Best and Worst Case Scenarios for Every NFL Team as the 2011 Season Winds Down
While some NFL teams are attempting to improve their playoff positioning in the last two weeks of the regular season, others are now more focused on moving up in the upcoming draft.
There are no two teams that will face these final games in the same way, but they all have something they are aiming to achieve or working to avoid.
Here are the best and worst case scenarios for every NFL team as the 2011 season winds down.
Green Bay Packers
With two home games to go, the most they can do is secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as they push for a repeat.
The Packers must get healthy and now they have no reason not to rest their starters.
Best Case Scenario: Aaron Rodgers wins the MVP and leads the Pack to a second straight Super Bowl victory.
Worst Case Scenario: Green Bay's offense line continues to deteriorate and they lose their first playoff game in front of the hometown fans.
The defense is still strong, but it is highly unlikely that now-starting quarterback Josh McCown will be able to lead this team into the postseason, especially since the Bears will travel to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers on Christmas night.
Best Case Scenario: The Bears defeat their biggest rival on Christmas and squeeze their way into the playoffs with a lot of help. Jay Cutler returns and takes Chicago back to the NFC Championship game.
Worst Case Scenario: The Bears are thoroughly embarrassed by their archrival and finish the season 7-9 after appearing to be a sure wild-card team earlier in the year.
It's been a wild season for the Detroit Lions with stompings, bad handshakes and suspensions, not to mention their up-and-down play.
Nevertheless, with a win against the Chargers on Saturday, they will clinch a wild-card spot and earn back the respect of the nation.
Best Case Scenario: The Lions subdue the Bolts at home and win their first playoff game since 1991.
Worst Case Scenario: It's possible the Lions can miss the playoffs, but if they don't, a big loss in the wild-card round would be disappointing.
The Vikes are in the gutter of the NFC North and next year can't come soon enough.
Best Case Scenario: The Vikings end up with the No. 1 pick and grab Andrew Luck or trade the pick to shore up their secondary.
Worst Case Scenario: The Vikes win out, but Christian Ponder continues to play poorly, proving he won't solve the team's QB issues.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are the surprise team of 2011 thanks to rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh, who also is likely the coach of the year.
He has taken the team to an 11-3 record with the defense holding opposing offenses to only 71.5 rushing yards per game.
They will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and they even snag a first-round bye.
Best Case Scenario: The 49ers defense takes them to the Super Bowl where they win their first title since 1995.
Worst Case Scenario: The Niners don't get a first-round bye and fall in the wild-card round.
Despite a poor start, a three-game winning streak has the Seattle Seahawks in the running for an NFC wild-card spot.
They have a shot to take down San Francisco and Arizona in the final two weeks behind their rising defense and Marshawn Lynch's running ability, but they also need the Lions to lose their remaining games.
Best Case Scenario: The Seahawks sneak into the playoffs for a second straight year and play competitively in their wild-card matchup.
Worst Case Scenario: The 'Hawks lose out and finish with the same record that won the division last season.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams are one of the teams in the running for the No. 1 draft pick in 2012 and it isn't likely that they'll improve on their two-win season in the final two games.
Best Case Scenario: St. Louis seals the first pick in the draft and uses it to create a little hope for next year.
Worst Case Scenario: The Rams lose the rest of their games, but still miss out on the No. 1 pick.
John Skelton and the Cardinals have been playing well in the absence of Kevin Kolb. They sit at .500 and running back Beanie Wells is nearing the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
A lot of things need to happen for them to make the playoffs, but it is still possible.
Best Case Scenario: The Cards make a miracle entrance into the postseason and Kevin Kolb returns to lead them to a first-round win.
Worst Case Scenario: They finish 7-9 as their winning streak comes to an end.
Even if they can't win the NFC South, Atlanta is all but a wild-card lock.
Best Case Scenario: The Falcons claim the division after beating Drew Brees at the Superdome and go on to take down the Packers in a revenge game at Lambeau Field.
Worst Case Scenario: The Falcons are embarrassed by the Pack for a second year in a row in the playoffs...that is, if they even make it to the second round.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is having an MVP-like season, but he may miss out on the actual award because of all the hype surrounding Aaron Rodgers.
Nevertheless, Brees' stellar season has the Saints in position to win the division and they're poised to make another playoff run behind his big arm.
Best Case Scenario: Brees doesn't win the league's most valuable player award, but instead claims the Super Bowl MVP as the Saints win their second title in three years.
Worst Case Scenario: The Saints lose their first playoff game in eerily similar fashion to their collapse against the Seahawks last season.
The Panthers have greatly improved from last season and they're only getting better. Nevertheless, they'll still finish the season under .500.
Cam Newton performed better than expected in his debut campaign and things are looking up in Carolina for 2012.
