NFL Playoff Scenarios: Updated AFC and NFC Outlook After Week 16

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NFL Playoff Scenarios: Updated AFC and NFC Outlook After Week 16
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Just one week remains for NFL teams looking to achieve playoff glory, and after a grueling season, there are several spots clinched and still multiple teams looking to punch their tickets.

With so much yet to be determined, teams' hopes are coming down to the wire, and while some teams helped themselves in Week 16, others got the help they desperately needed to inch closer toward playing in January.

With Week 16 still going on and two prime-time games yet to be played, here are playoff scenarios for teams on the bubble heading into the season finales for every NFL team.

 

Miami Dolphins

Going into the penultimate weekend of the season, the Miami Dolphins controlled their own destiny and needed to win out but failed to do so, losing to the Buffalo Bills by a final of 19-0. The Dolphins needed help after the loss and got it with the Baltimore Ravens losing to the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon.

One huge question was seemingly answered as Ryan Tannehill, who left briefly due to a knee injury, was able to return to the game. Albert Breer of NFL.com gave an update of the second-year quarterback following the loss:

Tannehill didn't have a great game, going just 10-of-27 for 82 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw six incompletions after returning from the injury, but he has been one of the keys to Miami's success late in the season.

After suffering the huge loss, all appeared to be lost for Miami. With new life following the Patriots beatdown of the Ravens, the Dolphins still have a good shot at making the playoffs but will need help yet again.

A playoff berth for the Dolphins is still far from guaranteed, and with the way the NFL season has gone thus far, the final AFC Wild Card playoff spot is far from over.

 

Carolina Panthers

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As they have done all season, the Carolina Panthers raised up and pulled out a win at home. It took an epic comeback, but Carolina put together yet another memorable win at Bank of America Stadium.

Only this time, it was against the New Orleans Saints and helped the Panthers clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2008. The Panthers now have their sights set on a bigger prize: clinching the NFC South. The only challenge that lies ahead for Carolina is travelling to play a hapless Atlanta Falcons team that is 3-4 at home this season.

By now, every Carolina Panthers fan and many NFL fans know the name Domenik Hixon. The eighth-year wide receiver had only three receptions for 21 yards coming into Week 16 but caught his first touchdown of the year to clinch the victory for Carolina.

Unfortunately, that final catch came at a cost for the Panthers. Hixon was in the game to replace Panthers captain Steve Smith, who suffered a knee injury during the game and will have an MRI tomorrow, as reported by Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer:

Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports also reported that Smith's injury, which took him out of the game in the first quarter, doesn't appear to be to his ACL:

While the signs for Smith's injury indicate that it doesn't appear to be season-ending, his play on the field is huge for the Panthers. Smith is tied with Greg Olsen for the team lead in receptions and is second on the team with 701 receiving yards this season, despite just playing one quarter against the Saints.

Smith's health heading into Week 17 could mean the difference for a Panthers team looking to clinch the NFC South for the first time since 2008. But with a defense that has continued to prove itself as one of the best in the NFL, Carolina has a shot to take the division and a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed.

 

Dallas Cowboys

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It wasn't easy, and it most certainly wasn't pretty for the Dallas Cowboys, but after a 24-23 win over the Washington Redskins, their playoff hopes are still alive and well.

It took a huge fourth-quarter drive by the Cowboys to pull out the win, but Tony Romo led his team down the field and found DeMarco Murray in the end zone to cap off the critical drive.

Romo has received flak for his play during the month of December and inability to perform well down the stretch, but he was able to finish against a Redskins pass defense that ranked 21st in the NFL in yards per game coming in.

Surprisingly enough, Romo actually moved closer toward a mark that Peyton Manning holds, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

The 33-year-old finished 17-of-27 with 226 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His performance moves him to a total of seven touchdowns and three interceptions in December.

Though Romo's fourth-quarter finish will likely be the biggest storyline coming out of this game, the Cowboys might have seen their playoff hopes crushed if not for the play of DeMarco Murray. ESPN pointed out that Murray accomplished something that hasn't been done since 2006 for Dallas:

In fact, just allowing Murray the chance to rush the ball for 20 or more times has led to plenty of success for the Cowboys, according to the Sporting News' Fantasy Source:

After the come-from-behind victory, the Cowboys have now set up a Week 17 clash for the NFC East division against the Philadelphia Eagles. Regardless of the outcome between the Eagles and the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football, the two teams will play for a playoff berth in the season finale.

The winner will not only clinch a spot in the postseason but will also be either the No. 3 or 4 seed and play a first-round game at home.

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