Only one week remains in the 2015 NFL regular season, which means it's time to examine how the playoff picture could shake out in advance of what figures to be a compelling postseason.
But before diving into playoff scenarios and odds for key Week 17 games, here's a look at how the playoff picture stands as Sunday approaches:
Odds for Games with Playoff Implications
- New York Jets (-3) at Buffalo Bills
- Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-9)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (-11) at Cleveland Browns
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (Off)
- Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (Off)
- New England Patriots (-11.5) at Miami Dolphins
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (-11.5)
- Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5)
- Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-7.5)
- San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos (-9.5)
- Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-3)
Odds courtesy of Odds Shark and current as of Dec. 29.
AFC Playoff Picture and Scenarios
We have a good idea of which teams will be participating in the AFC side of the bracket, but their positions are still to be determined.
Entering Week 17, here are the spots that have been locked up:
- New England clinched the AFC East and a first-round bye
- Cincinnati clinched the AFC North
- Denver clinched a playoff spot
- Kansas City clinched a playoff spot
Within that group, though, plenty needs to be sorted out. For starters, New England can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win or tie, or a loss or tie by the Denver Broncos. And if we stick in the Mile High City, Denver can snag an AFC West title with a win over the San Diego Chargers thanks to Monday night's overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Denver can lock up a bye with a win as well.
The Bengals also have eyes on the No. 2 spot, which they can snag with a win over the Baltimore Ravens and a Broncos loss, or a Broncos loss and a Kansas City Chiefs win.
Speaking of the streaking Chiefs, they'll be locked into a wild-card spot unless they defeat the Oakland Raiders and Denver falls to the Chargers.
Then there are the Houston Texans and New York Jets, who are in prime position to capture the AFC South and a wild-card spot, respectively, but they still have some work to do.
The Texans will clinch a division title with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the same holds true for the Jets and a wild-card spot with a win over the Buffalo Bills. The Jets can also capture a wild-card spot with a loss and a loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Cleveland Browns.
However, New York will be running into a motivated Bills team led by former Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
"I know we're going to give them our best shot," Ryan said, per Syracuse.com's Matthew Fairburn. "We'll see who's healthy and who's not or whatever, but they know they're going to get our best shot without question."
Should Ryan and the Bills upset the Jets while Pittsburgh defeats Cleveland, the Steelers will be in.
There's also a scenario in which the Indianapolis Colts can still clinch an AFC South title, but the logistics are so complex that we'll just let NFL Network's Ian Rapoport explain:
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
Thanks to last night's #Broncos win, #Colts can still make the playoffs: All they need are 9 things to happen https://t.co/n1TuW51A0112/29/2015, 3:13:57 PM
Complex outcomes could rule the day if favorites like the Patriots, Broncos and Jets falter, but there are plenty of scenarios that could see Sunday come and go without much drama.
NFC Playoff Picture and Scenarios
Compared to the AFC playoff picture, the NFC version is relatively streamlined. All six spots have already been locked up, and all that's left to be determined is seeding.
Here's a look at what's been hashed out thus far:
- Carolina has clinched the NFC South and a first-round bye
- Arizona has clinched the NFC West and a first-round bye
- Washington has clinched the NFC East and is locked into the NFC's No. 4 seed
- Green Bay has clinched a playoff spot
- Minnesota has clinched a playoff spot
- Seattle has clinched a playoff spot
At the top, it's simple: If Carolina wins over Tampa Bay, it clinches home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, if the Panthers lose and the Cardinals defeat the Seahawks, Arizona will clinch the No. 1 seed, and Carolina will slide to No. 2. Should both sides lose, Carolina will maintain a hold on the top spot.
And based on recent events, the Panthers shouldn't take the Bucs lightly, especially since the Cardinals are lurking.
"With Carolina losing, we can officially say the Cardinals are the hottest team in the NFC as they dominated Green Bay in a 38-8 blowout victory," ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner wrote. "It was Arizona’s ninth consecutive victory and wrapped up a first-round bye. This is a freight train of a team right now, stand on the tracks at your own peril."
Elsewhere, the Sunday Night Football showdown between the Vikings and Packers has turned into an NFC North title game. The winner will secure the No. 3 seed, while the loser will likely head on the road for the duration of its postseason stay.
Should the Packers lose, they'll end up in the No. 5 spot and a wild-card date with Washington, while a Vikings loss could send them tumbling as low as No. 6 if the Seahawks defeat the Cardinals.
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