarios and Tiebreakers
We've reached the end of the line, as the final Sunday of 2012 brings with it the regular season finale for teams across the National Football League.
Some of those teams have already punched their tickets for the playoffs, while others enter this week fighting for a postseason berth, either as a division champion or a wild card.
It's the latter that we'll focus on here by taking a look at a team-by-team breakdown of the scenarios involving the four wild-card spots for this year's postseason tournament.
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These are heady times in Cincinnati, as quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green have led the Bengals to the playoffs for the second straight season.
That's the first time that's occurred since 1981-1982, but the Bengals face an uphill climb if they're going to make it to Super Bowl XLVII.
Cincinnati is locked into the sixth seed in the AFC, meaning that the team will travel to face the third seed (presently the New England Patriots) on Wild Card weekend.
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Coming off a two-win debacle of a season, with a rookie quarterback under center and a new head coach in town, the Indianapolis Colts were not expected to do a whole lot in 2012.
However, Andrew Luck has played well, the team has rallied around Chuck Pagano's fight against leukemia and the Colts stunned the NFL this year by winning 10 games.
That's good enough to lock the Colts into the AFC's fifth seed, and when the team takes the field against the fourth seed next week it will be with Pagano back on the sidelines.
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Whereas the AFC wild cards are already set things are more up in the air in the NFC, beginning with the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings, who play host to the red-hot Green Bay Packers Sunday, have ridden running back Adrian Peterson to a 9-6 record, and with a win over the Packers in Week 17, the Vikings can clinch a most unlikely spot in the playoffs.
All is not lost should the Vikings fall, however, as losses by the New York Giants, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys would still get Minnesota into the postseason.
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Speaking of the Chicago Bears.
For the second straight season a strong start for the Bears may go for naught, as after losing five of their past seven games the Bears head into their finale against the Detroit Lions on the outside looking in where the playoffs are concerned.
In addition to needing to down Detroit, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and the Bears need help from the most unlikely of places—a win by the archrival Packers over the Vikings to get into football's second season.
New York Giants
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There's needing help...and then there's needing a miracle.
The defending Super Bowl champions are leaning towards the latter, as after back-to-back blowout losses the G-Men need a boatload of help to get into the playoffs.
In addition to beating the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants need losses from the Vikings, Bears and Cowboys in order to sneak into the postseason.
In other words, it looks like no repeat champion this season.
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Much like the Indianapolis Colts not a whole lot was expected of the Washington Redskins in 2012 with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin at the helm, and like the Colts the Redskins have wildly exceeded expectations.
After winning just three of their first nine games the Redskins have rattled off half a dozen wins in a row, and with a victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, the Redskins will clinch the NFC East crown.
Even should the Redskins lose they can still make the playoffs, however, as losses by the Bears and Vikings would get Washington in as a wild card regardless of what happens against Dallas.
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Finally, we'll close this little walk down what-if lane with the Seattle Seahawks, who earned a playoff berth with last week's impressive win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Now it's just a matter of where the Seahawks will slot.
It's likely that Seattle will roll into the playoffs as the NFC's fifth seed, but the team still has an outside shot at the NFC West title, if they defeat the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers are upset by the Arizona Cardinals.
That last part is slightly less likely than the Giants making the playoffs.