With one week remaining in the NFL regular season, we still do not know much about the playoff picture as so much is still up for grabs.
Through Week 16, only eight of the 12 postseason spots have been claimed, and there are 10 teams in contention for the final four spots. Additionally, only the Kansas City Chiefs are locked into their seed at No. 5 in the AFC.
This means that Week 17—which is usually a time for backups while starters rest for the playoffs—will be thrilling from beginning to end.
Still, the question is which teams will survive the difficult set of games and advance to the postseason. Here is a look at the playoff scenarios for every squad in contention, courtesy of NFL.com, along with predictions for who will claim the final spots.
|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||-||-||-||-|
|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||-|
|Denver Broncos||AFC West + First-Round Bye||Seattle Seahawks||Playoff Berth|
|New England Patriots||AFC East||Carolina Panthers||Playoff Berth|
|Indianapolis Colts||AFC South||San Francisco 49ers||Playoff Berth|
|Cincinnati Bengals||AFC North|
|Kansas City Chiefs||AFC Wild-Card|
AFC Wild Card: Miami Dolphins
Amazingly, no one controls their own destiny in this race. Ross Tucker of NBC Sports breaks down the likelihood of each squad getting into the postseason:
16 scenarios for AFC 6th seed. Ravens make it in 7/Dolphins = 6/Chargers = 2/Steelers = 1— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) December 23, 2013
With so many teams competing for a spot in the final weekend of the season, it really comes down to the matchups.
The Miami Dolphins have easily the weakest opponent of all of the 8-7 teams. They will face the New York Jets, a team they defeated 23-3 at MetLife Stadium earlier in the year. Considering the Jets are 1-6 away from home this year, things should be even easier this time around.
Even a big-time pass rush should not stop Ryan Tannehill from having a bounce-back day after a poor showing against the Buffalo Bills.
Which team will make the playoffs?
Of course, this will not be enough as Miami also needs either a Baltimore Ravens loss or a San Diego Chargers win to advance. In all likelihood, it will get both.
The Ravens travel to face the Cincinnati Bengals, who are already 7-0 at home this season. With a possible first-round bye on the line, Cincinnati will want to ensure more home games, so it will be giving its top effort.
After Baltimore was dominated at home 41-7 by the New England Patriots, it is hard to trust the squad to perform much better against another quality opponent.
Meanwhile, San Diego will get a home game against the Kansas City Chiefs, who have nothing to play for. Considering the Chargers defeated this same squad on the road while scoring 41 points earlier in the year, a motivated team should be able to replicate this feat in Week 17.
The Pittsburgh Steelers should beat the Cleveland Browns, but it will be too little too late and the Dolphins should squeeze their way into the playoffs.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
For the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, the scenario is simple. All each side has to worry about is winning against each other and they will be in the playoffs.
That task will be quite difficult for the Cowboys without Tony Romo, who will likely miss the game with a back injury, according to Jarrett Bell and Jim Corbett of USA Today. Veteran backup Kyle Orton will start in his place in the regular-season finale.
Of course, this does not mean the Eagles are going to take things lightly. According to Dan Klausner of PhiladelphiaEagles.com, linebacker Connor Barwin explained the preparation:
It doesn’t really affect anything. There are still 10 other guys out there that are going to be the same and we have to prepare for. Obviously, we’ll watch the tape we have on Kyle Orton. He does some things differently that we’ll try to prepare for, but it’s still the same offense that Dallas will run. They’re not going change everything because of the quarterback the last week of the season.
This focus has helped the Eagles win six of their last seven games to put themselves in position for a division title.
Nick Foles should be able to keep up his solid play against the No. 31 pass defense in the NFL, and Philadelphia will earn a tough win on the road.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
The big story in this matchup is whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be able to play after missing much of the season with a broken collarbone. According to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, the former MVP said that he will know by Thursday, Dec. 26.
However, the Packers have shown that they could be the better team in this matchup whether Rodgers plays or not.
Chicago has struggled mightily on the defensive side of the ball this year, ranking No. 29 in yards allowed and No. 30 in the league in points allowed. All of the problems were shown this past week as the Eagles rushed for 289 yards en route to 54 points in a blowout.
With Jay Cutler still struggling with his decision making since returning to action two weeks ago, the Packers will be able to earn a tough victory over their rival in Chicago.
NFC Wild Card: New Orleans Saints
Unlike the AFC Wild Card, the final spot in the NFC is much easier to dissect. The New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals enter Week 17 tied, and the Saints have the tiebreaker after winning a head-to-head game earlier in the year.
This tiebreaker means that New Orleans simply has to win to advance, something that should be relatively easy at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Saints have had problems on the road, where they have a 3-5 record, but that will not be an issue on Sunday. They have won all seven games at the Superdome this year and are averaging 32.9 points per game there, compared to just 17.8 points per game on the road.
Meanwhile, the Bucs have come back to earth after their impressive three-game winning streak and have now lost three of their last four.
Arizona has been playing as well as anyone in the league as of late and recently accomplished the unthinkable of winning in Seattle. Unfortunately, it appears as though an 11-5 record will not be good enough to make the playoffs in the toughest division in football.
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