Week 17 of the NFL regular season is finally here, and the playoffs are right around the corner. It's the best time of year to be a football fan.
While it's largely been the same few teams all season that have possessed the best odds to win the Super Bowl, it's worth noting that none of the last three Super Bowl champions earned first-round byes (Green Bay Packers in 2010, New York Giants in 2011, Baltimore Ravens in 2012). It's not outside the realm of possibility for a team on the fringe of the postseason to catch fire and make a run toward MetLife Stadium.
Here are the updated Super Bowl odds for every NFL team heading into Week 17.
Note: Odds via Bovada as of Dec. 25.
Eliminated from Playoffs
It seems like eons ago that the Houston Texans started the season 2-0, as they dropped their 13th consecutive game this past Sunday. They are undoubtedly the worst team in football.
For a team that entered the year with Super Bowl aspirations, it's difficult to fathom that the Texans will likely hold the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. Deposed coach Gary Kubiak was the first domino to fall, but he certainly won't be the last. Change is coming in Houston.
It will be up to general manager Rick Smith to hire the right head coach and find a new franchise quarterback. Matt Schaub is done in Houston, and Case Keenum hasn't shown nearly enough to be declared "The Guy."
With a talented roster, an excellent owner in Bob McNair and a high draft choice, the Texans job is very desirable. It's not outside the realm of possibility that the team could find itself back in playoff contention next season.
Next Game: at Tennessee Titans
Eliminated from Playoffs
Week 16's game served as a microcosm for the Washington Redskins' season. They couldn't hold a late lead and collapsed in the waning moments, and their record now sits at a putrid 3-12.
Coach Mike Shanahan is likely a goner, and not a moment too soon. While many will point to his horrendous 2013 as the primary reason why he should be fired, it's worth noting that he's 24-39 overall as Redskins coach. This is his third losing season out of four in D.C., and that's not good enough.
Backup quarterback Kirk Cousins has played well since being inserted into the starting lineup and will likely fetch at least a second-round draft pick this offseason. There's no doubt that Robert Griffin III is the Redskins' franchise signal-caller.
Making matters worse for the Redskins is the fact that their first-round pick, currently the No. 2 overall selection, belongs to the St. Louis Rams as part of the deal that netted Griffin.
Despite that, Redskins fans should feel decent about the future. There is talent throughout the roster, and Griffin should be much better in 2014 with a full offseason under his belt. Plus, the organization is in dire need of a new voice, direction and energy.
Come next Monday when Washington fires Shanahan, it will be on its way to getting just that.
Next Game: at New York Giants
Eliminated from Playoffs
The Jacksonville Jaguars lost in Week 16, leaving their record at 4-11, but it's still been a wildly successful year for coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell.
Simply put: The Jaguars possess one of the least talented 53-man rosters in the NFL. The team represents a massive rebuilding project, and the powers that be are clearly ahead of schedule. Even if the Jags lose on Sunday in Indianapolis, they'll have closed the season 4-4 after their 0-8 start.
There's no doubt that the roster still needs work, but Caldwell and Bradley have done well in their first year on the job. Adding a franchise quarterback will be of paramount importance this offseason.
Jaguars fans should feel confident that Bradley and Caldwell are the men to lead them out of the dark ages.
Next Game: at Indianapolis Colts
Eliminated from Playoffs
The Oakland Raiders fell to 4-11 with their Week 16 loss at San Diego and are about to complete their 11th consecutive season without a playoff appearance. As a result, the short-term future of the franchise is nebulous at best.
Head coach Dennis Allen is now 8-23 in nearly two seasons on the job, and while that record is awful, it's important to note the extreme lack of talent on the roster. Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie took over a franchise deep in the throes of salary-cap hell and have nearly navigated the Silver and Black out of those choppy waters.
Whether all of that matters to owner Mark Davis is another story.
Allen did a remarkable job leading the Raiders to a 3-4 start, but the wheels have clearly fallen off the wagon. A Week 17 matchup against a Broncos team gunning for home-field advantage is the last thing Allen needs as he fights to save his job.
Regardless of whether Allen returns, McKenzie (assuming he's back) must find a franchise quarterback capable of leading the team back to the postseason.
