By the time the NFL finishes its 16-game schedule of games Sunday night, there will be no more variables.
No more waiting to see if the New York Jets can win a challenging road game at Buffalo, whether the Green Bay Packers of Minnesota Vikings will win the NFC North or whether the Indianapolis Colts will see the miracle finish they need to steal the AFC South title from the Houston Texans.
Once all the games have been decided, the NFL will make its announcement on the four wild-card games that are scheduled to be played on the weekend of Jan. 9 and 10.
There will be two AFC and two NFC wild-card games played by the four lower-seeded teams in each conference. However, the times of those games as well as the networks that will televise them have not been announced.
|NFC Playoff Scenarios and Predictions|
|Team||Week 17 opponent||Predicted result||Playoff position||Skinny|
|Carolina||vs. Tampa Bay||Win||No. 1 seed||Have they peaked too soon?|
|Arizona||vs. Seattle||Win||No. 2 seed||Most well-rounded team in NFL|
|Green Bay||vs. Minnesota||Loss||No. 5 seed||Offensive woes need to be addressed|
|Washington||at Dallas||Win||No. 4 seed||Nice story, but still a lot of holes|
|Minnesota||at Green Bay||Win||No. 3 seed||Just getting better under Zimmer|
|Seattle||at Arizona||Loss||No. 6 seed||Two-time NFC champs are still dangerous|
The NFC is fairly clear-cut going into Week 17, because all six playoff teams are known.
The Carolina Panthers (14-1) and Arizona Cardinals (13-2) are the top two seeds and won't play until the divisional playoffs Jan. 16 and 17. The Panthers will gain the top seed with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or a Cardinals loss to the Seattle Seahawks (9-6). The Cardinals can take the top seed away from the Panthers if they beat Seattle and the Panthers lose to Tampa Bay.
The Green Bay Packers (10-5) are hosting the Minnesota Vikings (10-5) Sunday night, and the winner of that game will earn the No. 3 seed and the NFC North title. The winner will get a home wild-card game, while the loser will play its wild-card game on the road.
Ironically, the loser may actually be in a better position for postseason success than the winner. If the Packers lose, they will earn the No. 5 seed and play the Washington Redskins (8-7) on the road in the playoffs. Washington is locked into the No. 4 spot. If the Vikings lose, they will either finish as the fifth or sixth seed, depending on Seattle's outcome at Arizona.
If the Seahawks lose to the Cardinals, the Vikings would play at Washington, but if the Seahawks win that game, the Vikings would be the sixth seed and return to Green Bay to play the Packers again.
|AFC Playoff Scenarios and Predictions|
|Team||Week 17 opponent||Predicted result||Playoff Position||Skinny|
|New England||at Miami||Win||No. 1 seed||Will struggle but win in Week 17|
|Denver||vs. San Diego||Win||No. 2 seed||Will earn No. 2 seed, but playoffs will be difficult|
|Cincinnati||vs. Baltimore||Win||No. 3 seed||QB issues with playoffs on horizon|
|Houston||vs. Jacksonville||Win||No. 4 seed||Best of bad lot in AFC South|
|Kansas City||vs. Oakland||Win||No. 5 seed||Could serve as top challenger to Pats|
|N.Y. Jets||at Buffalo||Win||No. 6 seed||Strong first season for Bowles|
|Pittsburgh||at Cleveland||Win||Out of playoffs||Blew it in Week 16 loss to Baltimore|
|Indianapolis||vs. Tennessee||Win||Out of playoffs||Need a healthy Luck in 2016|
On the AFC side, the New England Patriots (12-3) have earned a wild-card bye, but they need a road win over the Miami Dolphins or a Denver Broncos (11-4) loss to San Diego to clinch the top ranking in the conference. The Broncos need the opposite results to clinch the No. 1 seed.
However, while the Broncos could finish on top, they may not even win the AFC West title. If they lose to the Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs (10-5) beat the Oakland Raiders, streaking Kansas City (winners of nine straight games) would take the AFC West title.
The Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) can earn a bye in the first round at the expense of the Broncos if they beat the Baltimore Ravens and the Broncos lose to the Chargers. Otherwise, they will have the No. 3 seed and host a wild-card game against the AFC's sixth seed.
That team will be the New York Jets (10-5) if they win a road game at Buffalo and the Chiefs beat the Raiders. However, if the Jets lose and the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) beat the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers will take the AFC's sixth seed.
If the Jets win and the Chiefs lose, the Jets will have the No. 5 seed while the Chiefs will drop to the No. 6 spot.
The Houston Texans (8-7) are the likely AFC South champions and the No. 4 seed in the AFC. They will clinch the title with a win over Jacksonville or an Indianapolis Colts (7-8) loss to the Tennessee Titans. The Colts are still technically alive, but they need a win and a Houston loss, as well as seven other games to fall in their favor for that to happen.
The "ifs" will disappear from the conversation by the end of business Sunday night.