NFL Playoff Scenarios 2013: Examining AFC and NFC Postseason Outlook

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NFL Playoff Scenarios 2013: Examining AFC and NFC Postseason Outlook
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The AFC playoff picture is so convoluted that no team controls its own destiny for the conference's final wild-card position.

As an example of how wild things are, the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are not guaranteed a postseason appearance if they beat the Cincinnati Bengals this week. Should they lose, however, the Ravens could still wind up in the playoffs.

The NFC isn't much different. Although, it is a little easier to understand. Still, where every division in the AFC already has a champ, none of the NFC divisions have been decided. 

In all, 13 of the 16 games on tap for Week 17 have playoff implications. That leaves a lot to be determined in a few hours on Sunday. Hopefully, the following will help prepare you for the oncoming madness.  

Let's start with what we already know, which isn't much.  

What We Know
AFC
Denver Broncos AFC West + First-Round Bye
New England Patriots AFC East Champs
Indianapolis Colts AFC South Champs
Cincinnati Bengals AFC North Champs
Kansas City Chiefs AFC Wild-Card No. 1 seed
NFC
Seattle Seahawks Playoff Berth
Carolina Panthers Playoff Berth
San Francisco 49ers Playoff Berth

NFL.com

As you can see, the Denver Broncos are the only playoff team that knows it will get a first-round bye. The Broncos, however, are still fighting for the No. 1 seed.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs are the only team locked into their playoff seeding.

Here is what will play into the seeding of the other teams. 

AFC Seeding Scenarios
Team Clinch No. 1 seed if... Or
Denver Broncos DEN win or tie NE loss or tie
New England Patriots NE win + DEN loss -
Team Clinch first-round bye if... Or
New England Patriots NE win or tie CIN loss or tie + IND loss or tie
Cincinnati Bengals CIN win + NE loss -
Indianapolis Colts IND win + NE loss + CIN loss or tie -

Source: NFL.com

Considering the Patriots beat the Broncos in overtime in a game in New England in Week 12, there is ample reason for the Broncos to play their starters against Oakland to try and avoid losing the No. 1 seed. 

Which team will get the AFC's second bye?

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Meanwhile, the Patriots may not even wind up with a bye for the first round. If the Patriots should falter at home against the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals will just need to beat the Baltimore Ravens to earn a first-round bye. 

Should both of those teams falter, the Indianapolis Colts will get the first week of the playoffs off...as long as they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Of course, neither the Bengals or Colts should hold their breath waiting for the Patriots to lose to the Bills. The Bills have beaten New England just once in the last 20 games. 

Now let's take a look at the NFC. 

NFC Seeding Scenarios
Team Clinch No. 1 seed if... Or
Seattle Seahawks SEA win or tie SF loss or tie
Carolina Panthers CAR win + SEA loss + SF win -
San Francisco 49ers SF win + SEA loss + CAR loss or tie -
Team Clinch first-round bye if... Or
Seattle Seahawks SEA win or tie SF loss or tie
Carolina Panthers CAR win or tie NO loss or tie
San Francisco 49ers SF win + SEA loss -
New Orleans Saints NO win + CAR loss -

Source: NFL.com

The Seattle Seahawks will host the St. Louis Rams and the NFC will be watching. As long as the Seahawks can avoid defeat, they will be the No. 1 seed. 

The Seahawks are clearly in the driver's seat for that spot. Not only do they control their own destiny, but even if they lose, Seattle will be the No. 1 seed if the 49ers don't beat the surging Cardinals in Arizona. 

The Panthers don't have the best odds of emerging with the No. 1 seed, but they do know that as long as they beat the Falcons on the road they will get a bye in the first round. 

Now, let's take a look at the teams just hoping to make the postseason.  

Team Clinch Playoffs If... Or Or Or Or
Miami Dolphins MIA win + BAL loss or tie MIA win + SD win MIA tie + BAL loss + SD loss or tie MIA tie + BAL tie + SD -
Baltimore Ravens BAL win + SD loss or tie BAL win + MIA loss or tie BAL tie + MIA loss + SD loss or tie BAL tie + MIA tie + SD loss MIA loss + SD loss + PIT loss
San Diego Chargers SD win + MIA loss or tie + BAL loss or tie SD tie + MIA loss + BAL loss - - -
Pittsburgh Steelers PIT win + MIA loss + BAL loss + SD loss - - - -

Source: NFL.com

This is where things really start getting wild.

I'm giving the edge to the Miami Dolphins in this race. The Dolphins have a home game against the New York Jets. The Dolphins waxed the Jets by 20 in New York in Week 13. 

That gives them a far easier matchup than the Raves. The defending champs have to travel to take on the Bengals. The Ravens needed overtime to beat the Bengals at home earlier this season. 

Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers will host the Chiefs and need both the Ravens and Dolphins to lose. Then there is the Pittsburgh Steelers. They need everyone to lose.  

Onto the NFC!

NFC Scenarios
Team Clinch Playoffs If... Or Or
Philadelphia Eagles PHI win or tie - -
Dallas Cowboys DAL win - -
Chicago Bears CHI win or tie - -
Green Bay Packers GB win - -
New Orleans Saints NO win NO tie + ARI tie ARI loss
Arizona Cardinals ARI win + NO loss or tie ARI tie + NO loss -

Source: NFL.com

This is far more straight forward and no less exciting than the AFC. Two games in the NFC will start the playoffs early. The Dallas Cowboys will host the Philadelphia Eagles and the winner will be the NFC East champs.

Also, the Chicago Bears will host the Green Bay Packers with the NFC North title on the line.

Meanwhile, the Saints who have been regarded as one of the NFL's elite teams for the majority of this season, may not make the playoffs at all.

The good news for the Saints is that they are tasked only with beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get into the playoffs.

That is bad news for the Arizona Cardinals. They will have to beat the 49ers while also hoping the Saints fall if they want to taste the postseason.  

There you go. Simple, right? 

Pretty soon, this madness will all be behind us. My best advice is to just sit back and try to soak in what promises to be the most exciting Week 17 of NFL football that I can remember. 

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