Next Game: vs. Denver Broncos
Eliminated from Playoffs
The Cleveland Browns entered their bye week at 4-5 after an upset victory over the Baltimore Ravens. At that point, it appeared the team was capable of staying in the playoff race as the calendar moved toward Christmas.
It's been all downhill since that victory over Baltimore, however, as coach Rob Chudzinski's club has lost six consecutive games. The most disheartening aspect of the losing streak has to be the declining play of a defense that started the season strong.
On offense, it's clear Jason Campbell isn't the answer at quarterback. Neither is Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer is coming off a torn ACL. With the Browns possessing two first-round picks, general manager Mike Lombardi has the ammunition needed to land a franchise quarterback.
Things aren't all gloomy in Cleveland, though. Receiver Josh Gordon is an absolute stud, and it's hard to imagine the defense not bouncing back in 2014 under the stewardship of coordinator Ray Horton.
If the Browns get the right quarterback, they'll be a perennial contender in the AFC for years to come.
Next Game: at Pittsburgh Steelers
Eliminated from Playoffs
The Atlanta Falcons' Week 16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers typified their season, as a last-ditch comeback effort blew up in their faces. It's been that kind of year for the Dirty Birds.
Atlanta entered 2013 with Super Bowl aspirations, but it will finish no better than 5-11. It's been a stunning fall from grace for coach Mike Smith's team.
While injuries certainly played a role in the team's demise, the bottom line is that the roster just isn't good enough. General manager Thomas Dimitroff must improve the offensive line and defense this offseason if Atlanta is to return to prominence in 2014.
The Falcons have one last chance to play spoiler when they host Carolina on Sunday, but don't expect that to happen. They just aren't a good football team.
Next Game: vs. Carolina Panthers
Eliminated from Playoffs
The positive vibes accrued from winning four of five after an 0-8 start have quickly dissipated for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as coach Greg Schiano's team has now lost two consecutive games by double digits.
While a 4-11 record was something no one wanted or expected, it's worth noting that the team has largely rallied around its embattled coach. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon's play has tapered off a bit in the past few weeks, but he's shown enough in 12 starts (17 touchdown passes against eight interceptions) that he deserves to come back as the starter in 2014.
General manager Mark Dominik and Schiano's critical error this season was not handing the reins to Glennon sooner. Having Josh Freeman serve as the Week 1 starter proved to be a cataclysmic error and one that ultimately sunk the team's playoff hopes.
The Bucs do have the opportunity to play spoiler in Week 17, as they could potentially knock the division-rival New Orleans Saints out of the postseason. A positive result could go a long way in deciding the futures of both Schiano and Dominik.
Next Game: at New Orleans Saints
Eliminated from Playoffs
2013 will go down as a tremendous disappointment for the Minnesota Vikings, as they followed their surprise wild-card playoff entry in 2012 with a dud of a campaign. Their record is now 4-10-1 after getting pasted by the Cincinnati Bengals.
The quarterback position was the albatross slung around the team's collective neck, holding it back from achieving bigger and better things. Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman all took turns stinking up the joint, and none of the three should be considered for the job in 2014.
While it's still unclear whether coach Leslie Frazier will keep his job, it's difficult to imagine after a disastrous season.
There is talent on the roster, notably rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, but the Vikings have a lot of work to do this offseason to match the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions in the NFC North.
Next Game: vs. Detroit Lions
Eliminated from Playoffs
The good news is that the Tennessee Titans clinched second place in the AFC South with their victory over the Jaguars in Week 16. The bad news is that the win only improved their record to 6-9, meaning this will be their fifth consecutive year without a playoff appearance, which likely spells doom for coach Mike Munchak.
When the epitaph is written on the Titans' season, the injuries suffered by quarterback Jake Locker will surely make the first line. The organization clearly counted on a big year from Locker, but he was unable to stay on the field. Tennessee went 4-3 in Locker's seven starts, but it was only 2-6 in games started by backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.
This is now an organization in flux. Munchak probably won't be back, and the team has a huge decision to make on Locker, as he has a $15 million option for 2015 due this March.
There are some good young players on the roster, like receiver Kendall Wright, defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and cornerback Alterraun Verner, but before the organization can truly contend, it must decide on the coach and quarterback moving forward.
