NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Complete Outlook for AFC and NFC Landscape

Tim KeeneyContributor IDecember 20, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 08:   Pierre Thomas #23 of the New Orleans Saints is tackled by the Carolina Panthers defense at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 8, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Six down, several more to go. 

During a wild Week 15, the Oakland Raiders (much like all the fantasy owners that faced Jamaal Charles), Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and New York Jets were all mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, leaving a little-bit-clearer-but-still-pretty-muddy playoff picture heading into the final two weeks. 

If Roger Goodell started taking crazy pills and abruptly ended the season today, here's how the postseason would look:

Current NFL Playoff Projections
1Denver Broncos11-31Seattle Seahawks12-2
2New England Patriots10-42New Orleans Saints10-4
3Cincinnati Bengals9-53Philadelphia Eagles8-6
4Indianapolis Colts9-54Chicago Bears8-6
5Kansas City Chiefs11-35Carolina Panthers10-4
6Baltimore Ravens8-66San Francisco 49ers10-4

Alas, there's still a long way to go until everything is set in stone, so let's take a complete look at the playoff picture heading into a crucial Week 16. 


NFC Outlook

The Seattle Seahawks are currently the only team that has clinched a playoff berth, but several teams could join them this week. Here's a look at the standings:

NFC Standings
Philadelphia Eagles860
Dallas Cowboys770
New York Giants590
Washington Redskins3110
Chicago Bears860
Green Bay Packers761
Detroit Lions770
Minnesota Vikings491
New Orleans Saints1040
Carolina Panthers1040
Tampa Bay Buccaneers4100
Atlanta Falcons4100
Seattle Seahawks1220
San Francisco 49ers1040
Arizona Cardinals950
St. Louis Rams680
NFC Wild CardWLT
Carolina Panthers1040
San Francisco 49ers1040
Arizona Cardinals950
Green Bay Packers761
Detroit Lions770
Dallas Cowboys770

At the top, things start off simple. Pete Carroll's team is a home win—either against the Arizona Cardinals this week or the St. Louis Rams next Sunday—away from clinching the NFC West and home-field advantage until the Super Bowl.

And with Russell Wilson and the Hawks' dominance at Century Link, it's safe to assume that will happen. Q13 Fox Sports' Aaron Levine offers up this absurd stat:

It's not yet official, but the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC is almost assuredly going to go through Seattle. 

As for the second bye, the New Orleans Saints need just a win this week, which sounds a lot more simple until you realize they travel on the road, where they are 3-4, to battle the Carolina Panthers, who are 6-1 at home. 

Bleacher Report's Knox Bardeen notes that the majority is siding with Ron Rivera's squad in the integral matchup, although that's far from the consensus opinion:

Should Carolina win, it would clinch a playoff berth and only need to beat the Atlanta Falcons in Week 17 to win the South and earn a first-round bye. 

The last 10-win team in the conference, the San Francisco 49ers, may not catch the 'Hawks, but they will clinch a playoff berth with a win against the Falcons or with a Cardinals loss to, interestingly enough, Seattle. I'm guessing San Francisco fans would rather clinch via the former route. 

TAMPA, FL -  DECEMBER 15:  Coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers watches play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers December 15, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The 49ers won 33 - 14. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Only two teams remain in the East mess: the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. 

Chip Kelly needs a win at home against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night coupled with a Cowboys loss at Washington versus the Redskins to clinch a division title in his first season. Otherwise, the roller-coaster division, in appropriate fashion, will come down to Philadelphia at Dallas in Week 17. 

Over in the North, things are little less succinct. 

The Bears lead the division, but probably won't clinch this week. They need a road win against the Eagles along with a Detroit Lions loss (or tie) at home against the lowly New York Giants and a Packers loss at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Say all three teams win—which, knowing the unpredictability of the NFL, won't happen. But if it does, the division title will be determined by the Bears at Packers in Week 17. The stumbling Lions, in addition to winning out, need the Bears and Packers both to lose at least once. 


AFC Outlook

The Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts have all clinched playoff spots, while the latter has wrapped up the AFC South. Good work, AFC South. Let's take a look at the standings:

AFC Standings
New England Patriots1040
Miami Dolphins860
New York Jets680
Buffalo Bills590
Cincinnati Bengals950
Baltimore Ravens860
Pittsburgh Steelers680
Cleveland Browns4100
Indianapolis Colts950
Tennessee Titans590
Jacksonville Jaguars4100
Houston Texas2120
Denver Broncos1130
Kansas City Chiefs1130
San Diego Chargers770
Oakland Raiders4100
AFC Wild CardWLT
Kansas City Chiefs1130
Baltimore Ravens860
Miami Dolphins860
San Diego Chargers770
Pittsburgh Steelers680

Denver will clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs simply by winning out, but if the Horsies are intent on doing so this week, they need all three of the following to happen: a win at Houston, a Kansas City loss at Arrowhead against the Indianapolis Colts and a New England Patriots loss at Baltimore. 

But as running back Montee Ball pointed out, the Broncos, who were upset at home by the San Diego Chargers last week, are simply focused on getting a win, via The Denver Post's Mark Kiszla:

There's a lot more intensity in the NFL, because you're under that big microscope. Everything we do is scrutinized. Either you did your job, or you didn't. There's a lot more intensity, based on that pressure. We all know what we signed up for. You hear about it. But until you're under that microscope, you don't understand how intense it is. ... The ultimate goal is the W. And that's it.

The Patriots' job is also simple. They need to win to lock up the AFC East, although a victory as well as losses for both the Cincinnati Bengals (home against the Minnesota Vikings) and Colts (at Chiefs) would earn them a first-round bye. 

As for Cincy, Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer gives us their position:

Ironically, clinching the division this week for the Bengals would make it extra difficult to earn a first-round bye, as it would mean the Patriots beat the Ravens and stayed a game out in front. 

As for the second wild-card spot, the Ravens—despite Justin Tucker's Monday night heroics—are going to need some help if they can't catch the Bengals in the North. NFL playoff expert Joe Ferreira explains:

Although the Dolphins control their own destiny, it will be difficult to clinch in Week 16, as they need a win at Buffalo along with losses for both Cincy and Baltimore.