Tight races for divisional crowns abound in the NFL standings as the league heads into Week 16.
Only four teams out of a possible 12 have cemented playoff berths with two games left to play, while 12 teams have officially been eliminated from playoff contention, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com noted after the craziness of Week 15:
Remarkably, only one team has clinched its division—the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South.
Here's a look at the playoff standings heading into Week 16, followed by a closer examination of where teams stand in the battle to get into the postseason tournament.
|2||New Orleans Saints||10-4|
|6||San Francisco 49ers||10-4|
|8||Green Bay Packers||7-6-1|
|2||New England Patriots||10-4|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||11-3|
|8||San Diego Chargers||7-7|
Seattle just needs to hold at home in Week 16 against Arizona to claim the NFC West crown. The Seahawks haven't lost a game at CenturyLink Field since Dec. of 2011.
San Francisco is two games behind with two left to play. It's unlikely the 49ers will steal the crown, but if Seattle loses its final two and San Francisco wins out, the 49ers would finish the season with the same overall record and better record within the division.
On the flip side, Seattle will win the division if the 49ers lose to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football, as Randall Liu of NFLCommunications.com pointed out:
Clinching Scenario: @Seahawks win NFC West & homefield advantage with win OR SF loss— Randall Liu (@RLiuNFL) December 17, 2013
Week 16's NFC South rivalry game between the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints will likely decide the division. Both teams enter the game with records of 10-4, but the Saints are ahead in the standings by virtue of beating Carolina in Week 14.
There's a growing sense that the Panthers are finally ready to take the next step. Josh Katzowitz of CBSSports.com reveals one of the reasons why with this salient point:
The Saints are bad on the road...the team is 3-4 on the road with stomach-churning losses to the Jets, Seahawks and Rams. Carolina, meanwhile, is tough at home—its only loss in Charlotte this year came in the form of a 12-7 defeat to Seattle—and has won its six games there this year by an average of 18.7 points per game.
Three of the four NFC North teams are within one game of one another for the divisional lead heading into Week 16.
Detroit, being the least of these with a record of 7-7, will automatically be disqualified from playoff contention if the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers win their upcoming games, as Bleacher Report's Zach Kruse pointed out:
Should Green Bay win at home against Pittsburgh, then Week 17 will be the deciding factor, as the Packers will be in Chicago to take on the Bears at Soldier Field for the title.
The Philadelphia Eagles have a one-game lead over the Dallas Cowboys with two games remaining. The Eagles can clinch the division in Week 16 by beating Chicago at home, provided Dallas loses its game against Washington at FedEx Field.
If the Eagles lose, or if both teams win, then the division will be decided in Week 17 when the Eagles head to Dallas to face their NFC East rivals for the second time this season.
NFC Wild-Card Teams
There are only three teams with a shot at making it into the playoffs as an NFC wild-card team.
San Francisco and Carolina are currently in with records of 10-4.
The Arizona Cardinals have an outside shot at getting in. With a road game in Seattle upcoming, though, it's not likely to happen.
There's also a chance New Orleans would slide down into a wild-card spot if Carolina wins at home in Week 16.
Furthermore, on the off chance that Seattle gives up the division to San Francisco in the final weeks, the current NFC West leader could be a wild-card team, along with Carolina, New Orleans or Arizona.
Shockingly, the Kansas City Chiefs still have a chance of winning the AFC West in 2013, tied with the Denver Broncos at 11-3 with two games to play.
As Tom Pollin of Cold, Hard Football Facts observed, Kansas City is playing like it, too:
Broncos loss opened a possibility for Chiefs to come back and win AFC West. They're playing like they're well aware of it.— Tom Pollin (@tjpollin) December 15, 2013
The Chiefs have scored 101 points in the past two games, bouncing back from their three-game losing streak with style.
However, it'll take a collapse by Denver for the Chiefs to complete the upset. The Broncos won't likely oblige, either, with upcoming contests against Houston and Oakland to close out the season.
The Colts are AFC South champs.
After losing in embarrassing fashion to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15, the Cincinnati Bengals allowed the defending Super Bowl champs a window of opportunity to steal the division with a late-season surge.
Cincinnati is one game ahead of Baltimore with two left to play. The Bengals and Ravens will meet up in Week 17 to close out the year. If the Ravens beat the New England Patriots at home in Week 16, then the final game will determine the title, as noted by Andrea Hangst of Bleacher Report:
Ravens control their own destiny in the AFC North. Have AFC 6th seed now, can win it all by defeating Pats on Sunday, Bengals Week 17.— Andrea Hangst (@FBALL_Andrea) December 17, 2013
The Miami Dolphins are technically still in the running for the AFC East crown, two games behind the New England Patriots.
All New England needs to do to win the division is win or tie in Week 16 against Baltimore. But even if the Patriots lose, they would win the AFC East with a loss or tie by Miami.
This is the longest of long shots for the Dolphins.
Maybe next year.
AFC Wild-Card Teams
Either Kansas City or Denver will be the No. 5 seed in the AFC.
But there's a huge battle brewing for the No. 6 seed between Baltimore, Miami, San Diego and Pittsburgh. Oh, and don't forget about Cincinnati, which could potentially drop into that spot under the right circumstances.
It's going to be a wild finish. This particular race won't likely be decided until the season is finally at its end at the conclusion of Week 17.
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