NFL Playoff Scenarios: The Significance of Each Week 15 Game

Matt KasperCorrespondent IIDecember 17, 2011

NFL Playoff Scenarios: The Significance of Each Week 15 Game

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    It's Week 15 of the 2011 NFL season and there are still 20 teams fighting for playoffs spots and seedings.

    In the NFC, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have clinched their division titles, and in the AFC only the Houston Texans have their division locked up.

    Nothing is set in stone yet; read further to see how each game this week will affect the playoffs. For the sake of simplicity since there is still much football to be played, I will describe the most likely scenarios for each contender to make the playoffs or secure specific seedings.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons (9-5) already beat the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) this week, 41-14.

    For Atlanta:

    Division: With this win, they stay alive in the hunt for the NFC South title, behind the 10-4 New Orleans Saints. If the Saints win this week against the Minnesota Vikings, the Falcons will need to win their last two games (@ NO, vs. TB) and have the Saints lose their last two games (vs. Atl, vs. Car) to have a chance at the division title.

    Wild Card: Atlanta is now the top wild-card seed. Thy hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the 8-5 Detroit Lions. If Atlanta wins either of its remaining two games, the Falcons will lock up a wild-card spot.

    For Jacksonville:

    They have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Oh you Cowboys.

    Two weeks ago it looked like they would be walking to a playoff spot this season, but with two inexplicable losses they are now on the borderline. They are tied with the NY Giants for the NFC East lead and a game behind in the wild card if they don't win the division.

    For the Cowboys (7-6):

    Division: With a win this week the Cowboys will set up a matchup with the Giants in Week 17 for the division title. The Giants won the first matchup last week and currently hold the tiebreaker. A Cowboy loss this week will require them to win both their remaining games and have some help to win the division.

    Wild Card: With a win this week the Cowboys will remain in the wild-card hunt. They would need help to earn a wild-card spot if they don't win the division.

    For Tampa Bay (4-9):

    They have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans

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    The Houston Texans have finally made their way into the postseason but are hobbling across the finish line.

    With injuries to their top two quarterbacks, All-Pros WR Andre Johnson and RB Arian Foster, it's amazing that the Texans have managed 10 wins already this season. They locked up the AFC South last week and are now tied with New England and Pittsburgh for home-field advantage.

    For Houston (10-3):

    Division: AFC South title was clinched last week

    First-round bye: They are currently the top seed in the AFC. With a win, they will remain. With a loss, they would need to win out and have help to get a first-round bye.

    Home-field advantage: With a win this week, Houston would remain the top seed in the AFC, holding the tiebreaker over New England and Pittsburgh (conference record). With a loss, they would need to win out and have help to regain the home-field advantage.

    For Carolina (4-9):

    They have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Washington Redskins at New York Giants

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    With the New York Giants' victory over the Dallas Cowboys last week, they have taken control of their own destiny. They are currently tied record-wise with the Cowboys, but hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over them.

    For the Giants (7-6):

    Division: With a win, the Giants remain in control of the division. They have the tiebreaker over Dallas and have one more matchup with Dallas in Week 17. If they lose, they will need to either win out or have Dallas lose their last three games.

    Wild Card: If the Giants win, they will be in the NFC East lead. In order for the Giants to qualify as a wild-card seed, they will need to lose one of their remaining games and then get help.

    For Washington (4-9):

    They have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills

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    A tale of two teams: The Buffalo Bills (5-8) started the season as hot as they've been since the Jim Kelly era, jumping out to a 5-2 record and thoughts of the playoffs this year.

    The Miami Dolphins (4-9), on the other hand. started out 0-7 with thoughts of competing with the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft.

    Since Week 8, however, these roles have reversed. Buffalo has lost six straight heading into this week, while Miami has won four of its last six games.

    With the loss last week, Buffalo was eliminated from playoff contention. Miami also has been eliminated.

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears

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    After losing three games in a row, the Chicago Bears come into this week needing a victory to stay in the playoff hunt.

