Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos look to sit atop the AFC.
After a thrilling Week 16, the NFL playoff schedule is starting to take shape, but there are still a number of spots that have yet to be decided.
Teams like the Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers and Carolina Panthers scored huge wins yesterday that enhanced their potential playoff fortunes.
However, Week 17 will still feature some extremely meaningful matchups that will shape the playoff picture.
Here are the current standings for both conferences heading into the regular season’s final week.
|NFC Seed||NFC Team|
|5||San Francisco 49ers|
|6||New Orleans Saints|
|AFC Seed||AFC Team|
|2||New England Patriots|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs|
Below you’ll find the projected schedule for each of the NFL’s playoff matchups.
AFC Wild Card Matchups, Jan. 4-5
No. 5 Kansas City Chiefs No. 4 Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts have clinched the AFC South, pretty squarely slating themselves in the fourth slot in the AFC, while the Kansas City Chiefs are locked into the playoffs and will occupy the first Wild Card spot.
The Chiefs are only one game behind the Denver Broncos in the AFC West, yet Kansas City’s pair of losses to Denver and its inferior conference record means it's stuck in the fifth spot regardless of what happens in Week 17.
Many have speculated that head coach Andy Reid will rest his starters in the team’s upcoming game against the San Diego Chargers to prepare for the Colts, but he’s remained coy about his decision.
"I haven't made up my mind on how we're going to play it," Reid told the Kansas City Star. "I've done it a couple different ways, so we'll see how we do that. I'll evaluate all the different situations.
However, as the Star’s Randy Covitz explains, history seems to indicate he’s already made up his mind.
#Chiefs' Reid has habit of sitting starters in meaningless game 16s before playoffs. Did it in Philly in '01, '04, '06 and 2010— Randy Covitz (@randycovitz) December 23, 2013
Either way, another Colts and Chiefs matchup would be fun to watch after the teams just faced off in Week 16.
No. 6 Miami Dolphins at No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have seized the AFC North, but the Miami Dolphins are hanging on to the final AFC playoff spot by the slimmest of margins.
Their big 19-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills didn’t do them any favors in a crowded AFC playoff race, with the Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers all breathing down their necks.
However, they do have a decent chance of still reaching the postseason to face the Bengals, as The Big Lead’s Jason Lisk explains.
The Bengals and Dolphins battled in a close overtime game in Week 9, with Miami winning 22-20, so another matchup would likely be a good one.
NFC Wild Card Matchups, Jan. 4-5
No. 5 San Francisco 49ers at No. 4 Chicago Bears
The 49ers are still waiting to play their Monday night game against the Atlanta Falcons, but the Falcons’ issues and the chaos at the bottom of the NFC race have put them in a good position for the playoffs.
By contrast, Chicago is reeling after suffering a 54-11 beatdown at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Bears still cling to the slimmest of leads in the NFC North thanks to the Green Bay Packers’ loss to the Steelers, but they’ll have to win against them next week to seal a playoff berth.
Despite the loss, head coach Marc Trestman is still positive about the Bears’ chances, as he told CBS Chicago.
No. 6 New Orleans Saints at No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles
After maintaining control of the NFC South almost all year long, the New Orleans Saints find themselves scrambling to stay in the playoffs after losing a heartbreaker to the Carolina Panthers.
The Saints put up a fight, but just didn’t have enough to stop Cam Newton on this final touchdown of the game.
The Eagles will represent an equally imposing matchup for the Saints, assuming they can hold off the Arizona Cardinals.
Chip Kelly’s offense worked to perfection against the Bears and could be a real issue for the New Orleans defense.
Divisional Matchups, Jan. 11-12
Highest Winning Seed from AFC Wildcard Games at No. 2 New England Patriots
The Patriots put themselves in good shape in the AFC with a win over the Ravens in Week 16.
They’ll end the season with a home game against the Bills, but with a first-round bye pretty much guaranteed, they’re in good shape.
However, should the Patriots stumble, the Colts or Bengals could take advantage, as the Indianapolis Star’s Mike Chappell explains.
NFL confirms: #colts clinch 1st round bye with win over Jax + Patriots loss + Cincy loss or tie.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 23, 2013
Lowest Winning Seed from AFC Wildcard Games at No. 1 Denver Broncos
The Broncos stayed dominant, thrashing the Houston Texans to retain their hold on the conference’s top seed.
With a one-game lead on the Patriots and a matchup with the lowly Raiders looming, they’ll likely have no trouble maintaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The team suffered a major blow in losing Von Miller to a torn ACL, but coach John Fox told ABC-7’s Lionel Bienvenu that the team will adapt.
John Fox on Von Miller: "Well, it's a blow. Much like losing a guy like Ryan Clady earlier ... our guys will deal with it."— Lionel Bienvenu (@lionelbienvenu) December 23, 2013
Highest Winning Seed from NFC Wildcard Games at No. 2 Carolina Panthers
Carolina has gone from the fifth seed to a first-round bye, all thanks to the huge win over the Saints.
So long as they hold onto the division, which is a virtual certainty at this point, they’ll get to miss out on the first round of games.
They could even end up taking the top seed overall, but it’s a bit of a long shot, as the Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler explains:
It's still a long shot, but the Panthers could end up as No.1 playoff seed in the NFC for the first time in team history.
Here's how it would have to work. Four things must still happen:
1. San Francisco must beat Atlanta Monday night.
2. Carolina must beat Atlanta at 1 p.m. Sunday.
3. San Francisco must beat surging Arizona on the road Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
4. St. Louis must beat Seattle on the road Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
Lowest Winning Seed from NFC Wildcard Games at No. 1 Seattle Seahawks
Seattle lost an ugly game to the Cardinals in Week 16, but the Seahawks still face little danger to their postseason position.
They’ll likely be the NFC’s top seed, and while they will be playing the surprisingly competitive St. Louis Rams on the road next week, they’re pretty much set in their slot.
The team wasn’t even that bad against the Cardinals, they just suffered with some costly turnovers, like this fluke Russell Wilson interception at the end of the game.
The Seahawks, much like the Broncos, will likely have a clear path to the Super Bowl thanks to their home-field advantage.
But the NFL playoffs seem to prove each year that the expected rarely happens.
An AFC team could charge into the final Wild Card spot and go on a run, or a team lurking at the bottom of the standings after a good regular season, like the Saints, could easily end up surprising people.
No matter how the standings shake out, the 2014 NFL playoffs are sure to be worth watching.