NFL Playoff Picture: Predicting Which Teams Will Be Playing In January

Dmitriy IoselevichSenior Analyst IIIDecember 21, 2010

NFL Playoff Picture: Predicting Which Teams Will Be Playing In January

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 19: Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts passes against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
    Scott Boehm/Getty Images

    There are just two weeks left in the regular season and while some teams have already clinched a playoff spot, several teams still have some work to do to ensure that they can keep playing.

    Here's an early preview of what the playoff picture could look like when the season is over, seeding six teams from each conference.

AFC: 1. New England Patriots, 12-2

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    FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 19:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown scored by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis #42 (not pictured) against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium on
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Patriots need just one win to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. With games remaining against Buffalo and Miami, and a six-game winning streak to boot, look for Tom Brady and the Patriots to take care of business and earn the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-4

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers hands off to Rashard Mendenhall #34 during their game agasint the New York Jets at Heinz Field on December 19, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Image
    Karl Walter/Getty Images

    The Steelers hold the tiebreaker over the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North title. They need to win out to clinch a first-round bye, but have very winnable games remaining against Carolina and Cleveland. Pittsburgh should finish the season 12-4.

3. Kansas City Chiefs, 9-5

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 19: Matt Cassel #7 of the Kansas City Chiefs scrambles against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on December 19, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Chiefs beat the Rams 27-13.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The Chiefs are only one game ahead of the San Diego Chargers in the AFC West, but they should be able to win their last two games against Tennessee and Oakland to clinch to clinch the division. 

    The Chargers would have to beat both Cincinnati and Denver (definitely doable), but they still need the Chiefs to lose at least one to make the playoffs. With Matt Cassel expected to be back at full strength, Kansas City should be able to finish the season strong.

4. Indianapolis Colts, 8-6

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 19: Austin Collie #17 of the Indianapolis Colts scores his second touchdown of the game as he celebrates with Pat McAfee #1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (
    Scott Boehm/Getty Images

    The Colts beat the Jaguars 34-24 in a must-win game on Sunday and they now control their playoff destiny. If Peyton Manning keeps playing like Peyton Manning, then the Colts should have no trouble rolling over the Raiders and Titans to clinch the division.

    If they lose one, then the Jaguars still need to beat both the Redskins and Texans to get in to the playoffs. It was a good run by Jacksonville, but it's pretty foolish to bet against Manning right now.

5. Baltimore Ravens, 10-4

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    BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 19:  Lance Moore #16 of the New Orleans Saints is tackled by Haruki Nakamura #43 of the Baltimore Ravens  at M&T Bank Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Saints 30-24. (Photo by Larry Frenc
    Larry French/Getty Images

    The Ravens may not win their division, but they'll at least get a wild card berth. The only question is if they will be the No. 5 seed or the No. 6 seed.

    Baltimore currently holds the tiebreaker over the Jets, so all they need to do is to win out. They just beat the Saints on Sunday, so Cleveland and Cincinnati should be a cake walk.

6. New York Jets, 10-4

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 19:  Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets hands off to Shonn Greene #23 during their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on December 19, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)
    Karl Walter/Getty Images

    This isn't where the Jets expected to be when they started this season, but it'll have to do. They lost must-win games against New England and Miami to sever their chances of winning the division, but a wild card berth is still a decent consolation prize.

    If New York can't beat one of Chicago or Buffalo then 8-6 San Diego or Jacksonville could swoop in to steal the sixth and final playoff spot. However, after taking their frustration out on a very good Steelers team, the Jets are in prime position to finish the season on a high note.

NFC: 1. Atlanta Falcons, 12-2

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    SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 19:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons passes against the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field on December 19, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Falcons just need to win once to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. If it doesn't happen against New Orleans, then it definitely will in the last week of the regular season against the two-win Carolina.

2. Philadelphia Eagles, 10-4

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 19:  Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles stands by the huddle against the New York Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium on December 19, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    The Eagles put themselves in great position for a first-round bye with their dramatic comeback victory over the Giants.

    They're currently the No. 3 seed in the playoff standings behind the Bears, but I project Chicago to lose to the Jets, and the Eagles to beat both Minnesota and Dallas to move up in the standings.

3. Chicago Bears, 10-4

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 20:  Devin Hester #23 of the Chicago Bears is congrtaulated by Matt Forte #22 and Greg Olsen #82 after scoring a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium on December 20, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    They've clinched the division, but need wins over both New York and Green Bay to to get a first-round bye. Both of those are quality teams, and it's hard to see the Bears beating both. 

    Chicago's in a good position to rest their starters to close out the season because they can't get lower than a No. 3 seed.

4. San Francisco 49ers, 5-9

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 16:  Running back Mike Tolbert #35 of the San Diego Chargers rushes with the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 16, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    This is the one playoff spot that's hardest to predict, so let's breakdown the scenario that has the 49ers coming out on top in the NFC West.

    San Francisco has games left against Arizona and St. Louis, teams they've already beaten this season. They need to win both and should be able to do so with quarterback Alex Smith back at the helm.

    Seattle has games remaining against Tampa Bay (a loss) and St. Louis, a team that crushed them 20-3 earlier in the season. The Seahawks are not playing good football right now, and may have a quarterback controversy on their hands.

    That leaves the division-leading St. Louis Rams. Assuming they beat Seattle, but lose to San Francisco, the 49ers and Rams would be tied atop the division with a 7-9 record. The tiebreaker would be the divisional record, with the 49ers projected to finish 5-1 and the Rams finishing 3-3.

    That means San Francisco makes the playoffs.

5. New Orleans Saints, 10-4

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    BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 19:  The New Orleans Saints defensive line tries to block a field goal during the game against the Baltimore Ravens  at M&T Bank Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Saints 30-24. (Photo by
    Larry French/Getty Images

    Not as much debate here. The Saints only need to win once to clinch a playoff berth, and twice to earn the No. 5 seed.

    They're capable of beating the Falcons next week and should definitely dispatch the Buccaneers, a team they already pounded 31-6, in the final week. 

    If the Saints lose one of those and the Giants win both to make each team 11-5, then the tiebreaker would be conference record. Both teams would be 9-3, however, so the next tiebreaker down the line is winning percentage against common opponents.

    Both teams have played Carolina, Seattle, Dallas and Minnesota, and both teams have a 4-0 record against them. The next tiebreaker would be strength of victory, a stat that the Giants currently hold the advantage in. But that could change depending on how the final two weeks play out.

    In other words, it's nearly unpredictable. But because I can, I'm going to predict the Saints upset the Falcons on Monday night and then finish strong against Tampa Bay. So it won't matter what the Giants do.

6. New York Giants, 9-5

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 19:  Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants hands the ball off to Ahmad Bradshaw #44 against the Philadelphia Eagles at New Meadowlands Stadium on December 19, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    The Giants, despite losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Eagles last week, still control their playoff destiny. They need to just win out to clinch a playoff spot.

    New York has Green Bay and Washington left on the schedule, two games they should be able to win. If they don't, then the 8-6 Packers (games left against Giants and Bears) and 8-6 Tampa Bay (games left against Seattle and New Orleans) could kick the Giants out of the playoffs.

    The Giants are still a Super Bowl contender, so expect them to play like one and finish the season at 11-5.