    After getting run over by the Tebow-train last week, they are no longer in control of their destiny. Seattle needs a miracle to qualify for the playoffs at this point.

    For Chicago (7-6):

    Wild Card: With a win they will need Detroit to lose two of their last three games in order to qualify or for Atlanta to lose both of their last two games for a wild-card spot.

    Detroit holds the tiebreaker with Chicago (better record against common opponents) while Chicago holds the tiebreaker over Dallas (conference winning percentage).

    For Seattle (6-7):

    Wild Card: Need a miracle. Need to win out, then have Detroit and Chicago lose at least two games and Dallas lose one. Seattle would hold the tiebreaker over Detroit and Dallas for conference winning percentage and over Chicago by beating them head-to-head.

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

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    The New Orleans Saints' passing attack rolls into Minnesota this week to face one of the worst pass defenses in history.

    The Saints have already locked up a playoff spot, but are still in a battle with Atlanta for the NFC South title. They also are competing with San Francisco for the first-round bye.

    Minnesota comes into this week fighting not to have the worst record in franchise history.

    For New Orleans (10-3):

    NFC South title: With a win this week, they would need to win one of their remaining two games. With a loss, they would need to beat Atlanta next week.

    First-round bye: San Francisco holds the tiebreaker over the Saints with a better conference record, so New Orleans will have to end up with a better record than the 49ers.

    Home-field: Not possible. Green Bay holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.

    For Minnesota (2-11):

    They have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Cincinnati Bengals at St. Louis Rams

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    The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the surprise teams this season, starting off hot en route to a 6-2 record after Week 9.

    However, they've cooled off dramatically, losing four of their last five games. They hope to stay in the playoff hunt with a victory over the struggling St. Louis Rams.

    The Rams have been one of the league's biggest disappointments coming into this season as playoff hopefuls.

    For Cincinnati (7-6):

    Wild Card: They are currently on the outside looking in. They need to win out and have the Jets lose two of their next three. The Jets hold the tiebreaker over Cincinnati with strength of victory. Cincinnati also will need Tennessee to lose one of its last three games.

    For St. Louis (2-11):

    They have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts

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    The Tennessee Titans likely will be starting veteran Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback this week after he left last week's game with a calf injury.

    Rookie Jake Locker played fairly well last week but it wasn't enough to beat the New Orleans Saints as the Titans lost 22-17. The Titans will need some help to make the playoffs as a wild card.


    For Tennessee (7-6):

    Wild Card: The Titans will need to win out and have the New York Jets lose at least one of their remaining games. If the Titans lose, they will need the Jets to lose two games and have the Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders lose at least one game.

    For Indianapolis (0-13):


Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Green Bay Packers have been on a historic run over the last calendar year.

    Their last loss was December 19, 2010 against the New England Patriots. Since then, they've won 19 games in a row.

    The Kansas City Chiefs would need a miracle of Tebow proportions to manage a playoff game this year. They still are technically in the hunt for an AFC West title.

    For Green Bay (13-0):

    With one win in the remaining three weeks of the regular season, the Packers would clinch home-field advantage through the playoffs.

    For Kansas City (5-8):

    AFC West: While still technically in the playoff picture, they would need a lot to happen. They will have to win out against a very difficult schedule (vs. Packers, vs. Oakland, @ Denver) and then also have Denver lose out, Oakland lose two and San Diego lose one to win the division.

    They do not have a chance at a wild-card spot.

Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders

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    A matchup of two teams both desperately needing a victory to stay in the playoff picture, the Detroit Lions are stumbling to the finish line, losing five of eight after reeling off with five wins to start the season.

    Oakland needs to win out and get some help after two consecutive losses.

    For Detroit (8-5):

    Wild Card: Win out and they're in. Lose this week and they still are in control. Detroit holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Dallas and a better common opponents' win percentage over Chicago.

    For Oakland (7-6):

    Division title: They will need to win out and have Denver lose at least two games.

