Week 17 should be a memorable one since 18 of the NFL's 32 teams are still involved in the playoff chase and almost all of them have something left to play for in the regular-season finale. Everything from home-field advantage and byes to which teams make the postseason is up in the air.
And while the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks look like the class of their respective conferences, the Baltimore Ravens showed last season that anything is possible once a team locks up a playoff spot. Fittingly, the Ravens are once again trying to sneak in to make another postseason run.
So let's make some predictions for how the playoff picture will set up in both the AFC and NFC once the smoke clears following a loaded Week 17 slate. To see where every team currently stands in its pursuit of a berth, visit the league's official site.
|2||New England Patriots||12-4|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||11-5|
It's hard to imagine the Broncos losing to the Oakland Raiders with home-field advantage on the line. Denver racked up nearly 540 yards in a 16-point win over its division rival in the first meeting, and a similar result is likely as it locks up the No. 1 seed.
The New England Patriots need a win in Week 17 to secure a first-round bye. Luckily, they face off with a Buffalo Bills team they have dominated since Tom Brady took over as a starter, including a Week 1 win. As Numbers Never Lie pointed out, it improved Brady's already terrific record vs. Buffalo:
Tom Brady is now 21-2 vs. Bills in his career. Not bad ...— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) September 8, 2013
Although the Indianapolis Colts head into the final week with an outside chance of earning a bye, they'll have to settle for the third seed after beating the Jacksonville Jaguars. Don't sleep on the Colts, who have beaten conference leaders Seattle and Denver, as well as the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.
Which team will earn the final AFC playoff berth?
The Cincinnati Bengals will drop one spot due to a loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It's a crucial game for the reigning champions, who already own one win over Cincinnati this season. The Bengals will still get a home game in the opening round, though.
Kansas City has nothing to play for heading into a clash with the San Diego Chargers, who are still in the playoff hunt. With another road game on the horizon to open the playoffs, the Chiefs might opt to get some rest, but a loss won't have any long-term impact.
Finally, the final spot in the muddled playoff race will go to the Ravens. A Baltimore win paired with a second straight Miami Dolphins loss to a division rival will give last year's Super Bowl champions a chance to defend their title.
|5||San Francisco 49ers||12-4|
|6||New Orleans Saints||11-5|
The Seahawks suffered a rare home loss in Week 16, which leaves work to do to secure the top spot in the NFC. A bounce-back win over the St. Louis Rams would lock up home-field advantage, and Red Bryant said the experience can then ultimately be a positive, reports Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times: "Those experiences can be good. We've got to understand, in order to achieve something, you've got to go through something."
Even though the Carolina Panthers earned a place in the playoffs by beating the New Orleans Saints, they didn't secure the division. A win over one of the season's biggest disappointments, the Atlanta Falcons, would do that and get Carolina a bye in the process.
The first-round home teams in the NFC will be decided by win-and-in matchups.
Which of these teams will get in the NFC playoffs?
After a blowout loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, which got out of hand after two quick scores, the Chicago Bears will bounce back to beat a Green Bay Packers squad that deserves credit for staying in the race without Aaron Rodgers.
For the NFC East crown, Tony Romo will silence the doubters for at least one week by leading the Dallas Cowboys past the Eagles at home. Chicago beat Dallas in Week 14, which gives the Bears the third seed and the Cowboys the fourth seed.
The San Francisco 49ers head into Monday Night Football with a boatload of scenarios on the table, ranging from top seed to missing the playoffs. Beating the Atlanta Falcons would ensure a berth. But even with two straight wins, as predicted, they'll stick in a wild-card spot.
Wrapping up the NFC, the Saints will take care of business against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to lock up the final wild card in what looks like a very competitive NFC playoff picture.