With just one week remaining on the 2013 NFL schedule, we're finally beginning to gain clarity as to what the postseason's opening round will look like, as the majority of the playoff spots have been locked up following Sunday of Week 16.
As of now, nine teams in each conference remain in the hunt for a postseason berth, but there are certainly teams much more likely than others to make a late climb into true contention.
Week 17 will feature a number of high-stakes showdowns, headlined by the Cowboys-Eagles game that will determine which team wins the NFC East and clinches one of the final playoff berths.
All four AFC division winners have been determined. None of the NFC division winners have been determined.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2013
So, heading into the final week of the season, here's a look at how the final playoff seedings will shake out.
|2||New England||12- 4|
|5||Kansas City||11- 5|
In the AFC, Denver, New England, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Kansas City have all long since established themselves as postseason teams, but beyond them remain a handful of teams still in the mix for the No. 6 seed.
Among them, Baltimore, Miami and San Diego have reasonable shots at getting in, obviously under varying circumstances.
First, if Baltimore can't defeat the Bengals in Week 17, or the Chargers aren't able to upset the Chiefs, the Dolphins will get the nod regardless of the outcome in their finale due to in-conference winning percentage.
In the end, I have the Dolphins beating the Jets to secure the final postseason berth, and while the Ravens should beat the Bengals to make things interesting, it won't be enough.
Beyond that, if the Bengals do fall to Baltimore, and the Colts defeat the Jaguars, the Bengals will be fourth, which will set up a less favorable clash with the Chiefs.
That would also mean that the Colts will get the more attractive route of having to take on Miami for a spot in Round 2.
The NFC will feature a pair of winner-take-all clashes next Sunday, with both the Philadelphia-Dallas game and Chicago-Green Bay tilt set to decide the NFC East and North division champions, respectively.
For now, one has to consider the Eagles to be the favorite to come away with the NFC East, because Chip Kelly has Philadelphia looking like arguably the league's most dangerous offensive threat behind the play of Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy.
Cowboys playing 8th win-or-go-home game in Week 17 or playoffs with Tony Romo as starting QB. They're 1-6 in past 7 games, 0-3 in week 17.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2013
Last season, the Cowboys fell to Washington on the road to lose the division on the final day of the regular season, and that's only the tip of the iceberg with regard to Dallas' struggles in clutch situations in recent years.
Assuming Philadelphia wins, Green Bay and Chicago will be left to determine the other division, and unless Aaron Rodgers miraculously returns, I have to believe that Jay Cutler will bounce back after the demoralizing loss to the Eagles and lead the Bears to 9-7 and the NFC North crown.
Besides those two division titles, the final wild-card berth will be up for grabs as well, but unless Tampa Bay somehow knocks off the 10-5 Saints, Arizona will likely be left on the outside looking in.
However, a win by the Cardinals at home against San Francisco could be enough to knock the 49ers out, depending on whether they beat the Falcons on Monday Night Football.
Ultimately, I believe the Saints and 49ers will do enough to get the last two spots, with the Bears and Eagles knocking off rival opponents to take divisional crowns and the other two remaining berths.