NFL Playoff Scenarios 2013: Examining AFC and NFC Postseason Outlook

Richard LangfordCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambling with the ball gets grabbed by his jersey from Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at Candlestick Park on December 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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
Denver BroncosAFC West + First-Round Bye
New England PatriotsAFC East Champs
Indianapolis ColtsAFC South Champs
Cincinnati BengalsAFC North Champs
Kansas City ChiefsAFC Wild-Card No. 1 seed
Seattle SeahawksPlayoff Berth
Carolina PanthersPlayoff Berth
San Francisco 49ersPlayoff Berth

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
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-

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. 

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 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
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 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.  

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----

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
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-

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.