NFL Playoff Scenarios and Analysis: How Your Team Can Get In

Jacob NitzbergAnalyst IDecember 23, 2008

With a comeback win over the Packers last night, the Chicago Bears stayed alive for the postseason and made the NFC playoff picture a bit more hazy.  Here are the potential scenarios for Week 17, starting with the NFC (ties not included).


NY Giants (12-3)

Clinched division and home field advantage throughout the playoffs after defeating the Panthers in overtime on Sunday night.

Dallas Cowboys (9-6)

Dallas was helped a great deal by the Tampa Bay and Philadelphia losses on Sunday and now controls their own destiny.  Dallas can clinch a wild card spot with a victory over Philadelphia on Sunday.  If Dallas loses, they will miss the playoffs, as the Eagles will have a better record at 9-6-1. 

Philadelphia Eagles (8-6-1)

After coming up about one foot short versus Washington on Sunday, Philadelphia needs to win and get help.  Philadelphia can make the playoffs with a win over Dallas AND a loss by Tampa Bay and one of Minnesota or Chicago


Minnesota Vikings (9-6)

Even though the Vikings' loss to the Falcons coupled with the Bears' win over the Packers means both teams have the same record, the Vikings own every conceivable tiebreaker. The Vikings can win the division with a win against the Giants OR a Bears loss to Houston.  Minnesota can only earn a wild card berth in the event of a tie.

Chicago Bears (9-6)

The Bears must win on Sunday at Houston and get help.  The Bears would win the division with a win AND a Minnesota loss.  To clinch a wild card berth, the Bears must win AND have losses by Tampa Bay AND Dallas.


Carolina Panthers (11-4)

Carolina has clinched a playoff spot but cannot gain home field as a result of their overtime loss to the Giants.  The Panthers can win the division title and gain a first-round bye with a win on Sunday at New Orleans OR a Falcons loss to St. Louis.

Atlanta Falcons (10-5)

Atlanta has clinched a playoff spot.  The Falcons can win the division and gain a first-round bye with a win over St. Louis AND a Panthers loss.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-6)

The Bucs' loss at San Diego took destiny out of their hands.  Excluding ties, Tampa must win at Oakland AND Dallas must lose to Philadelphia for the Buccaneers to clinch the sixth seed.


Arizona Cardinals (8-7)

Arizona, as poorly as they have been playing, have clinched the NFC West and the fourth seed in the conference.  If the Panthers end up as the fifth seed, I think we might see the most heavily favored road playoff team in history.


Miami Dolphins (10-5)

Thanks to the Jets' loss at Seattle, Miami controls its own playoff destiny.  The Dolphins can clinch the division title with a win at the Jets on Sunday.  The Fins cannot clinch a wild card berth without the help of a tie.

New England Patriots (10-5)

The Patriots can win the division with a win at Buffalo AND a Jets win over Miami.  The Pats can clinch a wild card berth with a win AND a Baltimore loss versus Jacksonville.  If the Dolphins and Ravens win, the Patriots would be only the second 11-5 team to miss the playoffs since the NFL adopted a 16-game season.

New York Jets (9-6)

Since they lost to Seattle, they need help.  Similarly to the Pats, the Jets must beat Miami AND the Patriots must lose to Buffalo to claim the division crown.  To clinch a wild-card berth, the Jets need a win AND a Ravens loss.


Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4)

The Steelers, by virtue of their victory over the Ravens in Week 15, have clinched the AFC North and a first-round bye.  The Steelers cannot gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs after their loss to Tennessee on Sunday.

Baltimore Ravens (10-5)

The Ravens control their own destiny after beating Dallas on Saturday.  The Ravens can clinch the sixth seed with a win over Jacksonville OR a loss by New England.


Tennessee Titans (13-2)

Clinched division and home field advantage throughout the playoffs after beating Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Indianapolis Colts (11-4)

Clinched the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs and a date at the "winner" of the AFC West.


Denver Broncos (8-7)

The NFL gets a bonus playoff game in prime time, as Denver's loss to Buffalo, coupled with the Chargers' win over Tampa Bay, sets up a showdown with San Diego for the division title on Sunday.  Win and you're in.

San Diego Chargers (7-8)

See above.