Updated NFL Playoff Picture: Analyzing the Latest Scenarios for Week 17

Russell S. BaxterContributor IDecember 22, 2013

Updated NFL Playoff Picture: Analyzing the Latest Scenarios for Week 17

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    Linebacker NaVorro Bowman and the San Francisco 49ers are headed back to the playoffs for a third straight year.
    Linebacker NaVorro Bowman and the San Francisco 49ers are headed back to the playoffs for a third straight year.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The majority of the invitations to the NFL’s holiday party, also known as the playoffs, have now been sent out.

    Five of the six spots in the AFC are all set. And thanks to the San Francisco 49ers’ 34-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night, three of the six spots in the NFC have now been mailed out.

    In the AFC, all four divisions have already been wrapped up. In the other conference, we have yet to crown a champion.

    So here is the weekly look at the NFL’s playoff matchups as they stand at this moment. Next Sunday will feature a pair of winner-take-all tilts for the NFC East and NFC North titles.

    But that’s next week. And as for all of the playoff clinching scenarios, including those involving ties, check out NFL playoff scenario guru Joe Ferreira and his exceptional breakdowns on CBSSports.com.

On the Bubble

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    On the Bubble

    Listed below are the top teams in each conference that are on the outside looking in of the playoff picture. The number attached is their current seeding.

     

    AFC

     

    7. Baltimore Ravens (8-7)

    For now, the defending Super Bowl champions are on the outside looking in terms of the playoffs thanks to their 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots. The Ravens find themselves in a three-way tie with the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers and for now, it is advantage Miami.

    What will it take for the defending champs to get back to the playoffs? A win over the Bengals combined with losses by either the Chargers or Dolphins will get the job done.

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Bengals (10-5)

     

    8. San Diego Chargers (8-7)

    Quarterback Philip Rivers wasn’t really that sharp on the team’s 26-13 win over the Oakland Raiders, completing just 19 of 29 passes for 201 yards and a score. The 10-year pro also had two of the team’s three turnovers on Sunday. But the Chargers’ defense limited Oakland to 265 total yards and one touchdown as Mike McCoy’s team won its third in a row. The Bolts can reach the playoffs next week by beating the Kansas City Chiefs combined with losses by the Dolphins and Ravens.

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Chiefs (11-4)

     

    9. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)

    Four weeks into the season, the winless Steelers were off to their worst start since 1968. With one week to go in 2013, Mike Tomlin’s club still has a chance to become only the second team in NFL history to overcome a 0-4 start and reach the playoffs. Pittsburgh needs a win over the Cleveland Browns and losses by the Dolphins, Chargers and Ravens.

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Browns (4-11)

     

    NFC

     

    7. Arizona Cardinals (10-5)

    Bruce Arians has gone from magical to mystical as the Cardinals ended the Seattle Seahawks’ 14-game home winning streak courtesy of a stunning 17-10 victory. This despite the fact that veteran quarterback Carson Palmer threw four interceptions in the win. If the Cards can defeat the San Francisco 49ers next week, it would give the franchise 11 wins for the first time since 1975. And a win next Sunday coupled with a New Orleans Saints’ loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cards are in the playoffs. Wow!

    Remaining Schedule: vs. 49ers (11-4)

     

    8. Dallas Cowboys (8-7)

    For those who doubt quarterback Tony Romo’s ability in the clutch, he came up big on Sunday when he had to against the Washington Redskins. He drove his Cowboys 87 yards in nine plays and his 10-yard touchdown pass to running back DeMarco Murray with 1:08 to play (and subsequent PAT) gave Jason Garrett’s team a 24-23 win. As we know, Dallas can clinch the NFC East this Sunday evening with a win at home against the Philadelphia Eagles. But who will be the Cowboys’ quarterback that night? Stay tuned.

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Eagles (9-6)

     

    9. Green Bay Packers (7-7-1)

    After a pair of one-point wins over the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys, Mike McCarthy’s club came up seven points short of the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, 38-31. But thanks to losses by both the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions on Sunday, the Packers will be playing a winner-take-all game for the NFC North title next Sunday at Soldier Field. Let the week-long debate on who the starting quarterback will be begin.

    Remaining Schedule: at Bears (8-7)

AFC No. 1 Seed: Denver Broncos (12-3)

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    Clinched AFC West and first-round bye

    Playoff Opponent: First-Round Bye

    The headline for the Denver Broncos’ 37-13 win over the Houston Texans is pretty obvious.

    “Broncos Clinch AFC West; Peyton Manning Sets Touchdown Pass Record.”

    And while both bits of information are true, head coach John Fox had to be happy that his team gave up only 13 points, a season low for the defensively challenged Broncos.

