It is officially December and playoff time in the National Football League. This year, the race is just heating up. The AFC has eight teams fighting for the two wild card spots. The NFC has just three. That totals 11, giving us the 11th day of Christmas.
I will look at the NFC first, as there are fewer teams. Then, I'll look at the AFC and make predictions for both conferences.
Green Bay Packers (9-5)
They control their own destiny. After the last-second loss to Pittsburgh last week, Green Bay knows they just need to win to continue their playoff hunt.
Luckily, they play the lowly Seattle Seahawks, who have struggled all season. If the New York Giants or Dallas Cowboys lose and Green Bay wins, they are in.
If all three teams win, Green Bay travels to Arizona, who will likely not be playing for anything and could be resting their starters.
Dallas Cowboys (9-5)
Dallas is also in the driver's seat. They clinch a playoff spot with a win and loss by the New York Giants.
Dallas will get a win as they are playing the Washington Redskins. If both teams win, Dallas hosts Philadelphia. Like the Packers, Dallas will play a team that has nothing to play for if they win this week.
New York Giants (8-6)
The New York Giants are on the outside right now. They hold the tiebreaker on the Cowboys as they won twice against them. They need the Cowboys to drop a game and then match them the rest of the way.
The Giants host Carolina, a team who just beat the Minnesota Vikings. While Carolina is not playing for anything, they are a team who can show up and beat anyone or forget to play the game.
If the Giants win and Dallas loses, New York travels to Minnesota. The Vikings will have clinched a first-round bye with a win and loss by Philadelphia. Since Philadelphia plays Denver, a team fighting in the AFC, this game could go either way.
If the Eagles lose, Minnesota will rest its starters. If the Eagles win, Minnesota will play Favre and Peterson as long as possible to get the win.
Green Bay will win its last two games, as Arizona will rest its starters for the last game. The Packers will be the No. 5 seed and face Arizona in the first round.
Dallas will get in. Dallas and New York will both win this weekend, so it will come down to the final week. Both teams will lose to their opponents in the final week, propelling Dallas in to the playoffs. Dallas will face Philadelphia the first round.
Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
One of two teams that control their own destiny, the Ravens play at Pittsburgh this week. They clinch with a win and losses from Jacksonville and the New York Jets or Denver. They also clinch with a win and losses by Miami, New York Jets, and Denver.
If the Ravens need to win in the final week, they face Oakland. Oakland has struggled all season and the Ravens will not lose that game with the playoffs on the line.
Denver Broncos (8-6)
The other team that controls its own destiny, the Broncos travel to Philadelphia this week. With Philadelphia fighting for the division, this will be a tough game for the Broncos to win.
They can clinch with a win and losses by Jacksonville, Miami, New York Jets, and Pittsburgh. Denver will lose this week, but beat Kansas City in the final week.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-7)
Jacksonville is in the best standing of the 7-7 teams, but they travel to New England this week. New England would like to secure their division this week and the No. 3 seed.
If Jacksonville loses, they will need to win against Cleveland and get some help to get in to the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins (7-7)
The Dolphins need to win out to make the playoffs; however, they went .500 in their conference, so they will not hold any tiebreakers over any other 9-7 teams.
Miami hosts Houston and Pittsburgh in the final two weeks, both teams fighting for the wild card. Miami will not win both of these games, dooming their playoff chances.
New York Jets (7-7)
The New York Jets have to hope Indianapolis does not go for the record, as they travel to face the Colts this week. If the Colts rest their starters, the Jets have a chance. If they do not, the Jets will not win this game.
If the Jets somehow win, they face Cincinnati the last week, another team that may rest their starters depending on whether the division is wrapped up or not.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
Pittsburgh kept breathing after that last-second win against the Green Bay Packers. This week, they host the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore still has a slight chance to win the division, so they will not go down without a fight.
If Pittsburgh wins, they need to win at Miami in the final week and get a little help to make the playoffs. Do not count out the defending Super Bowl Champions yet.
Tennessee Titans (7-7)
After starting the season 0-6, no one expected to be talking about the Titans in December as a potential playoff team. Tennessee hosts the San Diego Chargers, one of the quietest hot teams in the AFC.
The Chargers clinch a bye with a win and loss by New England. They will definitely play the Titans tough.
If the Titans win, they travel to Seattle to face a struggling NFC team. The Titans will win this game, but will it be enough?
Houston Texans (7-7)
Likely the smallest chance, the Houston Texans can win out and go 9-7. They will need a lot of help to get into the playoffs. This week, they travel to Miami to face another team fighting for the playoffs.
If they win against Miami, the Texans will face New England in the final week. They have to hope New England has the bye wrapped up, so they will rest their starters and Houston can win this game.
Winners this week will be San Diego, Houston, New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis. These results will eliminate Tennessee, Miami, Jacksonville, and the New York Jets.
In Week 17, Houston will pull an upset because New England leaves out their starters. Pittsburgh, Denver, and Baltimore also all win.
This means there will be a four-way tie for the final two spots. First tiebreaker is to eliminate one of two teams in the same division. This would be between Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
The first tiebreaker between Baltimore and Pittsburgh is head-to-head. Since Pittsburgh will win the game in Week 16, both teams will have won a game. The next tiebreaker is divisional record. Baltimore will be 3-3 and Pittsburgh will be 2-4, eliminating Pittsburgh.
This leaves three team—Baltimore, Denver, and Houston. The second tiebreaker after eliminating a divisional foe is if any team swept the others. This did not happen, so it goes to conference record.
Baltimore and Denver will both be 7-5 within the conference. Houston will only be 6-6. This eliminates Houston.
Baltimore holds the tiebreaker, so they will be the five seed and Denver will be the six seed. New England holds the tiebreaker over Cincinnati, so New England will face Denver in the first round. Cincinnati will host Baltimore.
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