Next Game: vs. Houston Texans
Eliminated from Playoffs
The New York Giants finally showed the heart, grit and determination that has come to be synonymous with Tom Coughlin-coached football teams, ending the season of the heavily favored Lions with an overtime victory in Week 16.
Despite the good feelings emanating from the locker room following the win, this season has been an unmitigated disaster for Big Blue.
Quarterback Eli Manning has been atrocious for much of the season, tossing a career-high 26 interceptions. The fact that his offensive line resembled a moldy piece of Swiss cheese and his receivers rarely bailed him out doesn't change the fact that Manning has had an awful year.
For those holding Coughlin's feet to the fire for the team's 6-9 record: Have you looked at the roster? The Giants don't have many good players. General manager Jerry Reese has done an awful job in recent years adding talent to the roster and has swung and missed too often in the draft since his wildly successful 2007 haul.
Expect changes to the coaching staff, notably at offensive coordinator, where Kevin Gilbride is surely a goner. But until the talent level improves, it won't matter who coaches the Giants. They'll stink once again in 2014 with a roster similar to this one.
Next Game: vs. Washington Redskins
Eliminated from Playoffs
The Buffalo Bills had one of Week 16's most impressive performances, shutting out a Miami Dolphins team in the thick of the playoff hunt. The win improved their record to 6-9.
While the record isn't as good as coach Doug Marrone hoped, it's still been a successful first season for him and general manager Doug Whaley. The Bills are a team on the rise with young talent on both sides of the ball.
The Week 13 overtime loss to Atlanta is the one that surely stings the most, as the Bills had the game won on multiple occasions but fumbled it away. If they had managed to win that game, it's feasible that they could have made a push towards the postseason.
The offseason development of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel will be critical to the team's future; the roster is good enough to contend in 2014 if he plays well.
Next Game: at New England Patriots
Eliminated from Playoffs
Embarrassment. Disgrace. Unacceptable.
Those are all appropriate words to describe the 2013 Detroit Lions and their clueless head coach, Jim Schwartz. Despite what Schwartz says, per Michael Rothstein via ABC News, there's one word that stands above the rest to categorize this season:
This was a campaign in which the NFC North was all but gift-wrapped for the Lions, with injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler and ineptitude at the quarterback position in Minnesota. But Schwartz's team yakked down the stretch, losing five of six after a 6-3 start, including a home defeat in Week 16 to a severely less talented Giants squad.
In the end, we'll look back at Schwartz's asinine call for a fake field goal against the Steelers and his inability to have his team ready to play the following week against the Buccaneers as what sunk the season.
While Schwartz will likely lose his job, it's not all on him. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has regressed in the second half of the season. His mechanics are poor, and his penchant for throwing sidearm passes is nothing short of maddening.
The fans in Detroit deserve so much better than this.
The Lions will be much better off in 2014 with a new head coach to go along with their talented roster.
Next Game: at Minnesota Vikings
Eliminated from Playoffs
When considering the extreme lack of talent on the 53-man roster, especially at the skill positions, the 2013 New York Jets could be the most impressive seven-win team in the history of the NFL.
Seriously. Check out their depth chart. I’ll wait.
The fact that the Jets are 7-8 is a major credit to coach Rex Ryan. He’s done a phenomenal job. Many (including yours truly) expected them to be no more than a three- or four-win team.
But Ryan’s fate is unclear. General manager John Idzik didn’t hire him, and it’s certainly possible that he’d like to bring in his own coach. Whether Ryan stays or goes is one of the more fascinating subplots in the league.
And then there’s the fate of rookie quarterback Geno Smith. At times, Smith has looked like a franchise signal-caller, but more often than not he’s resembled someone better suited for the CFL. He’s no lock to start Week 1 in 2014 and hasn’t done enough to earn that distinction. Look for the Jets to bring in competition for Smith this offseason.
Ryan deserves another chance in 2014 with a better roster to work with. Whether Idzik decides to give it to him remains to be seen.
Next Game: at Miami Dolphins
Eliminated from Playoffs
Although the season began with playoff aspirations that won’t come to fruition, fans of the St. Louis Rams should feel good about their team heading into the offseason.
