NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Breaking Down Most Likely Seeding Scenarios

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NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Breaking Down Most Likely Seeding Scenarios
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Entering the final regular-season Sunday of NFL football, eight teams have already clinched playoff berths. Aside from the Kansas City Chiefs, who are locked into the AFC's No. 5 seed, every other postseason-bound team is still jockeying for a first-round bye or home-field advantage.

Meanwhile, there are 10 teams still in contention for the remaining four spots. Two postseason berths will be decided in games that will also crown division champions, setting the stage for a high-stakes Week 17 that is sure to be full of drama.

There are a variety of different ways the playoff picture can shake out this Sunday, but here's a look at the most likely scenarios for the postseason.

Predicted AFC Playoff Seeds
Seed Team Record
1 Denver Broncos * 13-3
2 New England Patriots * 12-4
3 Cincinnati Bengals * 11-5
4 Indianapolis Colts * 11-5
5 Kansas City Chiefs * 11-5
6 Miami Dolphins 9-7

Alex Espinoza's Predictions

 * Indicates team has already clinched berth

 

1. Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning and the Broncos have already fended off the Kansas City Chiefs to win the AFC West crown, but now home-field advantage is in their sights. All Denver (12-3) needs is a road victory against the reeling Oakland Raiders (4-11) to secure the top seed and become the only 13-win team in the conference.

 

2. New England Patriots

The AFC East champion Patriots (11-4) are in great position to lock down the No. 2 seed with a win against the Buffalo Bills (6-9) in Foxboro on Sunday. New England trails Denver for the top spot but holds a one-game lead over its fellow division winners, the Cincinnati Bengals (AFC North) and Indianapolis Colts (AFC South).

 

3. Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati (10-5) has a tough matchup against the Baltimore Ravens (8-7) to wrap up the season in a contest that has major ramifications for the entire conference. I suspect the Bengals will pull off a close victory and claim the fourth playoff berth in five years under Marvin Lewis, while knocking Baltimore from the playoff race.

The veteran coach Lewis has never been able to get his team past the Wild Card Round, though. Since the Bengals hold the tiebreaker advantage over the Colts, they are in position to host the undetermined sixth seed.

 

4. Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis is starting to look sharp heading into January with two convincing victories the past two weeks. The Colts (10-5) should be able to handle the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) in the regular-season finale and host the Chiefs in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.

 

5. Kansas City Chiefs

Coach Andy Reid has the luxury of resting his starters if he wants to for Sunday's matchup against the San Diego Chargers, one of three 8-7 teams vying for the final playoff spot. Even though I suspect the Chargers will win to sweep the season series between the two clubs, Kansas City (11-4) is locked into the No. 5 seed with such a big lead over the final AFC playoff team.

 

6. Miami Dolphins

This is the only unsettled spot in the AFC postseason seeding, and there are four teams in the mix. Miami (8-7) is tied with San Diego and Baltimore, and currently holds the advantage with its 7-4 conference record, while the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) need a lot of help to sneak into the playoffs.

The Dolphins looked awful in last week's 19-0 loss to Buffalo but are facing off with the New York Jets (7-8), a team they beat 23-3 in Week 13. If Miami and San Diego win and Baltimore loses, it will become a two-team tie between the Dolphins and Chargers. In that case, Miami would earn the No. 6 seed and a date with the Bengals, by virtue of its 20-16 win over San Diego in Week 11.

 

Predicted NFC Playoff Seeds
Seed Team Record
1 Seattle Seahawks * 13-3
2 Carolina Panthers * 12-4
3 Philadelphia Eagles 10-6
4 Green Bay Packers 8-7-1
5 San Francisco 49ers * 12-4
6 New Orleans Saints 11-5

Alex Espinoza's Predictions

 * Indicates team has already clinched berth 

 

1. Seattle Seahawks

Seattle still has work to do if it wants to snatch the NFC West crown from the two-time reigning champ San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks (12-3) hold a one-game lead over the Niners and No. 2 seed Carolina Panthers entering Week 17. While Sunday's opponent, St. Louis, is no pushover, the Seahawks should win to clinch home-field advantage at raucous CenturyLink Field.

 

2. Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton's big drive in last week's 17-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints has the Panthers (11-4) set up to win the NFC South. Carolina now controls its own destiny for the division and a first-round bye heading into Sunday's contest against the Atlanta Falcons (4-11). Atlanta has been competitive in the past month, but coach Ron Rivera will surely have his team fired up in what's been a remarkable resurgence of the franchise.

 

3. Philadelphia Eagles

Sunday's finale will feature the Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) and Dallas Cowboys (8-7) fighting for the NFC East crown under the lights at the Jerry Dome. Despite a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter that Tony Romo would miss the rest of the season with a back injury, his teammates are staying optimistic:

Whether Dallas starts Romo or Kyle Orton, it won't slow down Nick Foles and the Eagles. The second-year quarterback sensation led Philly to a 54-11 win over the Chicago Bears last week and should be able to pick apart Dallas on Sunday.

 

4. Green Bay Packers

The complexion of Sunday's matchup against the Bears took a major turn on Thursday. The Packers (7-8-1) announced that Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) will return in time for the Week 17 contest against Chicago (8-7) in a game that will determine the winner of the NFC North:

With Rodgers, the Packers were 5-2 to start the year before going in a downward 2-6-1 spiral. The Bears were exposed badly last week by Philadelphia in a 54-11 blowout, and Rodgers should do the same, returning just in time to guide his team into the playoffs.

 

5. San Francisco 49ers

The Niners (11-4) still have a shot at winning the NFC West, but it's more likely that Seattle wins on Sunday and claims the crown. The 49ers wrap up the season with a tough road contest against the Arizona Cardinals (10-5), but the defense in San Francisco would make a formidable No. 5 seed in the first round and remain a threat to go deep into the playoffs again under third-year coach Jim Harbaugh.

 

6. New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees and Co. have lost three of their past four but need to rebound with a good effort against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11), whom they beat 16-14 in Week 2. The Saints (10-5) hold the tiebreaker over Arizona (10-5), so they are in the driver's seat for the final NFC seed. New Orleans can also secure the NFC South with a victory over the Bucs and a Carolina loss.

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