    But we won’t bury the lead. Manning threw for 400 yards and four scores, giving him an NFL-record 51 touchdown passes on the season. The Denver defense held the Texans to 240 total yards, also a season-best performance by the Broncos.

    Next week, Manning and Co. visit the Oakland Raiders needing a win to wrap up home-field advantage in the AFC for a second straight season.

    Remaining Schedule: at Raiders (4-11)

AFC No. 2 Seed: New England Patriots (11-4)

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Clinched AFC East

    Playoff Opponent: First-Round Bye

    What a great time for the New England Patriots' most complete effort of the season.

    After clinching the AFC East for the fifth straight year earlier in the afternoon when the Miami Dolphins lost at Buffalo, Bill Belichick’s club celebrated by pounding the Baltimore Ravens 41-7.

    The Pats forced four turnovers and returned two of them for scores late in the game. Quarterback Tom Brady threw for only 172 yards and a score, but New England ran for 142 yards on 34 carries.

    It also played turnover-free football and snapped a six-game streak in which it had allowed 24 or more points.

    Brady and his teammates can wrap up the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a win over the Bills next Sunday.

    And if the Oakland Raiders can upset the Denver Broncos...well?

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Bills (6-9)

AFC No. 3 Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)

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    Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

    Clinched AFC North

    Playoff Opponent: vs. Miami Dolphins (8-7)

    The Cincinnati Bengals are playoff-bound once again, and in the process, they made a little franchise history.

    A 42-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings combined with the Miami Dolphins’ 19-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills put Marvin Lewis’ club in the postseason for a third consecutive year.

    And hours later, a 41-7 loss by the Baltimore Ravens to the New England Patriots gave Cincinnati its first division title since 2009.

    All told, it marks the first time that the Bengals will have reached the playoffs in three consecutive years.

    How’s this for an interesting scenario next week? They can put a major crimp in the playoff plans of the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens next week by beating them in Cincinnati.

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Ravens (8-7)

AFC No. 4 Seed: Indianapolis Colts (10-5)

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Clinched AFC South title

    Playoff Opponent: vs. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)

    It was a performance that Chuck Pagano’s team desperately needed.

    The Indianapolis Colts forced four turnovers and defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7 at always-formidable Arrowhead Stadium.

    Pagano’s defense came up with four sacks of Kansas City veteran quarterback Alex Smith, who threw for only 153 yards and was picked off twice by Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman.

    A victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday would give Indianapolis three straight wins, something the team hasn’t done since late September/early October.

    Nothing like a little momentum come playoff time.

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Jaguars (4-11)

AFC No. 5 Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Clinched Wild Card berth

    Playoff Opponent: at Indianapolis Colts (10-5)

    Just when it looked like the Kansas City Chiefs had found themselves once again, their offense went missing on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

    Andy Reid’s team lost for the fourth time in six games and the third consecutive time at home courtesy of a perplexing 23-7 setback to the Indianapolis Colts.

    The Chiefs got 106 yards rushing and a touchdown from running back Jamaal Charles and little else. Quarterback Alex Smith threw for 153 yards and ran for 47 more. But he was sacked four times and committed three of his team’s four turnovers on the afternoon.

    Entering the game, the Chiefs had committed only 14 turnovers in as many games. But that many miscues combined with an offense that was a miserable 1-of-8 on third-down conversion attempts spelled disaster.

    Remaining Schedule: at Chargers (8-7)

AFC No. 6 Seed: Miami Dolphins (8-7)

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Playoff Opponent: at Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)

    "Ugly" may be an understatement.

    For the second time this season, the Miami Dolphins had won three straight games and looked to make it four wins in a row. And for the second time this year, they failed to make that happen.

    That’s because Joe Philbin’s team was beaten by the Buffalo Bills for the second time this season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked seven times in a 19-0 loss at Orchard Park.

    Fortunately for the Dolphins, the Baltimore Ravens lost and the San Diego Chargers won. That means in a three-way tie-breaker, Miami has the edge for now when it comes to that final playoff spot in the AFC.

    As for getting in, the Dolphins can still grab their first playoff berth since 2008 with a win next week over the New York Jets and a Ravens’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. They can also clinch with a win along with a win by the San Diego Chargers next Sunday.

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Jets (7-8)

NFC No. 1 Seed: Seattle Seahawks (12-3)

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Clinched playoff berth

    Playoff Opponent: First-Round Bye

    Those wondering if the Seattle Seahawks are actually human need to be reminded of the fact that we’re talking about birds.

    Okay, so much for the cute intro. There were those who believed that Pete Carroll’s team may finish unbeaten at home for a second straight year.

    As someone has often said, “not so fast my friend.”

    The Seahawks fell to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, 17-10, despite the fact that Seattle’s defense picked off Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer four times.

