As the NFL season heads into its final week, the playoff picture in both conferences is starting to take shape.
All six spots have been secured in the NFC with only the seeds yet to be determined. One wild-card spot is still up for grabs in the AFC, while the South division is down to the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.
However, the Texans lead the Colts by one game, and some magic would have to happen in Week 17 for Indianapolis to qualify for the postseason. In addition to a Colts win and Texans loss, six other games would have to go the Colts' way to keep their season alive.
Let's take a look at the current playoff picture, wild-card matchups and Super Bowl odds with one Sunday left in the regular season.
|New England Patriots||+350|
|Kansas City Chiefs||+1400|
|Green Bay Packers||+1600|
|New York Jets||+2800|
No. 1 Seed Still a Mystery in NFC
Even though all six spots have been sewn up in the NFC, only one team is locked into its current seed. Whether Washington, which has already clinched the East, finishes 9-7 or 8-8, it will have the worst record among division winners and will host a playoff game as the No. 4 seed.
Despite starting 14-0, the Panthers don't have the No. 1 seed wrapped up just yet. They hold a one-game lead on the No. 2 Arizona Cardinals, but a Week 17 loss, coupled with an Arizona win, would give the Cardinals the top seed based on the conference record tiebreaker.
It's not likely to happen, as the Panthers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Cardinals play the Seattle Seahawks, but weirder things have certainly happened in the NFL this season.
The Green Bay Packers sit atop the NFC North and hold the No. 3 seed, but the Minnesota Vikings will do all they can in Week 17 to drop the Packers into a wild-card spot.
Their matchup was moved to the Sunday Night Football slot with the NFL executing its "flex" scheduling powers, ensuring the playoff matchups will not be set until the final snap of the regular season. The outcome in regard to the division is pretty simple: The winner takes home the crown and the No. 3 seed, while the loser becomes a wild card-team.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson—the NFL's leading rusher—seems to be ready to bring the title to Minnesota, per the team's Twitter account:
If Seattle loses to Arizona, the loser of Minnesota-Green Bay will take the No. 5 seed, and Seattle will be No. 6. If Seattle wins and Minnesota is on the losing end, it falls to No. 6 and the Seahawks will be the No. 5 team with a date against the Packers in the Wild Card Round. If Green Bay loses, Seattle falls to No. 6 no matter what and heads to Minnesota as it tries for a third-straight Super Bowl appearance.
No matter what happens, it's clear Week 17 will provide plenty of drama in the NFC before the playoffs even begin.
AFC Picture Can Change Dramatically
The AFC is not as clear as its counterpart, with only four teams that have currently locked up postseason spots. The No. 1 seed is held by the New England Patriots, who will clinch home-field advantage through the playoffs with a win in Week 17 or Denver Broncos loss. However, a loss coupled with a Broncos win will give the AFC West champion the No. 1 overall seed.
Interestingly enough, the Broncos could also drop into a wild-card spot if they lose and the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Oakland Raiders.
Whatever happens, Denver should just be glad it is still alive after nearly blowing a win against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16—a game it eventually won, 20-17, in overtime. Safety T.J. Ward knows it takes grit to win in the playoffs, per ESPN.com.
"We've won in a lot of ways this year," Ward said. "Overtime, game-winning field goals, blocked field goals, strips, fumble recoveries. When you get down to the playoffs, you're going to need all those type of wins."
The Bengals, who are already without starting quarterback Andy Dalton, could be down to their third-string quarterback if backup A.J. McCarron's injured wrist keeps him from playing. A few weeks ago, they held the top spot, but they are No. 3 right now and can only get to No. 2 with a win and Denver loss or a Chiefs win and Denver loss.
That can't be an excuse at this point, as many teams are dealing with key injuries. New England has had its No. 1 running back, wide receiver and tight end miss games this season, Kansas City is without its top running back, Jamaal Charles, and Denver has not had Peyton Manning under center since Week 10.
Despite missing Charles, Kansas City has won nine games in a row and holds on to the No. 5 seed with a loss or Denver win, but it will be No. 3 with a win and Denver loss. The New York Jets hold on to No. 6 with a victory but fall completely out of the playoffs with a loss and a win by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Texans are pretty safe as the No. 4 seed unless the earlier, nearly impossible scenario happens and the Colts overtake them for the South lead.
In the end, each team needs to just win and not worry about what it cannot control. It will all fall into place after the 4 p.m. ET games, but just like in the NFC, it will be a fun ride to get there.