The 2014 NFL playoffs are right on the horizon, but there are still so many scenarios in play and much is left to determine come Week 17 of the regular season.
With four postseason spots still up for grabs and 10 teams in contention to nab one of them, you can be sure this will be one of the most exciting conclusions to a football campaign in recent memory.
Let’s take a look at all the possible outcomes and make some predictions on the playoff seeding heading into Week 17.
|Projected Playoff Picture After Week 17|
|1||Denver Broncos (13-3)||1||Seattle Seahawks (13-3)|
|2||New England Patriots (12-4)||2||Carolina Panthers (12-4)|
|3||Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)||3||Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)|
|4||Indianapolis Colts (10-6)||4||Chicago Bears (9-7)|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)||5||New Orleans Saints (11-5)|
|6||Miami Dolphins (9-7)||6||San Francisco 49ers (11-5)|
AFC Wild Card, No. 6 Seed: Miami Dolphins
The Kansas City Chiefs are locked into the No. 5 seed and have one of the wild-card spots in the AFC secure, but there are four teams vying for the No. 6 seed and a playoff appearance in the conference.
The Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers are all still alive and neither of them controls their own destiny.
Ross Tucker of NFL.com broke down the numbers behind the possible outcomes:
Miami squares off with the New York Jets in an AFC East battle that will be of the utmost importance. Fortunately, the Dolphins get to play at home and that could make all the difference considering New York is just 1-6 away from MetLife Stadium in 2013.
Assuming the ‘Phins are victorious, they’ll need some help from the Ravens or Chargers. If the Ravens falter to the Cincinnati Bengals, Miami is automatically in. Same situation if the Bolts win against the Chiefs.
The Bengals are still in the running for a bye and partial home-field advantage in the conference, so there is no chance they relent. They are undefeated at home this year and know that securing the No. 2 seed could be the difference between a deep run and another early exit.
Factor in that Baltimore was just undressed by the New England Patriots and you are looking at a disastrous recipe for the defending champs. Expect the Ravens to lose in Cincy, ending their chances of an improbable back-to-back title this season.
That outcome makes San Diego’s late-afternoon tilt with Kansas City irrelevant and puts the final nail in Pittsburgh’s coffin.
NFC East Race: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles received a big boost against the Dallas Cowboys when it was announced that quarterback Tony Romo would miss the remainder of the season.
While Dallas owner Jerry Jones is adamant that the signal-caller isn’t down for the count just yet, all signs point to Kyle Orton getting the starting nod in this Sunday Night Football showdown.
Philadelphia is firing on all cylinders just in time for the NFC East title match, as they dominated the Chicago Bears in Week 16. The Eagles put up 54 points in the contest and now have a dream matchup against a historically inept Cowboys defense that concedes 290.7 yards per game via the air and 127.9 yards per game on the ground.
While Philly shouldn’t overlook Orton, the fact remains that Dallas simply isn’t as dangerous with the backup playing a pivotal role.
He’s been buried on the bench all season for a reason and dusting him off now will certainly doom the Cowboys to another offseason without a playoff appearance.
NFC North Race: Chicago Bears
The Bears are getting the slight edge in this one, although this contest is assuredly going to come down to the wire.
These two divisional rivals detest one another and the Sunday afternoon showdown is going to highlight the bad blood with all the marbles on the line.
Chicago is coming off an embarrassing loss to the Eagles, as they scored a mere 11 points with a chance to punch a ticket to the postseason. Now this squad has to pick up the pieces and bounce back for a tough showdown with Green Bay.
Expect them to do that, regardless of who is under center for the Packers. This team has been beatable on the ground, but not through the air. Chicago concedes just 227.8 yards per game to opposing passers, good enough to place in the top half of the league, while giving up an NFL-worst 161.5 yards per game on the ground.
The Packers can certainly pound the rock with Eddie Lacy, but star linebacker Lance Briggs is back in action for the second straight game and should have most of the rust shaken off after missing seven games with a shoulder injury.
That alone should help the Bears deter the run a bit and gain a slight edge. As long as quarterback Jay Cutler can avoid turnovers and get his elite receivers, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, involved early and often, Chicago will live to fight another day.
NFC Wild Card: New Orleans Saints
The Saints control their own destiny in the NFC, needing a simple win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get it done.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton spoke about the wild amount of uncertainty and various scenarios in Week 17 during his Christmas Day press conference, as per the team’s official website:
This would be unique especially in the NFC. I think this began two or three years ago when they started looking closely at really pushing these division games further back in the schedule to hopefully alleviate teams that would decide to rest starters and hopefully make games that are more compelling and I think you are catching a year where particularly in the NFC that that is happening. There are three divisions, the North, the East, where what is unique there is both of those games are winner wins the division so they might as well be a playoff game, and then the South is still undecided. There are some wild card things happening in the AFC, but I think this year would be certainly a little different than we’ve seen probably a good result of what their goals were a few years back when they started pushing some of these divisional games back in the schedule.
The Saints could still clinch the NFC South, but need the Carolina Panthers to lose to the Atlanta Falcons for that to happen. It seems unlikely, especially considering Atlanta’s ineptitude in 2013. Still, New Orleans should be happy with a playoff appearance, which isn’t locked up just yet.
The Arizona Cardinals could finish with 11 wins this year and still miss the postseason, which would be a true shame. However, that is a likely outcome if the Saints do manage to beat lowly Tampa Bay.
Barring an unforeseen upset, New Orleans will be back in the playoffs this year and playing on the road in the first round.