Best Case Scenario: The Panthers finish the season strong, beating the Saints in Week 17. Newton wins the Rookie of the Year award.
Worst Case Scenario: Carolina goes 5-11 and ends the season by getting blown out by New Orleans at home.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers had high hopes entering the 2011 season after nearly missing the playoffs last year. This year a postseason berth won't be a close call.
They started the season 4-2, but now they've lost eight straight and find themselves at the bottom of the NFC South.
Best Case Scenario: Josh Freeman plays more like the 2010 version, and the Bucs end their eight-game slide.
Worst Case Scenario: Freeman continues to lead the league in turnovers and the Bucs finish 4-12 as they doubt their future quarterback position.
The Cowboys have two big games coming up if they want to secure their hold on the NFC East.
Yes, they should make the playoffs fairly easily even if they only win one of them, but the 'Boys have a tendency to screw things up for themselves.
Dallas has shown the potential to be a great team this season and they will have a lot to prove in the postseason.
Best Case Scenario: Tony Romo takes the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl since 1996.
Worst Case Scenario:The Eagles crush Dallas for the second time this season and steal the division crown.
New York Giants
After starting 6-2, the Giants have continued their trend of falling apart in the second half of the season.
They've lost five of their last six, all but destroying their chances of playing past their Week 17 matchup with the Cowboys, yet they still control their own destiny
Eli Manning has played well at times, but this team is too inconsistent overall to make any noise if they can crawl into the playoffs.
Best Case Scenario: The Giants win their way into the postseason and the Packers don't put together a last-minute drive to beat them in the NFC Championship game.
Worst Case Scenario: The Giants lose both remaining games and their collapse continues.
The Redskins are the only team in the NFC East that has absolutely no chance to make the playoffs. They've only won two games since starting 3-0 and they've done nothing to solve their quarterback troubles.
Even so, they have put together some nice wins this season such as last week's defeat of the New York Giants.
Best Case Scenario: The 'Skins put a beating on the Vikings in Week 16 and then end on a positive note by knocking off the Eagles in Week 17.
Worst Case Scenario: The Redskins lose the rest of their games and things continue to look bleak for the future.
The Dream Team is still alive. The Philadelphia Eagles went from overhyped to forgotten, but with two games to go, they will continue to fight for the division.
They have two winnable matchups coming up against the Cowboys and the Redskins, and anything is possible.
When this team gets it together, they can be very hard to beat.
Best Case Scenario: The Eagles finally live up to the preseason hype and win in the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario: Philadelphia fails to back up all the talk, and all the money spent in the offseason was for nothing as they finish under .500.
New England Patriots
The Patriots will probably be the top seed in the AFC when the playoffs begin, as they've already wrapped up the AFC East and notched 11 wins.
Tom Brady has had another great year with tight end Rob Gronkowski, breaking records at his position. If the defense can step it up, Brady may earn another ring to his collection.
Best Case Scenario: Bill Belichick coaches New England to yet another Super Bowl victory.
Worst Case Scenario: The Pats fail to reach the big game once again as they waste another playoff appearance.
New York Jets
After an underachieving season, the New York Jets currently have a hold on the sixth seed in the AFC. If they win out, they're in.
Mark Sanchez will likely have another chance to prove he can finally take this team all the way, but he hasn't been playing too well lately and that could end the Jets season very quickly.
Best Case Scenario: The Jets finally make the big one after falling in the AFC Championship game in consecutive years.
Worst Case Scenario: The Giants shut the mouths of Rex Ryan and Co. in Week 16 and the Jets also lose in Week 17, missing the postseason altogether.
With no shot at the playoffs themselves, the Miami Dolphins can ruin the positioning of two of their division rivals in the final weeks.
A win against New England in Week 16 could harm the chances of a high seed for the Pats, and Miami could even knock the Jets out of contention with a victory in Week 17.
Best Case Scenario: The Dolphins end a rough season by playing spoiler against the Jets.
Worst Case Scenario: The Fins finish 5-11 and begin their search for a new coach.
The Buffalo Bills have dropped seven straight since starting 5-2 behind Ryan Fitzpatrick's hot hand.
Their problems run deeper than poor quarterback play—Fitzpatrick's play hasn't been nearly as good since receiving a new deal.
Once a possible playoff team, now a deflated disappointment.
Best Case Scenario: Two wins to end the year is as good as it gets in Buffalo.
Worst Case Scenario: What's two more losses after seven straight?
The Steelers can still win the AFC North, but after losing twice to the rival Ravens this season, it isn't likely. Now that Charlie Batch will start this week against the Rams, there's even less of a chance.
Still, Pittsburgh would rather have a healthy Ben Roethlisberger since they've already clinched a playoff berth.
Best Case Scenario: The Steelers return to the Super Bowl, but come out on top this time around for No. 7.
