NFL Playoff Picture: Updated Projections for NFL's Postseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2013

NFL Playoff Picture: Updated Projections for NFL's Postseason

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    The end of the 2013 NFL season is upon us, which means it is officially time to look ahead to the playoffs.

    Heading into Sunday, there are 18 teams in the hunt for the postseason. The Kansas City Chiefs were already locked in as the AFC's fifth seed, but every other team had something at stake.

    Over the next few slides, we will take a look at each team's individual scenario in relation to Sunday's action.

    Teams are listed in alphabetical order and by conference, starting with the NFC. 

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Cardinals could have clinched a playoff spot with:

    1. Win over San Francisco 49ers plus New Orleans Saints loss or tie to Tampa Bay Buccaneers OR

    2. Tie against 49ers plus Saints loss



    Arizona took the San Francisco 49ers to the limit on Sunday before falling 23-20. However, a victory wouldn't have been enough to earn a postseason berth as the New Orleans Saints took care of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home.

    A team can usually count on reaching the postseason with 10 wins, but it did not happen for the Cardinals this season. 


Carolina Panthers

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    NFC No. 2 seed



    The Carolina Panthers ensured they will have a first-round bye by defeating the Atlanta Falcons 21-20 on Sunday. The victory also earned the Panthers an NFC South division title.

    A win by the Seattle Seahawks ended any chance the Panthers had of holding home-field advantage throughout the playoff, but Carolina will have a week off from competition before their next game.

    The Panthers will host the highest-seeded team to emerge from the opening round of the NFC playoffs. 


Chicago Bears

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    The Chicago Bears could have clinched a playoff spot with:

    1. Win over Green Bay Packers or tie



    The Chicago Bears did themselves a serious disservice by falling to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16. A win then would have secured Chicago's ticket to the postseason.

    Instead, the Bears had to defeat the 7-7-1 Green Bay Packers in order to win the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers returned from injury for the Packers and ultimately played well enough to send the Bears packing. 


Dallas Cowboys

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    The Dallas Cowboys could have clinched a playoff spot with:

    1. Win over Philadelphia Eagles



    The Dallas Cowboys  backed themselves into a playoff opportunity and could've gotten in with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night.

    Unfortunately, playing without quarterback Tony Romo, who is done for the year following back surgery, the Cowboys fell short for the third straight year in a Week 17 "win-and-in" scenario. Kyle Orton threw a game-sealing interception to Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin with under two minutes to play.

    Despite Jerry Jones' recent assurances, coach Jason Garrett would be lucky to retain his job.

Green Bay Packers

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    NFC No. 4 seed



    Despite losing starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers for nearly half the season, the Green Bay Packers still had a chance to make the playoffs by beating the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

    With Rodgers back in the fold, Green Bay packed the firepower to get the hard-fought road win, beating the 33-28. Rodgers finished the game with 318 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions and played a huge role in bringing home the NFC North title for the Packers. 

    Green Bay will host the San Francisco 49ers in the opening round of the NFC playoffs. 

New Orleans Saints

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    NFC No., 6 seed



    In all likelihood, it was last week's loss to the Carolina Panthers that cost the New Orleans Saints a chance to win the NFC South division title.

    Still, the Saints can celebrate the fact that they are back in the postseason after besting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 42-17 at home on Sunday.

    New Orleans will next play on the road against the winner of Sunday night's game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. 

Philadelphia Eagles

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    No. 4 seed in NFC

    The Philadelphia Eagles clinched the NFC East (only way to make the playoffs) with:

    1. Win over Dallas Cowboys



    It was hardly Chip Kelly's offense's best performance, but the Eagles got the job done, largely riding with LeSean McCoy, when it mattered most in Dallas on Sunday night.

    Philadelphia's defense came up with timely stops and ultimately put the game away with an interception.

    The Eagles will now host the New Orleans next weekend in the Wild Card round.

San Francisco 49ers

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    NFC No. 5 seed



    The chances of the San Francisco 49ers earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs was not good. They will needed two of the NFC's better teams to fall short for it to happen. It didn't.

    Seattle and Carolina both won, which meant the best outcome for San Francisco was the No. 5 seed. A last-minute field goal by Phil Dawson gave the 49ers the 23-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals and ensured San Francisco would stay at No. 5. 

    The 49ers will next travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers. 


Seattle Seahawks

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    NFC No. 1 seed



    All the Seattle Seahawks needed in order lock up home-field advantage was a win at home over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

    The Seahawks made sure that they did not lose at home for the second consecutive, defeating the St. Louis Rams 27-9 and locking up home-field advantage for the playoffs.

    CenturyLink Field provides the Seahawks with one of the league's best home-field advantages. Seattle can rest assured it will hold that advantage for the remainder of their 2013 season. 

Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens could have clinched a playoff berth with:

    1. Win over Cincinnati Bengals plus San Diego Chargers loss or tie OR

    2. Win over Bengals plus Miami Dolphins loss or tie OR

    3. Tie with Bengals plus Dolphins loss plus Chargers loss or tie OR

    4. Tie with Bengals plus Dolphins tie plus Chargers loss OR

    5. Dolphins loss plus Chargers loss plus Pittsburgh Steelers loss or tie



    The Baltimore Ravens had an opportunity to earn a playoff ticket on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals, but could not pull off the upset.

    Despite forcing four interceptions, the Ravens could not find a way to best the Bengals, who are undefeated at home this season. Cincinnati relied heavily on its defense en route to a 34-17 victory over the Ravens. 

Cincinnati Bengals

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    AFC No. 3 seed



    The Cincinnati Bengals held up on their end, defeating the Baltimore Ravens 34-17 on Sunday. 

    It wasn't easy, as the Bengals had to overcome four interceptions by quarterback Andy Dalton. However, the Cincinnati defense grabbed three interceptions of its own and the offense was efficient enough to pull out the win.

    However, New England won its game, which means the Bengals will host the San Diego Chargers next weekend.

Denver Broncos

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    AFC No. 1 seed



    The Denver Broncos came into Sunday needing only a victory over the Oakland Raiders to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

    The Broncos did what they needed to do, topping their division rivals 34-14 in a game that was in control early. Denver jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead and coasted the rest of the way to ensure the road to the Super Bowl will run through Denver in the AFC. 

Indianapolis Colts

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    AFC No. 4 seed



    The Indianapolis Colts had already locked up an AFC South division title and could have eanred a first-round bye with a win and a loss by the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots.

    They did their part by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-10 on Sunday.

    However, the Bengals and Patriots won their games, which means the Colts will play next weekend. The Colts will play at home against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team Indianapolis defeated 23-7 just one week ago.



Kansas City Chiefs

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    AFC No. 5 seed



    The Chiefs could not alter their playoff future and therefore had nothing to play for against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

    They rested several starters, yet still nearly found a way to keep their division rivals out of the postseason. A missed field goal at the end of regulation and a failed fourth-down conversion in overtime allowed the Chargers to escape with a 27-24 victory.

    Next weekend the Chiefs will travel to face the Indianapolis Colts, a team that handed Kansas City an embarrassing 23-7 loss one week ago. 

Miami Dolphins

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    The Miami Dolphins could have clinched a playoff spot with:

    1. Win over New York Jets plus Ravens loss or tie OR

    2. Win over Jets plus Chargers win OR

    3. Tie with Jets plus Ravens loss plus Chargers loss or tie OR

    4. Tie with Jets plus Ravens tie plus Chargers tie



    The Miami Dolphins had the best chance of earning the AFC's final playoff spot. Unfortunately, Miami could not take care of business against the New York Jets at home on Sunday.

    Miami came out flat against the often inconsistent Jets, who dominated with a strong running game and stout defense. With the pressure of a potential playoff berth looming, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill tossed three interceptions en route to a 20-7 loss.




New England Patriots

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    AFC No. 2 seed



    The New England Patriots had already won the AFC East and was playing for a first-round bye on Sunday. Losses by the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts would have earned the Patriots the No. 2 seed. Those two teams already won.

    Fortunately, the Patriots took care of business in rain-soaked Foxborough, defeating the Bills 34-20. 

    New England had a slim chance to earn the conference's No. 1 seed, but it would have required a loss by the Denver Broncos, which did not happen. New England will now await the highest-seeded AFC team to emerge from Wild Card weekend. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers could have clinched a playoff spot with:

    1. Win over Browns plus Dolphins loss plus Ravens loss plus Chargers loss



    It would have taken a lot of luck for the Pittsburgh Steelers to find a home in the 2013 playoffs. Luck was nearly on their side.

    Pittsburgh had no trouble with the lowly Cleveland Browns on Sunday, winning 20-7. The Steelers also got help from the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins, both of whom lost in the early games. 

    The Steelers nearly received the final piece to the puzzle, as it took overtime for the San Diego Chargers to knock off a Kansas City Chiefs team that was largely comprised of backups. 

San Diego Chargers

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    AFC No. 6 seed



    Like the Steelers, the San Diego Chargers needed a bit of help in order to get into the postseason. They got every bit of it during the early games. With Baltimore and Miami losing, the Chargers only needed a win over the Kansas City Chiefs to earn a playoff berth. 

    Despite resting several starters, the Chiefs did not make things easy on San Diego. It took an overtime field goal for to life the Chargers over their division rivals, 27-24.

    The Chargers will next travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in the opening round of the postseason.