The 2013 NFL playoffs are approaching fast, and the focus has shifted to postseason-clinching scenarios and which teams have the most to gain in Week 16.
With perennial powerhouses like the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals all fighting for a playoff berth and valuable seeding, the action this Sunday should be some of the best fans witness all season.
For a complete look at every playoff scenario for Week 16, NFL.com has the breakdown.
Here are the three teams with the most to gain and how each can secure its place in the postseason.
New England Patriots (10-4)
New England’s Playoff Scenarios
The Patriots have faced plenty of trials and tribulations this season, but they still stand as one of the best teams in the NFL. With a Bengals loss or tie Sunday, the franchise’s spot in the postseason will be secure.
New England can also lock up a first-round bye with a victory over the Baltimore Ravens, a Cincinnati loss or tie and an Indianapolis Colts loss or tie. The Patriots would need losses from both the Bengals and the Colts if New England ties in Week 16.
Don't care if the Patriots get 1st round bye. Comes down to who has momentum or who's hot when the playoffs start. And I hope it's us.— Only In Boston (@OnlyInBOS) December 15, 2013
Clinching the AFC East title isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. If the Patriots win or tie or Miami loses or ties, the Patriots will win the division for the fifth year in a row.
Breaking Down Week 16 vs. Baltimore Ravens
The odds have been stacked against New England this week. The Ravens are coming off a hard-fought victory over the Detroit Lions, and the Patriots are dealing with a loss in Week 15 and the residual effects of the injury to star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Now the New England Patriots are going to have an even tougher time at Baltimore this Sunday.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) December 17, 2013
Don’t ever count New England out, though. Brady acknowledged the magnitude of this matchup and spoke about the importance of notching the win, per Boston.com's Zuri Berry:
There’s no bigger game than this one for us. We have to put everything we can into it. It’s a very important game. As the season goes on, each of these games gets more and more important. We know how important this one is to try to win the division.
The emergence of wide receiver Julian Edelman, who caught 13 passes for 139 yards and one touchdown last week, as a viable top target for Tom Brady is a great sign for this Sunday's matchup with Baltimore. The Patriots will steal the victory.
Predicted Final Score: New England 24, Baltimore 23
New Orleans Saints (10-4)
New Orleans’ Playoff Scenarios
After a loss to the St. Louis Rams in Week 15, the Saints are looking to bounce back with a win over their NFC South division foes, the Carolina Panthers.
As if the stakes weren’t high enough between these two rivals, New Orleans would clinch the division title and a first-round bye with a victory Sunday. The Saints could also secure a playoff spot with an Arizona loss, a tie and a San Francisco loss or tie, a tie and a Cardinals tie, or a 49ers loss and an Arizona tie.
Obviously, the team would rather beat Carolina and avoid all of that mess.
Breaking Down Week 16 vs. Carolina Panthers
The first meeting between these two teams in Week 14 was one of the most anticipated games of the week, but it failed to live up to the expectations. New Orleans should expect a much tougher Carolina team than the one it beat 31-13 on Dec. 8 at home.
The Panthers defeated the New York Jets, 30-20, last week and look to regain their elite form against the Saints. Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense may have struggled in Week 15, but the familiarity with the division rival should be enough to help the team earn a win.
Predicted Final Score: New Orleans 27, Carolina 24
Cincinnati Bengals (9-5)
Cincinnati’s Playoff Scenarios
Inconsistency has been the Bengals' biggest issue in 2013, but the franchise is still on the cusp of making the postseason. With a win and a Miami loss or tie, or a tie and a Miami loss, Cincinnati will be heading back to the playoffs.
The Bengals can also clinch the AFC North division title by beating the Minnesota Vikings and watching Baltimore lose or tie, or they can tie the Vikings and still win the division as long as the Ravens lose to New England.
Breaking Down Week 16 vs. Minnesota Vikings
Which team has the best chance of making the Super Bowl?
Add in the fact that the Vikings are traveling to Cincinnati, and the road team is in serious trouble.
With Adrian Peterson still limited in practice for Minnesota per Ben Goessling of ESPN.com, Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense will look to control the clock and the scoreboard by using their own running game to dictate the pace.
This won’t be a pretty football game, but Cincinnati should get the much-needed victory.
Predicted Final Score: Cincinnati 30, Minnesota 20
*Stats and playoff information via NFL.com.