By the end of Week 17, the NFL playoff picture will be completely clear. However, there is still a lot left to be decided before that happens.
With one week remaining in the regular season, there are 10 teams fighting for the last four spots in the postseason. Additionally, almost every single seed still can change in the final week, which makes 13 out of the 16 games on Sunday important for the postseason.
The question at this point is where each squad will end up in the final standings. While anything can happen, here is a look at predictions for the final seeds across the league.
|2||New England Patriots||12-4|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||11-5|
Starting at the top, the Denver Broncos have a chance to really put a stronghold on the conference. A win over the Oakland Raiders is enough to clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the entire playoffs.
Considering how good the New England Patriots are at home—7-0 with a win over the Broncos earlier in the year—Denver will make sure to avoid having to go to Foxboro in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Patriots should feel the same way about avoiding a possible road game against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are also 7-0 at home this season. These three teams are all much better at home, so you should not expect any of them to rest their players in Week 17.
Still, the biggest battles will be the ones involving the possible wild-card teams. Primarily, the battle between the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens affects almost everyone in contention.
This game will come down to the ineffectiveness of the Baltimore offense, which has only scored one touchdown in the past two games. According to the team's official site, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell took some of the blame:
There’s a number of things we can do better – no question about that. That certainly starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job of helping these guys in different situations [like on] third downs, down in the red zone and converting them, and getting ourselves in situations where we have an opportunity to start a fresh drive or a fresh set of downs.
Unfortunately, things are unlikely to change in a week. The offensive line simply does not clear enough space or protect the passer, and that will doom the squad on the road against the Bengals.
The Miami Dolphins will have a similar problem at home against the New York Jets, but the difference is that the opposing offense will not be able to keep up. Geno Smith has a 55.9 quarterback rating in road games, which will once again be a problem as the Dolphins come away with a key victory.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers also have a chance to make the playoffs, the Dolphins win will doom them all.
|4||Green Bay Packers||8-7-1|
|5||New Orleans Saints||11-5|
|6||San Francisco 49ers||11-5|
Like the Broncos, the Seattle Seahawks can give themselves home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win in Week 17.
After the Arizona Cardinals beat the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in Week 16, a home game against the St. Louis Rams is far from a guarantee. This is especially true considering the Rams rank seventh in the league against the run.
However, St. Louis will struggle to move the football offensively against the locked-down defense in Seattle. This will be enough to win the game and earn the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
That is bad news for the Carolina Panthers, who should easily move past the Atlanta Falcons, but they will be forced to settle for the No. 2 seed. Still, everything else is pretty much up for grabs in the NFC.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys will battle heads up for the NFC East title, although Tony Romo is unlikely to play with a back injury, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com.
While the Cowboys will not give up if the quarterback cannot play, Jason Witten is one person who did not seem hopeful, via Ed Werder of ESPN:
Witten on Romo: "Everything you've worked for and done over a decade is for moments like this and, if he is not able to go, that’s a blow.''— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 26, 2013
Either way, the Dallas defense will be just as big of a problem as the loss of Romo, which gives the Eagles a chance to win the division on the road.
The Green Bay Packers have also dealt with quarterback injuries, but that is all over as Aaron Rodgers is set to start for the first time since Week 9. ESPN pointed out everything you need to know about his return:
Aaron Rodgers is officially back. The @Packers are officially a team that nobody should want to face.— ESPN (@espn) December 26, 2013
Although the Chicago Bears have plenty of big-time weapons, they will not be able to keep up, and the Packers will come away with a win.
This leaves only the final wild-card spot between the Cardinals and New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately for Arizona, the Saints hold the tiebreaker and have a relatively easy matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
New Orleans should move to 8-0 at home this season and secure a spot in the postseason.
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