Worst Case Scenario: Big Ben's ankle isn't any better for the playoffs and the Steelers bow out early.
The Baltimore Ravens have themselves in a great position to make a playoff run, and now they just need to wrap up home-field advantage throughout.
If both the offense and defense can play as well as they've shown they can, this could be their year.
Best Case Scenario: The Ravens reach the Super Bowl and bring the victory home for the AFC.
Worst Case Scenario: Baltimore doesn't even make the championship game after a great regular season.
The Browns boast a pitiful 4-10 record, but at least one of their players is on the cover of Madden 12, right?
Peyton Hillis has had an awful year all-around. He's lost the respect of his teammates with the way he handled his contract situation, and injuries have hindered him all season.
Their supposed best player may not even remain in Cleveland, and the franchise remains in the gutter.
Best Case Scenario: It wouldn't be much consolation for the fans in Cleveland even if the Browns won their last two.
Worst Case Scenario: Can things get much worse?
The Cincinnati Bengals have to be pleased with the way their rookies have performed this season.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green look like they could be the dynamic duo of the future and they have their team in playoff contention.
They need to win out and get a little help, but a berth in the postseason certainly isn't a long shot.
Best Case Scenario: Even securing the sixth seed would be more than expected for this Bengals team.
Worst Case Scenario: A .500 finish wouldn't be terrible, but they can do better.
Denver is 7-2 under his leadership and in prime playoff positioning. Wins against the Bills and Chiefs would give them the AFC West crown.
Best Case Scenario: Tim Tebow runs his record to 9-2 as a starter and also gets his first NFL playoff win.
Worst Case Scenario: All of the Tebow hype dies down as the Broncos succumb the division to the Chargers, Raiders or maybe even the Chiefs.
San Diego Chargers
Three weeks ago the Chargers sat at 4-7 and were quickly watching their playoff chances slipping away. Now they've won three in a row after a surprising victory over the Ravens and the division title is in sight.
Yet, even if they win out, they still need the Broncos to lose or some help from other teams for a shot at the wild card.
Best Case Scenario: Making the playoffs after suffering through a six-game losing streak during the season seems pretty good.
Worst Case Scenario: The Bolts lose in the playoff race and Norv Turner loses his job.
Acquiring Carson Palmer didn't do a whole lot for the Raiders this season, and neither did having Darren McFadden on the sidelines for most of the year.
Oakland can still win the AFC West, but it will require a lot of winning and a lot of help.
Best Case Scenario: The Raiders claim the division crown with wins against the Chiefs and Chargers.
Worst Case Scenario: The Raiders get blown out at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 16 and another season goes in the tank.
Kansas City Chiefs
It would have been interesting to see what the Chiefs could have accomplished this season if they still had Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles on the field.
Their defense is playing well and they can certainly take pride in giving the Packers their first loss, but their offense has struggled.
If Kyle Orton can play the best football of his career, the Chiefs can still punch a ticket to the playoffs.
Best Case Scenario: The AFC West is up for grabs, and Kansas City comes out of nowhere to take it.
Worst Case Scenario: Their game against Green Bay turns out to be their Super Bowl, and it's all downhill from there, proving it was just a fluke.
The Jaguars have had another depressing season in Jacksonville, and head coach Jack Del Rio didn't last long enough to see the end of it.
Maurice Jones-Drew had another great year, but the Jags not so much. They're 4-10 after a 41-14 rout at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons.
Worst Case Scenario: How much longer will this team be in Jacksonville?
The Texans' first playoff berth is bittersweet.
Yes, they're guaranteed a postseason game, but unfortunately rookie T.J. Yates has been forced into the starting role at quarterback after injuries to Matt Leinart and Matt Schaub.
It's hard to see a first-year QB taking them much farther this year even with their explosive running game and dominant defense.
Best Case Scenario: Houston does win a playoff game with Yates behind center.
Worst Case Scenario: The Texans are blown out in their first ever postseason appearance.
The Titans have had an up and down year, but giving the Colts their first win of the season didn't do much for their playoff chances.
Technically, they still have hope, and Matt Hasselbeck will be the starter at QB until they are mathematically eliminated.
Too bad Chris Johnson didn't show up for the majority of the season.
Best Case Scenario: The Titans are lucky enough to secure a wild-card spot and don't go down easy in the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario: Any hope they have is gone after Week 16, and Jake Locker finishes the year at QB.
Whether or not they want Andrew Luck, the Colts still could make great use of the No. 1 pick.
It took Indianapolis 15 weeks to get their first win, and now they've won two in a row. I'm sure the fans in Indy will be overjoyed when Peyton Manning steps onto the field again.
Best Case Scenario: Does winning really matter at this point or is a higher pick more important?
Worst Case Scenario: The Colts finish on a four-game winning streak and blow their shot at the No. 1 selection in the 2012 NFL draft.