With four weeks to go, only two teams, the Packers and 49ers, are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Many more are close to clinching, but still have some must-win games remaining on their schedule. While upsets are sure to ensue, there are two primary games per week that will define the playoff outcomes and who'll be in or out.
After being routed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals are on shaky ground to clinch a playoff berth. Luckily, two of their final four opponents have losing records, and three wins of the would more than likely catapult the team into the sixth seed.
On the other side are the injury-ridden Texans. A win would almost certainly give the team the division title (and first entry into the playoffs). The team would only need one additional win, or a Titans loss to get a top-four seed.
After being the one of the closest teams to defeat the undefeated Green Bay Packers, the Giants proved that they should not be counted out of the playoff picture. They cannot falter this week though, as a win against the 'Boys would give them the tiebreaker, with one more head-to-head matchup on January 1st.
If the Cowboys rebound from their loss to the Arizona Cardinals, they would give themselves a two-game cushion and would be one win and one Giants loss away from clinching a first-round home game.
If the Lions can overcome their disastrous penalties and moronic sanctions, they might actually realize they still are a playoff team and not the team that went 0-16 a few years ago. Luckily for them, they should only need two wins to clinch a playoff seed. However, with a January 1st matchup against the Packers, they will probably need to win two of their last three. A win against the Raiders would give them a huge edge.
The Raiders, who will play the Packers this Sunday, are in desperation mode. After being thumped by the Dolphins, they are tied with Denver for the division lead, but lose in the head-to-head tiebreaker.
If the two teams finish tied at the end of the season, the Broncos would clinch a playoff berth, and the Raiders would be gasping for an at-large spot. Therefore, presuming they lose to the Packers on Sunday, the Raiders are going to need to win out the remainder of the season to even have a chance at a first-round home game.
The Monday Night Football matchup for the 19th features two teams that are more than likely playoff bound. With their win against the Rams last Sunday, the 49ers clinched their division, and at worst a first-round home game.
Since losing to the Ravens on November 6th, the Steelers have tried to keep pace with their AFC North foe. The two teams are currently in a deadlock tie, with the Ravens getting the spot based on head-to-head victories. Of all the games remaining for both teams, this will be the most difficult to overcome. A loss against the 49ers by the Steelers will probably give the Ravens the divisional title, and the Steelers an at-large berth.
The battle in the Big Apple should have high implications for at-large berths. Both the Jets and Giants will either be in or on the cusp of clinching a spot. The Jets, who would lose a tiebreaker with the Cincinnati Bengals are in must-win desperation mode.
One loss against any team could spell doom as they try for a third straight AFC championship game. Luckily, the matchup against the Giants should be their most difficult one remaining. It will be interesting which team truly has home-field advantage, and if that will play in the outcome.
While it seems probable that both of these NFC south rivals will clinch a spot in the playoffs, this game is for home-field advantage. The Saints, currently holding a two-game lead and head-to-head tiebreaker, would clinch the division with a Monday Night victory.
The Falcons, a projected fifth seed in the playoffs, are trying to avenge the loss last month. A win for them would give them a glimmer of hope to get a first-round home game, but would also almost definitely give them a lock into the final six.
If the Ravens win out leading to the final matchup against the Bengals (and the Steelers lose one of their last three), they will not only lock up their division, but be locked into a first-round bye.
A win against the pesky Bengals would not only clinch a bye, but also the No. 1 seed in the AFC. For the Bengals, a loss would presumably knock them out of the playoffs in a remarkably Cinderella-esque season.
This is pretty much the same story as the Ravens/Bengals matchup...except Green Bay has already clinched the division and is a game away from a first-round bye. The Lions will need to straighten up the last few weeks, but a loss against the Packers may not matter in the final standings as they may already lock up the sixth seed.