Coach Jeff Fisher has done a marvelous job of rallying his team in the wake of the season-ending injury sustained by quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams have now won two consecutive games by double digits and could close the season at 8-8 with a win this Sunday in Seattle.
There is talent throughout the roster, as Fisher and general manager Les Snead have drafted with aplomb. And the Rams have a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in end Robert Quinn, who leads the NFL with 18 sacks. He’s been a pass-rushing demon this season.
The team did lose starting left tackle Jake Long to a torn ACL last week, and getting him back and healthy for Week 1 in 2014 is of extreme importance.
The Rams have a major decision to make on Bradford. With two first-round picks (including Washington’s, which is currently No. 2 overall), Snead has the ammunition needed to add a new signal-caller if the team decides to move on from Bradford.
Next Game: at Seattle Seahawks
After starting the season 0-4, the Pittsburgh Steelers deserve a ton of credit for still being alive for the AFC playoffs heading into Week 17. Coach Mike Tomlin's team is 7-4 since that putrid first quarter of the campaign, and it's not outside the realm of possibility that Pittsburgh could sneak into the postseason at 8-8.
In order for the Steelers to qualify, they need to beat Cleveland (might as well already chalk that one up in the win column) and for the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens to lose. The fact that the Steelers are even in this position is incredible.
Even if they do make the playoffs, the Steelers roster needs some serious work. The defense is aging and in dire need of young playmakers. The offensive line also hasn't done a good enough job protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. General manager Kevin Colbert must have success in the draft and free agency this offseason.
One player that Colbert did hit on is rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, who has proven to be a dynamic weapon. He'll be a player in the Steel City for years to come.
Next Game: vs. Cleveland Browns
The San Diego Chargers stayed alive in the AFC playoff race with a beatdown of the Raiders in Week 16, improving their record to 8-7.
Ignoring the playoff chatter for a moment, regardless of whether or not the Chargers qualify, it's been a successful first year in charge for coach Mike McCoy and general manager Tom Telesco. Despite a lack of talent throughout the 53-man roster, the Chargers have fought and clawed their way to the finish line with an opportunity to make the playoffs. Chargers fans should feel great no matter what happens this Sunday.
In order for the Chargers to qualify, they must beat a Kansas City Chiefs team with nothing to play for (Kansas City is already locked into the fifth seed) and hope for both Baltimore and Miami to lose. Crazier things have certainly happened, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that quarterback Philip Rivers and Co. could play meaningful football in January.
Because of how well Rivers has played, no AFC team wants to face the Chargers. They loom as a potentially dangerous playoff opponent.
Next Game: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
What a roller-coaster ride it's been for Dallas Cowboys fans over the past few days.
First came the team's come-from-behind victory on Sunday over the Redskins, which featured late-game heroics from quarterback Tony Romo. The win guaranteed the Cowboys would play for the NFC East title in Week 17 against the Eagles.
Then ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Romo would miss the remainder of the season with a herniated disk in his back.
But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett have refused to rule Romo out for Sunday's game, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported Tuesday that Romo received an epidural shot in his back in the hopes he'll be able to play.
Reading the tea leaves, it seems unlikely Romo will be under center for Dallas on Sunday night, which is a bummer for everyone except the Philadelphia Eagles. If Romo doesn't go, backup Kyle Orton will get the start with Dallas' season on the line.
While Orton is one of the better backup options in the league, he isn't close to Romo's level. B/R's Mike Freeman minced no words in this piece about the Cowboys' chances without their star quarterback.
The problem for Dallas? Even if Romo miraculously heals and it wins on Sunday, the defense is so bad that it ultimately stands no chance in the playoffs. And that's with Romo. Without him, forget about it.
The Cowboys seem destined for another 8-8 finish and no postseason play. While that would have spelled doom for Garrett in any other circumstance, Romo's injury may offer an excuse for the overmatched coach to return in 2014.
Next Game: vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday Night Football)
Just one week ago, the Baltimore Ravens were the media darling of the NFL. After downing the Lions in Week 15 to win their fourth consecutive game, the Ravens were the chic pick to knock off the Patriots in Week 16.
