NFL Playoff Scenarios: How Week 17 Can Shape Postseason Seedings

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NFL Playoff Scenarios: How Week 17 Can Shape Postseason Seedings
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At least four of the 12 postseason berths will be up for grabs heading into the final week of the NFL regular season. The number would be five if the San Francisco 49ers aren't able to take care of business against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football.

The most intriguing games in Week 17 feature win-or-go-home situations. That will be the case for the NFC East clash between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys as well as the NFC North contest between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.

Without further ado, let's check out how the playoff standings look with one game remaining in Week 16 and look ahead to the different scenarios for Week 17. It's undoubtedly shaping up to become a pressure-packed week around the league.


Current AFC Playoff Picture
Rank Team Record Entry Path
1 Denver Broncos 12-3 AFC West
2 New England Patriots 11-4 AFC East
3 Cincinnati Bengals 10-5 AFC North
4 Indianapolis Colts 10-5 AFC South
5 Kansas City Chiefs 11-4 Wild Card
6 Miami Dolphins 8-7 Wild Card
7 Baltimore Ravens 8-7
8 San Diego Chargers 8-7
9 Pittsburgh Steelers 7-8

All Others Eliminated

The only team with nothing to play for in the AFC is the Kansas City Chiefs. They can't catch the Denver Broncos for the AFC West title and are three games clear of the other wild card, which means they are locked into the No. 5 seed.

Denver can secure the top seed in the conference with a win over the Oakland Raiders or a loss by the New England Patriots. The Broncos have already wrapped up at least a bye in the opening round.

The Patriots have one eye on the top spot, which it can take with a win and a Denver loss, but they also have to win just to make sure they get any bye at all. A loss would open the door for both the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts to take the second seed.

With division titles already in hand, the Bengals and Colts can focus solely on improving their seed. For a bye, Cincinnati needs a win and a Patriots loss. Indianapolis needs both of those teams to lose paired with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Which team will claim the final spot in the AFC?

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So the top five seeds in the AFC are pretty straightforward. That's not the case for the final playoff berth.

The Miami Dolphins, which currently sit in the sixth spot, can't clinch it with a simple win. That illustrates exactly how complicated the race is for the four teams still alive in the wild-card chase.

Miami needs a win or tie to have a chance. If the Dolphins win against the New York Jets, they then need either a win by the San Diego Chargers or a loss by the Baltimore Ravens to get in. With a tie, they would then need losses or ties by those two foes.

Even though the Ravens are outside the playoff picture right now, their scenarios are actually a bit simpler. The reigning champions need a win over the Cincinnati Bengals, then a loss by either the Dolphins or Chargers, and they are in. Another route would be losses by all three of the other teams in the race for the race, which would then be given Baltimore tiebreakers.

It's still far from an ideal position, but Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun passed along comments from wide receiver Torrey Smith, who didn't sugarcoat it:

"We are what we are because we earned it," said Smith, who was held to three catches for 69 yards and didn't make his first reception until late in the third quarter. "There's no secret to it. It's on us to go out there and take care of business next week. It's not really a great feeling that you know you need help."

Things are more clear for the Chargers and Steelers. San Diego needs a win and losses by Baltimore and Miami. Pittsburgh needs a victory and losses by all three of the other teams involved to sneak into the playoffs.

Ultimately, the four teams fighting for one spot just have to win and see how the chips fall elsewhere.


Current NFC Playoff Picture
Rank Team Record Entry Path
1 Seattle Seahawks 12-3 NFC West
2 Carolina Panthers 11-4 NFC South
3 Philadelphia Eagles 9-6 NFC East
4 Chicago Bears 8-7 NFC North
5 San Francisco 49ers 10-4 Wild Card
6 New Orleans Saints 10-5 Wild Card
7 Arizona Cardinals 10-5
8 Dallas Cowboys 8-7
9 Green Bay Packers 7-7-1

All Others Eliminated

The previously mentioned division-deciding games are the easiest scenarios to figure out.

Green Bay and Chicago will battle at Soldier Field for the North title during the 4 p.m. ET set of games. A tie would give the Bears the spot.

The late game, which is taking place in Dallas, will feature the Cowboys and Eagles for the East title. A tie favors Philadelphia.

Elsewhere, the Seattle Seahawks need a win or a loss by the 49ers in one of their final two games to clinch the division and the top seed in the NFC. It's a key advantage for Seattle, which lost for the first time in nearly two years at home in Week 16 (via ESPN Stats and Info).

A Panthers win or Saints loss in Week 17 will give Carolina the division title and a bye. It also still has a chance at the top seed, but it would need San Francisco to come back to win the West and a win of its own in the finale to make that possible.

Which team could best challenge Seattle on the road?

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The Saints are in a position where they could end up with a first-round bye or out of the playoffs completely by the end of next week. A win, two losses by the 49ers or a loss by Arizona would guarantee them a postseason trip. A victory paired with a Carolina loss would move them into the top two.

San Francisco can take care of the first order of business by clinching a playoff spot with a win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. If the 49ers do that, and they should, they can then earn a bye with another win in Week 17 and a Seahawks loss. Add in a Panthers loss and they would be the top seed.

The only other team in the wild-card chase is the Arizona Cardinals. They need a 49ers loss to the Falcons or a Saints loss next week along with a win to get in. A tie paired with a Saints loss next week would also be enough for Arizona.

All told, the NFC playoff picture could look very different once the dust settles next week.

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