NFL Playoff Scenarios 2013: Breaking Down Road to the Playoffs for Bubble Teams

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVDecember 21, 2013

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens passes during the first half against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 16, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

As the NFL season enters Week 16, plenty of teams are still in the mix for a select number of playoff spots across both conferences with just two games left.

Although a handful of squads have seen hopes of the postseason diminish in recent weeks, these contenders still have a road to the playoffs if certain things play out.

The top of each conference seems to be concrete for the most part, but there are some bubble teams that could see their fate go either way over the coming weeks. With so many teams in the running for a small amount of spots, only so many can make it past Week 17.

Here's a look at playoff scenarios for four bubble teams in each conference. 



San Diego Chargers

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 12:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers calls a play at the line of scrimmage during a game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on December 12, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Phot
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

After San Diego's huge Week 15 win over Denver, Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune outlined what needs to go in the Chargers' favor over the final two weeks. 

To sum it up, it'll take a lot more than San Diego winning. 

The Chargers must hope that the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens both lose in Week 16. The Dolphins play the Bills, so Philip Rivers and company could be eliminated before they even take the field against Oakland on Sunday. 

Even if those three outcomes go their way, the Chargers need more luck in Week 17. They'll have to beat the Chiefs—who may be playing for home-field advantage—at home. Then, San Diego must see Baltimore and Miami both lose again to punch its ticket in the final AFC wild-card slot. 

With four outcomes needing to go their way along with two wins themselves, it's an awfully small window of opportunity. But it's about all the Chargers could ask for at 7-7 heading into the final two weeks. 


Baltimore Ravens

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs for a first down as C. J. Mosley #99 of the Detroit Lions attempts makes the tackle during the second quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 16, 2013 in
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Seeing their chances at defending their Super Bowl crown still in limbo wasn't the way the Ravens saw this season going, but the chance is still there.

Baltimore got a huge win over Detroit on Monday Night Football in Week 15 to improve to 8-6, which puts it in control of notching an AFC North championship if it wins out. The Ravens are still one game behind Cincinnati, but the two play on Week 17. 

The Ravens can't get caught looking too far ahead. They host New England in Week 16 and need to take advantage of that to stay in a favorable playoff spot.

If the Ravens happen to go 1-1 over their final two games, they could still get in with seven losses if Miami and San Diego both lose in the final weeks. 


Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are one of the surprise squads in the hunt for the AFC's final unclaimed wild-card spot, but they have one of the most simple roads to the postseason.

After Miami improved to 8-6 with its comeback win over New England, the formula is simple—win and you're in.

All the Dolphins have to do in the final two weeks is beat the 5-9 Bills in Buffalo in Week 16, and finish up with a home win over the 6-8 New York Jets in Week 17. Improving to 10-6 would give them the tiebreaker over Cincinnati. 

The Dolphins can even win the AFC East and a first-round bye, per Perkins, if the Patriots lose out and the Dolphins win out. Both teams would finish at 10-6 and Miami holds the tiebreaker. 

As long as Miami keeps winning, their road to the postseason is quite simple. 


Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 15:  Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers leaves the field after breaking up a fourth down pass play against the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field on December 15, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Steelers better hope that Mike Tomlin's Thanksgiving antics didn't earn them any bad karma because it will take a miracle for Pittsburgh to slip into the playoffs.  

At 6-8, Pittsburgh obviously needs to win out in its final two contests against Green Bay and Cleveland.

After that, Miami has to lose its final two games to finish at 8-8, and the Ravens have to also fold and slump to 8-8. The Chargers must lose at least one of their final games.

That's not all, however, as the Steelers would lose the tiebreaker with Miami. In order for the Steelers to be able to win the tiebreaker, the Jets must win out to finish 8-8 to knock Miami back into the third spot in the division and out of the wild card. 

See what I mean when I said it will take a miracle?



Green Bay Packers

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 15:  Tight end Andrew Quarless #81 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates a third quarter touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during a game at AT&T Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty I
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Packers have been quite the different team without Aaron Rodgers in the fold, but spectacularly enough, they find themselves controlling their own destiny in the final two weeks.

With a record of 7-6-1, Green Bay needs to take care of business against the Steelers in Week 16. If that happens, the Packers will play for the division against the Chicago Bears in Week 17. 

It will be easier said than done, however. Green Bay will have to start Matt Flynn at quarterback again after Aaron Rodgers was ruled out for the Week 16 tilt, per Sporting News

But the simple fact that the Packers have put themselves into a position where they control their own destiny for the playoffs is nothing short of astounding, given their recent struggles without Rodgers. 


Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 15:  Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys walks off the field after losing 37-36 to the Green Bay Packers during a game at AT&T Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

No matter how gloomy things tend to look for the Dallas Cowboys throughout December, they always find a way to control their own fate in the final weeks. This year is no different.

After falling to 7-7, Tony Romo and company can still win the hapless NFC East with wins in their final two games.

If they beat Washington in Week 16 on the road, we'll have another Week 17 matchup that will decide a division when the Cowboys host the Eagles with the NFC East on the line. 

Although they control their own destiny, one loss could really hamper things. If the Cowboys lose to the Redskins, and the Eagles take care of things against Chicago in Week 16, Dallas will be eliminated. 


Detroit Lions

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz watches the action during the second quarter of the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Ford Field on December 16, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. The Ravens defeated the Lions 18-16. (Photo by
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Detroit was on a collision course with the playoffs a month ago, but after losing four of its last five contests, help is needed to get to the postseason.

The Lions' Week 15 loss to Baltimore was a crushing blow that meant they no longer control their shot at the NFC North crown that has eluded them since 1993. But there's still a shot.

Matthew Stafford's squad must win its final two games—against New York and at Minnesota. On top of that, the Lions need both Green Bay and Chicago to lose at least once in their final two games.

It's trickier than that, though. the Bears and Pack play each other in Week 17, so whoever wins that game must lose in Week 16. 

With their playoff shot looking bleak, the Lions can't afford to look back and wonder what might have been. If they take care of their two final games, there's a shot they could crash the NFC playoff party. 


Philadelphia Eagles

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13: Coach Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles cheers after a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers October 13, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Chip Kelly is sitting pretty in his first year as Eagles head coach.

The Eagles can actually wrap things up in Week 16 if the Cowboys falter against the Redskins. If that happens, all Philly needs to do is win against the Bears and Week 17 wouldn't mean a thing.

However, if the Cowboys win against Washington, the Eagles' matchup with Dallas in Week 17 will be for the NFC East no matter how Week 16 finishes for Philadelphia.

Essentially, the Week 16 contest against Chicago only matters if Dallas loses to Washington. If the Cowboys win, the Eagles will be playing for the division in the final week of the regular season. 


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