    Wild Card: Either win out and have the Jets lose one game or lose one game and have a lot of other teams lose.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

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    In what is easily this week's most anticipated game, both the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos control their playoff destinies. New England currently sits on top of the AFC East while Denver is on top in the AFC West.

    For New England (10-3):

    Home-field advantage: Need to have the top record in the league since if all three (Houston, Baltimore and NE) end up at 13-3, Baltimore will carry the tiebreaker over Houston and NE based on strength of victory.

    First-round bye: Again, if all three end up at 13-3, then Baltimore will be No. 1, NE No. 2 and Houston No. 3. NE will need a better record than Baltimore or the same as Houston to get a first-round bye.

    Division title: Need one more victory this season to wrap up division title.

    For Denver (8-5):

    Home-field advantage: If the Broncos win out they will need to have the Texans lose out along with no other team having a better record. NE, Baltimore and Pittsburgh will need to lose two of three each.

    First-round bye: Basically the same as above, but if the Texans win one then Denver would be the No. 2 seed.

    Division: Two wins and the division is locked up. They hold tiebreakers over all division foes unless they lose the next three games.

    Wild Card: Would need to lose two games to not win division, and then would need a few teams to lose to qualify as a wild card.

New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles

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    The New York Jets look to make their way back to the playoffs after being five points away from a Super Bowl appearance last season.

    The Philadelphia Eagles went into this season as the most hyped team in the league but haven't been able to put together a season worth remembering and will need a miracle to squeak into the playoffs.

    For the Jets (8-5):

    Division: Will need to win out and have the Patriots lose out.

    Wild Card: Two wins and they're in, basically. However, if Oakland or Cincinnati win out they would carry the tiebreaker over the Jets.

    For Philadelphia (5-8):

    Wild Card: They would need to win out, and then have Detroit, Chicago and Dallas end up at 8-8 and Arizona to end 7-9.

Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals' playoff hopes are dim at this point, but that's a lot more than fans would have been expecting after starting off 1-6.

    The Cleveland Browns have continued their run of missing the playoffs but have a glimmer of hope with an improving Colt McCoy at quarterback.

    For Arizona (6-7):

    Wild Card: Will need to win out and have the Lions lose two games. At 9-7, they would hold tiebreakers over Detroit, Chicago and Dallas.

    For Cleveland (4-9):

    They have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers

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    The Baltimore Ravens come into this week as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, though oddly enough they have the inside track to the No. 1 seed, regardless of how the current No. 1 seed Houston Texans finish the season.

    The San Diego Chargers rode a mid-season slump to work their way out of playoff favorites.

    For Baltimore (10-3):

    Home-field advantage: If they win out, they will end up with the No. 1 seed, holding the tiebreaker over Houston, NE and Pittsburgh.

    First-round bye: If the Ravens end up 12-4, they would still hold the tiebreaker over any other 12-4 team.

    Division: They hold the tiebreaker over the Steelers.

    Wild Card: If they win one more game they are guaranteed a playoff spot.

    For San Diego (6-7):

    Division: They will need to win out and have the Broncos lose out. San Diego does hold the tiebreaker over Oakland.

    Wild Card: They will need to win out and have the New York Jets lose two of three.

Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers

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    The surprising San Francisco 49ers come into this week in the driver's seat to a first-round bye in the playoffs, though the New Orleans Saints are right on their tail.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are headed to the playoffs, but will need help to get a home game come playoff time.

    For San Francisco (10-3):

    Home-field advantage: Will need to win out and the Green Bay Packers to lose out. San Francisco would hold the tiebreaker for record in common games and over New Orleans for winning percentage in conference games.

    First-round bye: If SF and NO end with the same record, SF would hold the tiebreaker for conference win percentage.

    Division: SF has won the NFC West and is locked into the playoffs.

    For Pittsburgh (10-3):

    Home-field advantage: Would need to win out and then have Baltimore, New England and Houston lose one game.

    First-round bye: Will need Baltimore to lose along with either New England or Houston.

    Wild Card: One more win and Baltimore is in.