NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Postseason Outlook for AFC and NFC Teams in Contention

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 11: Running back LeSean McCoy #25 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs past Ernie Sims #59 of the Dallas Cowboys during the fourth quarter in a game at Lincoln Financial Field on November 11, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Cowboys defeated the Eagles 38-23. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The NFL playoffs do not start for another week, but Week 17 of the regular season has plenty of win-or-go-home scenarios that will create a postseason-type atmosphere around the league.

Week 16 featured tons of missed opportunities among plenty of playoff hopefuls. The Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and pretty much the entire NFC North came out flat when they had a chance to put themselves in great position going forward.

These teams and others now need a win and possibly some help in the final week of the season in order to keep playing in January. 

Here is a full look at the playoff scenarios for each team still in contention, courtesy of

What Has Already Been Decided
Denver BroncosAFC West + First-Round ByeSeattle SeahawksPlayoff Berth
New England PatriotsAFC EastCarolina PanthersPlayoff Berth
Indianapolis ColtsAFC SouthSan Francisco 49ersPlayoff Berth
Cincinnati BengalsAFC North
Kansas City ChiefsAFC Wild-Card

AFC Playoff Spots

AFC Scenarios
TeamClinch Playoffs If...OrOrOrOr
Miami DolphinsMIA win + BAL loss or tieMIA win + SD winMIA tie + BAL loss + SD loss or tieMIA tie + BAL tie + SD-
Baltimore RavensBAL win + SD loss or tieBAL win + MIA loss or tieBAL tie + MIA loss + SD loss or tieBAL tie + MIA tie + SD lossMIA loss + SD loss + PIT loss
San Diego Chargers SD win + MIA loss or tie + BAL loss or tieSD tie + MIA loss + BAL loss---
Pittsburgh SteelersPIT win + MIA loss + BAL loss + SD loss----

Heading into Week 17, only a single playoff spot is up for grabs as the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs have already clinched berths.

This leaves four teams fighting for the No. 6 seed in the AFC with amazingly no team controlling its own destiny.

The Dolphins are likely in the driver's seat at this point because they would get the spot if every team in contention wins. This is thanks to a superior record against AFC teams in the case of a tie with both the Ravens and the San Diego Chargers.

According to Andy Kent of, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was happy about the position his team is in:

I think the important thing for all of us to realize is that we’re playing a very meaningful game on the last regular season game of the season and we’ve got to play our best football, plain and simple. We know that there’s still opportunity. We’ve got to go out and play our best game of the year and I believe in our guys.

On the other hand, Baltimore holds the tiebreaker over each other team in the case of a two-way tie with either San Diego or Miami. Therefore, the Ravens can simply win and hope for one of the two teams to lose.

The Chargers are next in line if both top teams go down, as their 9-7 record would be the best available.

Finally, the Pittsburgh Steelers can sneak into the last spot if every team above them loses.

AFC Seeding

AFC Seeding Scenarios
TeamClinch No. 1 seed if...Or
Denver BroncosDEN win or tieNE loss or tie
New England PatriotsNE win + DEN loss-
TeamClinch first-round bye if...Or
New England PatriotsNE win or tieCIN loss or tie + IND loss or tie
Cincinnati BengalsCIN win + NE loss-
Indianapolis ColtsIND win + NE loss + CIN loss or tie-

The Broncos remain in prime position to clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. They are currently one game ahead of the Patriots. A win or a New England loss would seal the deal.

Of course, New England has the tiebreaker over Denver thanks to a head-to-head win and could earn home-field advantage with a win and a Broncos loss. On the other hand, a loss and a win by either the Bengals or Colts would take them out of position for a bye.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati defeated Indianapolis earlier in the year, which gives the squad a higher seed in the case that both teams finish equal.

Kansas City has much less drama in Week 17 as the team is locked into the No. 5 seed with an 11-4 record. This is certainly something to be excited about after a 2-14 mark a year ago.

NFC Playoff Spots

NFC Scenarios
TeamClinch Playoffs If...OrOr
Philadelphia EaglesPHI win or tie--
Dallas CowboysDAL win--
Chicago BearsCHI win or tie--
Green Bay PackersGB win--
New Orleans SaintsNO winNO tie + ARI tieARI loss
Arizona CardinalsARI win + NO loss or tieARI tie + NO loss-

As confusing as the AFC playoff picture is, the NFC is much easier to understand. In fact, some teams have a chance to play their way in with a matchup against their top competitor. 

The Philadelphia Eagles face the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC East battle where the winner takes the division title. Additionally, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears have a similar scenario in the NFC North.

Of course, popular Twitter account Faux John Madden makes an excellent point about the struggles of the division:

Every team in the NFC North lost last week, and the Detroit Lions have lost three in a row to eliminate them from the playoffs.

Meanwhile, one more wild-card spot is up for grabs between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals will likely need a win over the San Francisco 49ers and a Saints loss to stay alive, but it will be difficult.

ESPN's Mike Greenberg points out that this is a good thing for the rest of the conference:

It certainly would be a disappointment for an 11-5 team to miss the playoffs, but that could happen in the difficult NFC West.

NFC Seeding

NFL Seeding Scenarios
TeamClinch No. 1 seed if...Or
Seattle SeahawksSEA win or tieSF loss or tie
Carolina PanthersCAR win + SEA loss + SF win-
San Francisco 49ersSF win + SEA loss + CAR loss or tie-
TeamClinch first-round bye if...Or
Seattle SeahawksSEA win or tieSF loss or tie
Carolina PanthersCAR win or tieNO loss or tie
San Francisco 49ersSF win + SEA loss-
New Orleans SaintsNO win + CAR loss-

The Seattle Seahawks could clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win in Week 17. However, a loss opens the door for either the Carolina Panthers or San Francisco 49ers to take the spot with a win.

On the other hand, the 49ers could drop as low as No. 6 with a loss. The same could happen to the Panthers if they lose while New Orleans and San Francisco win.

The Saints are the only other team with a chance at a bye as a win and the Panthers loss would give them the division title and the No. 2 spot in the playoffs.

If the Eagles win, they will earn the No. 3 seed no matter what anyone else does on Sunday. However, the Bears would get that spot over the Cowboys, who would in turn get it over the Packers depending on who wins the division.

With home-field advantage coming up big throughout the regular season, these seeding changes will be quite important for the postseason.

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