Despite the fact that there are only two weeks remaining in the NFL season, plenty of teams are still alive when it comes to nabbing a playoff spot. Several postseason tickets figure to be stamped in Week 16, while other teams will attempt to position themselves to make a run in Week 17.
The wild-card race in the AFC is particularly interesting, while three out of the four divisions in the NFC are still very much up for grabs. The playoff landscape may seem like an unsolvable labyrinth right now, but the picture will certainly get much clearer as Week 16 comes and goes.
Here is a look at the playoff scenarios that each contending team will be facing this week as it attempts to extend its seasons past the requisite 17 weeks.
|2||New England Patriots||10-4|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||11-3|
|8||San Diego Chargers||7-7|
The Broncos put themselves in jeopardy of losing their grip on the No. 1 seed last week when they lost to the San Diego Chargers, but losses by the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals rendered it moot. Denver holds a one-game lead over the Pats for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and is tied with the Kansas City Chiefs atop the AFC West.
Since Denver has beaten the Chiefs twice, it needs only to finish with the same record in order to win the division. Should the Broncos beat the Houston Texans and the Chiefs lose to the Indianapolis Colts, then Denver will clinch the division. Also, it can sew up the No. 1 seed with a win and a New England loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Denver is assured of a playoff spot, but a loss in Week 16 would open up Pandora's box, as it would allow Kansas City to potentially ascend to the No. 1 seed, which would leave Denver at No. 5.
New England Patriots
As strange as it may seem, the Patriots haven't yet clinched a playoff spot. They have led the AFC East all season long, but they still need a win or tie in order to assure themselves of a postseason berth. New England leads the Miami Dolphins by two games, so a win or tie or a Dolphins loss or tie would allow the Pats to win the division.
They could also clinch a top-two seed with a win and a Bengals loss.
A lot would have to happen in order for the Patriots to miss the playoffs, but if they lose each of their next two games, the Bengals win this week and both the Ravens and Dolphins win each of their next two games, Tom Brady and Co. will be left sitting at home.
The Bengals have been among the best AFC teams all year, and they have wins over the Patriots and Indianapolis Colts to prove it. Even so, they can still potentially miss the playoffs as well. They botched a golden opportunity to ascend to the No. 2 seed by losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, and there is now plenty of pressure to win, as illustrated by Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead:
AFC Playoff Outlook: Cincinnati went from potential #2 pick to POTENTIALLY OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS in 24 harrowing hours http://t.co/UlZbh2DRuD— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) December 17, 2013
A win and a loss or tie by the Ravens or Dolphins would allow Cincinnati to clinch this week. The Bengals can also move into the No. 2 spot with a win and a New England loss. A win over the Minnesota Vikings doesn't clinch a playoff spot in a vacuum, though, as they can still miss the playoffs by losing in Week 17, New England wining in Week 17 and both the Dolphins and Ravens winning out.
The Colts haven't exactly been playing great football lately, but they clinched a couple of weeks ago due to how weak the AFC South is. At the very least, they are assured of the No. 4 seed. A win in Week 16, along with a Bengals loss, would move them up to No. 3, though, and a loss by the Patriots would then make Indy No. 2.
Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid's Chiefs will be playing January football no matter what, but they aren't necessarily resigned to the No. 5 seed. Kansas City can't move up if the Broncos win out, but if Denver wins or ties one of its next two games, then the Chiefs control their own destiny.
A win over the Colts this week, coupled with an unlikely Denver loss or tie to Houston, would actually give the Chiefs the No. 1 seed, although they wouldn't be able to clinch until Week 17.
The defending Super Bowl champions seemed like they were on the ropes after starting 4-6, but the Ravens have since won four consecutive games, and they control their own destiny in terms of clinching a playoff spot. According to NFL on ESPN, the Ravens have the longest active playoff streak in the NFL:
The @Ravens have not missed the playoffs in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era (since 2008) and have the NFL's longest active playoff streak.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 16, 2013
Baltimore is assured of at least a wild-card spot if it wins out. It will also have an opportunity to win the AFC North with a win or a Cincinnati loss this week. As long as the Ravens are within one game of the Bengals heading into Week 17, they will have a de facto AFC North title game against them since the Ravens beat the Bengals earlier in the season.
Although there are a number of moving parts in the AFC right now, the Dolphins actually control their own destiny. Wins over the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets in the next two weeks would assure Miami a playoff spot due primarily to the fact that the Patriots and Ravens are facing each other in Week 16.
It is also possible for Miami to win the AFC East should it win out and the Patriots lose out. The wild-card scenario is much easier and more likely, though, as the team would need to outperform Baltimore by just one game over the final two weeks.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers aren't dead yet, but they need some help in order to make the playoffs. In addition to needing to beat the Oakland Raiders and the Chiefs over the next two weeks, San Diego needs the Ravens to lose out, and it also needs Dolphins to lose one of their two remaining games.
|2||New Orleans Saints||10-4|
|6||San Francisco 49ers||10-4|
|8||Green Bay Packers||7-6-1|
Things are pretty straightforward for the Seattle Seahawks. A win or tie over the Arizona Cardinals this week would allow them to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the NFC West title. The only way Seattle can fall out of that position is if it loses out and the the San Francisco 49ers win out.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are coming off a terrible loss to the St. Louis Rams last week, but a win over the Carolina Panthers this week would allow them to clinch the NFC South as well as the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Of course, while the scenario seems unlikely, they could also miss the playoffs by losing each of the next two weeks, along with the Arizona Cardinals winning out and the 49ers winning once.