To say that didn't happen would be like saying Harry and Marv succeeded in Home Alone. The Ravens were crushed by New England, and their playoff lives hang very much in the balance heading into Week 17.
Baltimore has a difficult game Sunday against AFC North champion Cincinnati. The Bengals are 7-0 at home this season and will surely be motivated to knock their division rivals out of the postseason.
It's easy to see that the Ravens need help on the offensive line and at the skill positions, but for at least one more week, offseason talk must be tabled. If the Ravens can beat the Bengals, they'll only need a loss from either San Diego or Miami to qualify for their sixth consecutive postseason trip and the chance to defend their Super Bowl title.
And if they do get there, there isn't a team in the AFC that would want the Ravens coming to town.
Next Game: at Cincinnati Bengals
The Arizona Cardinals shocked the world by winning at Seattle, improving their record to 10-5. Normally, they'd be a lock for the postseason with that record, but in a topsy-turvy 2013 iteration of the NFC, they're currently on the outside looking in.
Regardless of whether or not the Cardinals make the playoffs, coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim deserve a ton of credit for the job they've done. It should surprise no one if Arians wins his second consecutive Coach of the Year Award and Keim claims Executive of the Year. The two men have led a stunning revival in the desert.
The Cardinals need help to make the playoffs. They must win against a tough San Francisco team and hope the Saints lose to Tampa Bay at New Orleans. It's possible that the Cardinals could finish 11-5 and miss the tournament, which would be a cruel fate for Arians and co.
But if the Cardinals manage to make it, look out. They showed in Week 16 that they're capable of going on the road and beating anyone.
Next Game: vs. San Francisco 49ers
The Miami Dolphins eradicated all the good vibes earned from back-to-back victories over the Steelers and Patriots by getting shut out last Sunday in Buffalo. It was an unacceptable effort from coach Joe Philbin's team, which looked like it wouldn't have scored if the game were eight quarters instead of four.
But despite the loss, the Dolphins are still alive for the postseason. They need to win and have Cincinnati knock off Baltimore at home. They could also get in by winning and having San Diego beat Kansas City at home.
Winning on Sunday is far from a sure thing for the Dolphins, as they looked horrendous against the Bills. They'll welcome the feisty Jets to South Beach, and you know that Rex Ryan's team would love nothing more than to knock its division rivals out of the playoff hunt.
If the Dolphins do qualify, it'll go down as a fabulous job by Philbin, especially given the bullying scandal that rocked the team earlier in the season. But out of the four teams still gunning for the sixth seed, Miami is the one that division winners would likely be least afraid of facing.
Next Game: vs. N.Y. Jets
The Chicago Bears wasted a golden opportunity Sunday night. They had a chance to win the NFC North by beating the Eagles and instead were humiliated in prime time, losing 54-11. As a result, they will host the Packers on Sunday in a de facto NFC North title game.
Quarterback Jay Cutler didn't play well against the Eagles, but it's not like his teammates provided much support. Coach Marc Trestman didn't hesitate in naming Cutler his starter for Sunday's win-and-in game, and it's absolutely the right call. If the Bears have designs on signing Cutler to a long-term contract this offseason, he needs to go out and beat the Packers at home and win the division.
If the Bears manage to beat Green Bay (and if Aaron Rodgers plays, that'll be a tall order), it's difficult to envision a scenario in which they can make a deep playoff run. The defense is atrocious and absolutely cannot stop the run.
It'll be up to Cutler and the offense to win any remaining games that the Bears will play.
Next Game: vs. Green Bay Packers
In the first half of the season, the Indianapolis Colts looked like world-beaters, securing victories over the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. The second half of the season has been a different story, but the team got back on track in a major way last weekend by dismantling the Chiefs, their likely first-round playoff opponent.
It was an ultra-impressive game from the Colts. For a dome team to go on the road and out-physical a Chiefs team in the cold, it proved that Indianapolis is capable of making noise in January.
While the Colts haven't sparkled much in the second half of the season, they still have quarterback Andrew Luck, who is a difference-maker.
The AFC South champions can still claim a first-round bye with a win on Sunday and losses by New England and Cincinnati.
