With One Week Left, Playoff Picture Still Not Complete

Bryan HollisterAnalyst IDecember 22, 2008

Yes, I know the Titans won Sunday. I live in Nashville; it was hard to miss. Still love my Steelers, so they get the picture. Get over it.

Now, to the point: Assuming for a moment that Chicago wins it's matchup against Green Bay later today, week 16 will end with five playoff spots still being fought over amongst 11 teams looking for a postseason berth.

Home field advantage is already assured for both the Titans and the Giants, both of whom prevailed against tough opponents to earn the No. 1 seeds in the AFC and NFC.

Pittsburgh has guaranteed itself at least one home game, as well with a potential record of 11-4, winning the AFC North and having a better conference record than the Indianapolis Colts, who also should end up at 11-4 and have a guaranteed ticket to January football.

From there, things are a bit more complicated. With five of the eight divisions still up for grabs, the remaining 11 teams who are still mathematically alive had better bring their "A" game next week; one slip and their playoff picture includes early rehab and a lot of "what if?" thoughts until September.

From the AFC to the NFC, here are the simplest scenarios that will determine either an extended season or a trip to the hot tub.



San Diego, AFC West

Yes, San Diego. They have the league's leading passer in Phillip Rivers, they've reeled off three wins in a row (yeah they played Oakland and Kansas City, but they also beat up on the Bucs, another team fighting for it's playoff life), and they host division rival Denver next week. They've already beat Denver on the road, and hold a slight edge in conference and division records. 

San Diego wins and they're in. At 8-8 they will freeze out a couple of teams with better records, but them's the brakes kid. Just goes to show how important that division title can be.

Denver, AFC West

Again, all Denver has to do is win the game and they win the division. Again, Denver makes it to the playoffs and is seeded higher than two teams with better records. Again, tough luck to those teams. Win your division next year and this won't be an issue.

Miami, AFC East

Miami holds the tiebreaker over New England, who they share a 10-5 record with. A win gives the Fins the AFC East title and a third seed in the playoffs.

Baltimore, AFC North

The Ravens came up a few millimeters short of snatching the AFC North away from Pittsburgh and having a shot at a week off. They are still in, albeit as the No. 6 seed, with a win next week against Jacksonville at home. This shouldn't be too difficult, although after the Titans-Steelers game, I am going to refrain from picking a winner until the playoffs start.


New England, AFC EAST

Matt Cassel should be proud of his efforts this year. Stepping in for the injured Tom Brady, Cassel has had a great season leading the Patriots to a potential 11-5 record.

Moral victories aren't enough though; for New England to move on, they need both a win AND a loss by either Miami or Baltimore to make the tiebreaker irrelevant. If all three teams win, New England sits this one out with the worst conference record of the three.


This is the most interesting scenario so far. A win by the Jets and losses by the Dolphins, Patriots and Ravens puts them in a three-way tie at 10-6. With a division record of 5-1, this puts the Jets top the AFC East and gives them the No. 3 seed in the postseason.

In this scenario, by the way, New England still misses the postseason. Miami gets the boot as well because Baltimore owns the head-to-head between the two.

Eliminated: Buffalo, Houston, Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Kansas City



Carolina and Atlanta, NFC South

Yes, I know these teams have guaranteed a spot. But a win also guarantees Carolina a No. 2 seed and a well deserved week off. They are a game ahead of division rivals Atlanta,  but losing the game drops them all the way down to the fifth seed; Atlanta wins the division with a better conference record, 8-4 vs. 7-5.

Once again, it's all about the division title here.

Minnesota, NFC North

The remnants of the fabled "Norris Division" (props to Chris Berman) is still up for grabs. Minnesota gets the title with a win over the surging Giants at home; depending on New York's mindset, this is doable. the Giants have locked up home field and have nothing to lose except their starters to injury.

Dallas. NFC East

The 'Boys laid an egg this year. They had a legitimate shot at winning the NFC, but bungled a couple of key games that has them relegated to the No. 6 seed. Dallas goes through with a win because they own the head-to-head match up with Tampa.


Tampa, NFC South

In order for the Bucs to enter the postseason they need a win AND a loss by the Cowboys. If this happens, they snatch the last spot in the NFC playoffs.

Chicago, NFC North

Here we go again. Division title up for grabs.

A win and a loss by Minnesota gives the Bears the NFC North title and a No. 3 seed. A win and a loss by BOTH Dallas and Tampa gains them the No. 6 seed. This is assuming they win their game against Green Bay on Monday night. If they lose that one it's over. Done. Go home and dream about what could have been.

Philadelphia, NFC East

This one irks me. The fact that they were unable to get anything better than a tie against the Bungles should relegate them to automatic "not going to the playoffs" status. However, a win next week, coupled with losses by Tampa and Chicago—Philadelphia and Dallas play next week, so a win by Philly is a loss by Dallas— gives them the nod.

At least that's the way I understand it. They would have one less loss than each of those teams, and therefore would have a better win-loss-tie record. 

Eliminated: Washington, New Orleans, San Francisco, Green Bay, Seattle, St. Louis, Detroit.

My Picks for the playoffs:

AFC—Titans, Steelers, Jets, Chargers, Colts, Ravens

NFC—Giants, Panthers, Bears, Cardinals, Falcons, Bucs.