NFL playoff scenarios are still plentiful after the penultimate weekend of the regular season, but Sunday answered some crucial questions and more will be addressed with games yet to come on Monday and Tuesday.
Here is how things shake out after Sunday's Week 16 action:
First round bye: (1) Atlanta, (2) Chicago
Note: Atlanta clinches home-field advantage with win over New Orleans on Monday night. Chicago clinches No. 2 seed with win against Green Bay or Philadelphia loss on Tuesday; Philadelphia clinches No. 2 seed with wins and each of last two games and Chicago loss.
Wild Card Round Matchups
(6) Green Bay at (3) Philadelphia
How we got to this point: Fueled by the return of Aaron Rodgers, who threw for a career-high 404 yards, the Packers blew out the wounded Giants for a crucial win on Sunday to overtake New York for the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC, at least temporarily.
Technically, scenarios in which Green Bay wins next week and still misses the postseason do exist, but they’re not worth examining because of sheer complexity. Realistically, the Packers finish the job with a victory over the Bears; if unsuccessful, they leave the door wide open for either the Giants or Buccaneers, who next week play at Washington and at New Orleans, respectively.
Though a Bears loss in Week 17 would open up some possibilities, the Eagles, winners of the NFC East by virtue of the Giants’ loss, seem cemented into the No. 3 seed, whereby they would miss out on a first-round bye but play at home in the opening round.
(5) New Orleans at (4) St. Louis
How we got to this point: As of now, the Saints are a solid No. 5 seed, but as is the case with the Rams, their playoff positioning is certainly subject to change. A win at Atlanta on Monday would solidify New Orleans’ current standing, but a loss sets up what would be a play-in game next Sunday between them and Tampa.
A one-game playoff may be a mere possibility for the Saints, but it’s a definite in St. Louis. The Rams would be in if the playoffs were to begin today, but a season finale in Seattle will determine which of the two will emerge victorious in the league’s ugliest division to, believe it or not, host an opening-round game.
First round bye: (1) New England, (2) Pittsburgh
Note: New England has clinched home-field advantage with its win over Buffalo on Sunday. Pittsburgh clinches the No. 2 seed with a win over Cleveland or a Baltimore loss/tie versus Cincinnati; Baltimore clinches the No. 2 seed with a win and Pittsburgh loss.
Wild Card Round Matchups
(6) New York Jets at (3) Kansas City
How we got to this point: For lack of a better description, the Jets backed into the playoffs via some help from Jacksonville, and appear to be concluding the regular season with inconsistencies on both sides of the ball.
The No. 5 seed is still a possibility, but Baltimore would need to win and Pittsburgh lose next week.
The Chiefs proved me wrong with a win Sunday against Tennessee. I picked Kansas City to stumble down the back stretch, but the victory, along with San Diego’s loss at Cincinnati, clinches the AFC West for the Chiefs.
(5) Baltimore at (4) Indianapolis
How we got to this point: The Ravens officially clinched a postseason berth on Sunday, but they are still a win and a Pittsburgh stumble away from grabbing the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
After a clutch win on the road at Oakland on Sunday, it’s pretty simple for Peyton and the Colts: Win next week at home against Tennessee and the AFC South and No. 4 seed are yours, regardless of what the Jaguars do. Of course, lose and a Jacksonville win means no playoffs in Indianapolis for the first time in nine seasons.
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