    But give credit where credit is due. The Arizona defense limited Carroll’s club to just 192 total yards.

    So a loss is a loss. Meanwhile, a Seattle victory on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams gives the Seahawks home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Rams (7-8)

NFC No. 2 Seed: Carolina Panthers (11-4)

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    Clinched playoff berth

    Playoff Opponent: First-Round Bye

    It may not have been Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s best game. But it was arguably his best win.

    The former Heisman winner threw for 181 yards and a score, was intercepted once, sacked four times and limited to six yards rushing on four carries. But in the end, Newton did what he had to do and the Panthers came away with a hard-earned 17-13 win over the New Orleans Saints.

    “Cam was very resilient," said head coach Ron Rivera via CBS Sports. "He struggled all day and he knows that. But he came through when we needed him."

    Did he ever! In the final minute of the game, the third-year pro led his team on a five-play, 65-yard scoring drive which took all of 32 seconds. Newton’s 14-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds on the clock proved to be the difference in the game.

    Now the Panthers can wrap up the NFC South next week with a win over the Atlanta Falcons. Who would have imagined that happening when the Saints were 4-0 and Rivera’s team was 1-3 after four games?

    Remaining Schedule: at Falcons (4-10)

NFC No. 3 Seed: Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)

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    Playoff Opponent: vs. New Orleans Saints (10-5)

    Chip Kelly and his Philadelphia Eagles stubbed their toes last week at the Metrodome.

    They weren’t going to let that happen again.

    Entering the weekend, the Birds owned the league’s No. 1 rushing attack and the Chicago Bears possessed the NFL’s worst run defense.

    Cue the obvious. The Eagles rushed for 289 yards, part of 514 total yards on the night in a 54-11 rout of Marc Trestman’s team.

    Regardless of that result, Philadelphia was going to be playing for the NFC East title next Sunday night at Dallas thanks to the Cowboys’ 24-23 win over the Washington Redskins.

    And given the way the Eagles offense is playing these days, you may have to be a little concerned if you’re Jerry Jones.

    Remaining Schedule: at Cowboys (8-7)

NFC No. 4 Seed: Chicago Bears (8-7)

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Playoff Opponent: vs. San Francisco 49ers (11-4)

    It was there for the taking for the Chicago Bears.

    And the Bears got taken…to the woodshed.

    Chicago’s much-maligned defensive unit allowed 514 total yards in a 54-11 setback to the Philadelphia Eagles. The league’s worst rushing defense gave up 289 yards on the ground to Chip Kelly’s team.

    But all is not lost. With the Detroit Lions eliminated from the playoffs and the Green Bay Packers falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bears will now play Green Bay next Sunday at Soldier Field and the winner claims the NFC North title.

    And let’s consider this for a moment. The last time we saw Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers was in a Monday night loss to the Bears, the game in which he broke his collarbone.

    But that was also a contest that quarterback Josh McCown started in place of an injured Jay Cutler. And Cutler has certainly had his issues in the past against Green Bay and defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Packers (7-7-1)

NFC No. 5 Seed: San Francisco 49ers (11-4)

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    Clinched playoff berth

    Playoff Opponent: at Chicago Bears (8-7)

    Well, the San Francisco 49ers did what they had to do on Monday night.

    Head coach Jim Harbaugh made in three playoff appearances in as many years with the Niners thanks to an entertaining 34-24 victory over the very game Atlanta Falcons.

    Coupled with the Seattle Seahawks’ 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, the defending NFC West champions still have a shot at winning a third straight division title with a win this week over the Arizona Cardinals and a Seahawks’ loss to the St. Louis Rams.

    Of course, dealing the Cards a setback is easier said than done these days as Bruce Arians’ team has won seven of its last eight games following a 3-4 start.

    And the San Francisco defense, which allowed 402 total yards to Atlanta on Monday night, will have to play much better in the desert this weekend.

    Remaining Schedule: at Cardinals (10-5)

NFC No. 6 Seed: New Orleans Saints (10-5)

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    Playoff Opponent: at Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)

    Perhaps it bears repeating from a week ago.

    So much for thinking that winning a division title would be easy.

    Now the New Orleans Saints are hoping they can hold on and reach the playoffs.

    Thanks to three losses in their last four games, Sean Payton’s club finds itself in the NFC’s No. 6 spot for now. And an NFC South title that looked like a certainty a few weeks ago could slip from the Saints’ grasp.

    Sunday’s 17-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers saw Brees throw two interceptions for the second straight game. The veteran signal-caller was also sacked six times by the Carolina defense.

    Still, a win next Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers puts the Saints in the playoffs regardless of what the Panthers do at Atlanta. And that’s certainly not the worst thing in the world, is it?

    Remaining Schedule: vs. Buccaneers (4-11)