Thanks in large part to the Dallas Cowboys' implosion against the Green Bay Packers last week, the Eagles can potentially clinch the NFC East in Week 16. They would need to beat the Chicago Bears and the Cowboys would need to lose to the Washington Redskins, or else the Eagles and Cowboys will have a de facto NFC East title game in Week 17, according to Bleacher Report's Dan Levy:
NFC East will now come down to Week 17, Eagles at Cowboys. Unless the Eagles win next week & Dallas loses. Then it'll be over.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) December 16, 2013
No matter what the Eagles do in Week 16, though, they will at least have a chance to win the division in Week 17 due to their one-game cushion over the Cowboys.
It didn't seem possible after their loss to the Minnesota Vikings a couple weeks ago, but the Bears are now in an ideal position. With a half-game lead over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, they now control their own playoff destiny, per Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
The #Bears are in sole possession of first place in the NFC North. They control their own destiny.— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) December 17, 2013
Should the Bears beat the Eagles this week and the Packers next week, they will win the NFC North. A loss in either of the next two games opens the door for the Packers and Detroit Lions, though. It is possible for Chicago to clinch the division this week if it wins and both the Packers and Lions lose.
The Panthers couldn't get the job done against the Saints two weeks ago, but they have a chance to rectify things at home. Carolina will host New Orleans in Week 16, with the winner securing both the NFC South crown and the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
With that said, the danger of missing the playoffs is still real. If the Cardinals can outperform the Panthers by one game or better the rest of the way, then they will usurp Carolina by virtue of a head-to-head win.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers still need a win in order to clinch a playoff spot, and they'll have a solid chance to get it when they host the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. Even without the win, though, San Francisco would be in the dance provided the Seahawks beat the Cardinals in Week 16, according to Mike Sando of ESPN.com:
Just to be clear, SF fans will root against AZ, not for SEA. MT @MaioccoCSN: Seattle can clinch playoffs for 49ers by beating AZ next wk— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@SandoESPN) December 16, 2013
San Francisco is currently the No. 6 seed, but it controls its own destiny in terms of securing the No. 5 seed since the Saints and Panthers play each other this week. Also, even though it's unlikely, the 49ers can win the NFC West if they win each of their next two games and the Seahawks lose out.
As good as the Cardinals have been this season, they still have plenty of work to do in order to make the playoffs. Their easiest route to the postseason is for the Panthers to lose to the Saints in Week 16, which would allow Arizona to surpass Carolina, provided it wins out or the Panthers also lose in Week 17. This is because the Cards beat the Panthers earlier in the year.
Even if the Cardinals somehow manage to win out by beating the Seahawks and 49ers, though, a playoff spot is not guaranteed at 11-5. If the 49ers beat the Falcons to clinch in Week 16 and the Saints lose to the Panthers in Week 16 but beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17, Arizona will be left on the outside looking in.
Green Bay Packers
Even without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the past several weeks, the Packers control their own destiny in the NFC North. A win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16 would ensure that the Pack would stay within at least a half-game of the Bears. Green Bay could even control its own destiny with a loss in Week 16, provided the Bears and Lions lose as well.
The easiest scenario for Green Bay, though, is to win out. Beating Pittsburgh would put the Packers a win over the Bears in Week 17 away from improbably qualifying for the playoffs.
Which team will win the NFC North?
After their heartbreaking loss to the Ravens in Week 15, the Lions are in dire straits, to say the least. Not only does Detroit need to win out, but it needs some help as well. Winning out to get to 9-7 is definitely a possibility with the New York Giants and Vikings remaining on the schedule, but getting some help may be tough to come by.
The Lions need the Bears and Packers to each lose one game. That means that the winner of the Week 17 showdown between Chicago and Green Bay must lose in Week 16. The chances aren't great, but Detroit does have a tiebreaker over Chicago, so it isn't dead yet.
The Cowboys are in disarray after blowing a 23-point lead to the Packers in Week 15, but their situation is quite clear. If they win their next two games, then they will win the NFC East. It may seem like a long shot considering how poorly Dallas has been playing, but it is currently undefeated in the division, as ESPN's Skip Bayless points out:
Little remembered fact: Cowboys are 4-0 in the NFC East, having allowed only 17.7 points in those games.WILL BEAT Redskins, then Eagles.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) December 20, 2013
Either a win over the Redskins, an Eagles loss to the Bears or both would set up an NFC East title game between the Eagles and Cowboys in Week 17, with the winner going on to the playoffs. Most would probably expect Tony Romo and the Cowboys to fall flat in that scenario, but the game would be at home at the very least.
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