Week 16 was supposed to be the week where NFL teams separated themselves from the rest of the competition in multiple playoff races. Instead, the playoff picture is just as cloudy as it has been all season, with several races coming down to the final weekend.
Teams that looked like long shots two weeks ago, like the San Diego Chargers and Green Bay Packers, now have just as good a chance to get in as teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys.
With several teams on the cusp of playing in January, here are the postseason paths for teams that are currently on the playoff bubble heading into their season finales.
Chicago Bears/Green Bay Packers
The one guarantee both of these teams have heading into this one is that they no longer have to worry about looking over their shoulders to see what the Detroit Lions are doing. With every team in the NFC North losing in Week 16, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers are officially fighting for the only playoff berth in of the division.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com pointed out the drastic comebacks for both the Bears and Packers to overtake the Lions:
If you’re scoring at home, #Lions started 6-3. Have gone 1-5 since, while Packers, Bears and Vikings have used backup QBs.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 23, 2013
The Bears looked like an erratic bunch heading into the Sunday Night Football game against the Philadelphia Eagles with wins against the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns following losses to the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings. Then they got blown out on national television and didn't even look like a team that deserved to play in January.
Which team would stand a better chance of advancing in the playoffs?
But thanks to yet another epic meltdown by the Lions, the Bears are still miraculously in the race and could face a Packers team that is still without its offensive leader in Aaron Rodgers, who was still unable to play in Week 16 due to a broken collarbone.
Green Bay could be without Rodgers and lead running back Eddie Lacy, who re-aggravated an ankle injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Packers have been a gritty group all season and could have both players on the field for the season finale with neither player being ruled out.
Both teams have fought hard to get to this point in the season and have a chance to make the playoffs, but with Green Bay getting home-field advantage in the season finale, anything can happen.
Dallas Cowboys/Philadelphia Eagles
The Dallas Cowboys are playing on Sunday Night Football to close out the season for the third straight season. The Cowboys will also be playing for the NFC East division title on the final Sunday of the regular season for the third straight year, this time against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cowboys needed a last-minute comeback to down the Washington Redskins and got it on the final drive with a touchdown pass from Tony Romo to DeMarco Murray. With the final of 24-23, Dallas barely escaped the Nation's Capital and will now return home for the finale.
As for the Eagles, a dominating win over the Chicago Bears was yet another statement to prove that they could be one of the scariest teams to face in the postseason if they make it. Philadelphia pulled out the 54-11 victory thanks to huge performances from offensive weapons LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles.
McCoy said in a post-game interview with NFL.com that he believes the Eagles are "something to be reckoned with," and said his team is focused heading to Dallas. The brief interview can be seen here:
The two teams will face off for the NFC East division crown, with the winner going to the playoffs and the loser going home. With both Foles and McCoy on top of their game heading into the showdown, the only question mark will be whether or not Tony Romo can come through for the Cowboys.
In 2012 against Washington, Romo went 20-of-37 for 218 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. In 2011 against the Giants, he finished much better, going 29-of-37 for 289 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
While it might now all be Romo's fault for the record, Adam Schefter of ESPN pointed out the Cowboys' woes with the quarterback at the helm for Week 17 games that could send them to the playoffs:
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
With the two teams ranking 30th or worse in the NFL in terms of passing defense, the game is sure to come down to which quarterback performs better in the clutch. But with two great running backs in Murray and McCoy, the running game could be the equalizer in this one.
Miami Dolphins/Baltimore Ravens/San Diego Chargers/Pittsburgh Steelers
What a conundrum the AFC Wild Card race has become. With just one game left, there is a playoff scenario for each team, with the Miami Dolphins on the easiest path compared to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have the toughest hill to climb.
The only way the Steelers can get in at this point is to defeat the the rival Cleveland Browns and hope for all three other teams in the race to lose. With the Dolphins facing a fairly easy opponent in the New York Jets at home, it looks like Pittsburgh might have to settle for winning six out of its last eight games to finish at 8-8.
For the San Diego Chargers, an 8-7 record still isn't enough to have them ahead of the Baltimore Ravens or Dolphins in the Wild Card race. In order for the Chargers to make the postseason, they will need both the Ravens and Dolphins to lose since they are both ahead based on conference record.
With San Diego taking on the Kansas City Chiefs, simply winning the final game could be a tough task, but if it doesn't get help from the Cincinnati Bengals and Jets, it will be out of the postseason race regardless of the outcome.
The Ravens and Dolphins by far are the front-runners for this final position. Both teams dropped their Week 16 games, but they still have a good shot at getting in.
Who will claim the final AFC Wild Card spot?
For Baltimore, a win over the Bengals followed by a loss by the Chargers would solidify its spot due to the head-to-head win against the Dolphins. If the Chargers win, however, the Ravens would need to win and have the Dolphins lose to break the three-way race.
The Dolphins need a win over the Jets and either a loss by the Ravens or a win by the Chargers to get in. If the Ravens win and the Chargers lose, the race reverts back to the two-team tiebreaker rules and the Ravens would overtake the Dolphins due to the head-to-head win.
If this sounds like a difficult scenario to understand, it's because it is.