Coach Chuck Pagano's team has proven its toughness and resilience. Bet against Indy in January at your own risk.
Next Game: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Green Bay Packers lost star quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone in their Week 9 loss against Chicago. If you had told coach Mike McCarthy afterward that he would be out through at least Week 16, it's unlikely that he would have felt confident about competing for the division title.
But here they are, just days away from playing in the de facto NFC North title game against the same Bears team. It's a major credit to McCarthy and his players that the Packers' playoff dreams are still alive.
Green Bay's Week 16 loss against Pittsburgh was nullified when the Bears laid a gigantic egg on Sunday night in Philadelphia. Now, it can clinch the division title with a win on Sunday at Soldier Field.
According to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Rodgers won't know his playing status until later in the week. But even if he can't play, backup quarterback Matt Flynn has played well enough to give Packers fans hope that he can get the job done. Plus, it's not like the Bears defense will confuse anyone with the 1985 iteration. It's an absolute sieve.
If Rodgers returns and the Packers beat Chicago, they'll be a team no one wants to see as the calendar moves to January.
Next Game: at Chicago Bears
If Week 16 served as a playoff preview for the Wild Card Round of the postseason, the Kansas City Chiefs might want to rethink their game plan, as they were surprisingly crushed by the Colts.
Quarterback Alex Smith played his worst game of the season, but the loss probably changed nothing for the Chiefs, who have seemed destined for the AFC's fifth seed since their Week 13 loss to Denver.
Running back Jamaal Charles played well against the Colts, rushing for over 100 yards and a touchdown. While he has no chance to win the award over Peyton Manning, Charles' spectacular season would merit serious MVP consideration in almost any other season.
With the fifth seed locked in, coach Andy Reid intimated earlier this week, per John Breech of CBS Sports, that he might rest his starters Sunday at San Diego.
No matter how the rest of the season plays out, 2013 has been a tremendous success for the Chiefs, who were the laughingstock of the NFL in 2012.
Next Game: at San Diego Chargers
The New Orleans Saints saw their hold on the NFC South title slip away with a last-minute loss at Carolina, which is one that will surely haunt coach Sean Payton if the team doesn't fulfill its Super Bowl expectations.
Payton was way too conservative at the end of the game by not allowing his star quarterback, Drew Brees, to win the football game. Instead, he trusted his defense, and the unit let him down. Now, the Saints must beat the Buccaneers this Sunday to clinch a playoff spot. They can also get in with a loss and a Cardinals loss to the 49ers.
The problem for New Orleans? Even if it qualifies for the tournament, it'll likely have to win three games on the road in order to make the Super Bowl. The Panthers should be able to take care of the Falcons and win the NFC South, leaving the Saints to claim a wild-card spot.
The Saints have proven time and again this season that they aren't as good on the road as they are in the friendly confines of the Superdome. Winning three road games in January seems to be a next-to-impossible task.
Next Game: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Once the Cowboys won in Week 16, the Philadelphia Eagles' Sunday night game against the Bears became meaningless, with the two NFC East rivals locked into a Week 17 division title matchup in Dallas. But someone forgot to tell Chip Kelly's team, as it annihilated the Bears and made a statement in the process.
The Eagles are a dangerous football team. The offense, led by quarterback Nick Foles and star running back LeSean McCoy, is operating at a very high level. And the defense got back on track against the Bears after getting shredded by the Vikings in Week 15.
Kelly has done an incredible job this season. The Eagles weren't expected to contend for a playoff spot, but they are most certainly the favorite to win Sunday night's win-and-in matchup with Dallas, especially if Tony Romo doesn't play.
Next Game: at Dallas Cowboys (Sunday Night Football)
While it hasn't always been pretty this season in the Queen City, the Cincinnati Bengals are AFC North champions and are headed for their third consecutive trip to the postseason.
The Bengals throttled Minnesota in Week 16, pushing their home record to 7-0. They claimed the division title by virtue of Baltimore's loss to New England.
With the division title won and a home playoff game guaranteed, the Bengals now turn their attention toward knocking the Ravens out of the postseason and potentially claiming the No. 2 seed in the AFC. If the Bengals beat the Ravens and the Patriots slip up against the Bills, Cincinnati will earn a first-round bye.
The Bengals have been unstoppable at home and look capable of winning their first postseason game since 1990.
Next Game: vs. Baltimore Ravens
The New England Patriots just keep on keeping on. They smashed the Ravens in Week 16 to clinch their fifth consecutive AFC East title.
The Patriots can still claim home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if they beat the Bills and the Broncos lose in Oakland. At the very least, a win over Buffalo secures the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye for coach Bill Belichick's club.
It's been a fascinating season for the Patriots. They've suffered a number of major injuries to key players, but they keep on winning football games. Quarterback Tom Brady shrugged off a sluggish first half of the season (by his standards) to play as well as anyone in the league over the last two months.
While the Broncos have to be considered the favorites to win the AFC, it should surprise no one if the Patriots represent the conference in the Super Bowl for the sixth time in the Belichick/Brady era.
Next Game: vs. Buffalo Bills
As the song goes, the Carolina Panthers are bringin' the pain.
In Week 16, the Panthers beat the Saints in dramatic fashion behind a last-minute touchdown pass from quarterback Cam Newton, moving them to the cusp of both the NFC South title and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. A win over the hapless Falcons this Sunday would accomplish both goals.
The Panthers are still in play for home-field advantage throughout as well. They'll earn that distinction with a win over Atlanta, a San Francisco win over Arizona and Seattle losing to St. Louis.
Coach Ron Rivera's team is playing as well as any in the league. Newton has been fantastic, and the defense is superb. Carolina is not a team to be trifled with, and it has the look and feel of a Super Bowl contender.
Next Game: at Atlanta Falcons
The San Francisco 49ers closed out Candlestick Park (for the regular season, at least) in style, downing the Falcons on Monday night behind a dramatic pick-six by linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the closing moments.
The win clinched a playoff berth for the 49ers, but the defending NFC champions still have a lot to play for in Week 17. If they can beat the Cardinals in Arizona (no small task) and the Seahawks lose at home to St. Louis, the 49ers will win the NFC West and earn a first-round bye. Throw a Panthers loss into that equation, and the 49ers are still alive for home-field advantage throughout, too.
Coach Jim Harbaugh's team is clicking at the right time. The return of wide receiver Michael Crabtree has clearly helped the offense and quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and the defense is as stout as ever.
San Francisco is most certainly a legitimate Super Bowl candidate.
Next Game: at Arizona Cardinals
The Denver Broncos moved one step closer to home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by obliterating the Texans in Week 16.
In the win, quarterback Peyton Manning set the all-time record for touchdown passes in a single season with 51. He has led an offensive juggernaut all season long and is a lock to win his fifth NFL MVP award.
The Broncos are guaranteed no worse than the No. 2 seed in the AFC. A win on Sunday in Oakland or a New England loss to Buffalo clinches the No. 1 seed.
But things aren't all rosy in the Mile High City, as the team's best pass-rusher, linebacker Von Miller, was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Coach John Fox said of losing Miller, "It's a blow, much like losing a guy like (offensive tackle) Ryan Clady earlier in the season. But our guys will deal with it," via Mike Klis of The Denver Post.
Losing Miller is a major hit to the defense. While Denver did go 6-0 without him earlier in the season during his suspension, the playoffs present an entirely different proposition.
In order for the Broncos to make the Super Bowl, it'll be up to Manning to outscore the opposition. And because he's under center, Denver must be considered the favorite to win the AFC.
Next Game: at Oakland Raiders
For the first time in the Russell Wilson era, the Seattle Seahawks lost at home, dropping a Week 16 decision to the Cardinals. The loss delayed Seattle's plans to claim home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Now, the Seahawks must defeat a resilient St. Louis squad on Sunday to ensure they won't have to leave the Pacific Northwest until a possible trip to the Super Bowl.
Beating the Rams is paramount, as the Seahawks don't want to risk potentially losing the NFC West to San Francisco and having to play January games on the road. Despite the loss to Arizona, CenturyLink Field remains a fortress, and no team wants to play there in the postseason.
If Seattle can claim home-field advantage, it will absolutely be the favorite to win the NFC.
Next Game: vs. St. Louis Rams