NFL Playoff Scenarios: AFC and NFC Analysis and Predictions

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 16, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 15: Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates after an interception in the 1st half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on December 15, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Ron Antonelli/Getty Images)
Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

The NFL playoffs are quickly approaching, with just one game remaining before Week 16 gets underway. Thus, there are tons of scenarios still in play in the 2013 regular season, with a plethora of teams vying for postseason positions down to the wire.

In the NFC, the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers currently occupy the wild-card spots at Nos. 5 and 6 respectively, but both have 10 wins apiece, while two of the conference's division leaders have a mere eight wins.

That is the tip of the proverbial iceberg in discussing some of the interesting scenarios that have presented themselves. Call it depth, parity or attribute it to any other factor, but however the final playoff picture will shake out, it's going to be a heck of an entertaining finale of regular-season action.

Below is some analysis regarding each conference's playoff picture, along with predictions as to how some of the developments will play out.

Note: Scenarios don't include Week 15's Monday night game between the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions.

AFC Playoff Predictions
SeedTeamRemaining OpponentsProjected Final Record
1Denver Broncosat Houston, at Oakland13-3
2New England Patriotsat Baltimore, vs. Buffalo11-5
3Cincinnati Bengalsvs. Minnesota, vs. Baltimore10-6
4Indianapolis Coltsat Kansas City, vs. Jacksonvile10-6
5Kansas City Chiefsvs. Indianapolis, at San Diego12-4
6Miami Dolphinsat Buffalo, vs. New York Jets10-6
Predictions are personal opinion

AFC Analysis

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 24: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos and quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots shake hands after the New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos 34-31 in overtime at Gillette Stadium on Novem
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Denver (11-3) suffered a letdown in losing to its AFC West rival San Diego Chargers (7-7) on Thursday night in Week 15, but it should bounce back well enough to garner the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage.

Although the Broncos have to hit the road for the last two games of the regular season, the trips are to take on the league-worst Houston Texans and the 4-10 Oakland Raiders in the finale.

Then again, nothing is guaranteed, because as NFL Network's Rich Eisen points out, Week 15 was anything but easy for the AFC's top teams:

Kansas City has the same record as the Broncos, but it will drop one of its two games to the Indianapolis Colts (9-6), who have clinched the AFC South, or to a scrappy Chargers team in Week 17.

Even though the New England Patriots (10-4) were without Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins last week, quarterback Tom Brady still nearly led them to a miraculous victory but fell short to the Miami Dolphins, 24-20.

Look no further to ensure that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league than the Broncos' Peyton Manning (NFL-leading 47 touchdown passes) and Brady—two of the best in recent memory. Their teams will be Nos. 1 and 2 for a reason...namely them.

But keep an eye out for the Dolphins (8-6) to snag the sixth spot. General manager Jeff Ireland brought in so many new pieces in the offseason, and it looks like they're beginning to click. They've gone 5-2 in their past seven contests.

Miami plays at Buffalo and closes with the New York Jets at home, making winning out very feasible.

The same can't be said for the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens (7-6), who play at Detroit on Monday night before closing with New England at home and the Cincinnati Bengals on the road.

NFC Playoff Predictions
SeedTeamRemaining OpponentsProjected Final Record
1Seattle Seahawksvs. Arizona, vs. St. Louis14-2
2Carolina Panthersvs. New Orleans, at Atlanta12-4
3Chicago Bearsat Philadelphia, vs. Green Bay10-6
4Philadelphia Eaglesvs. Chicago, at Dallas9-7
5New Orleans Saintsat Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay11-5
6San Francisco 49ersvs. Atlanta, at Arizona11-5
Predictions are personal opinion

NFC Analysis

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks warms up in pre-game warm ups prior to playing the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on December 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Seahawks (12-2) have been the best team in football all season long, across the board, in terms of consistency. Second-year quarterback Russell Wilson has maintained his high level of play, the running game has been effective and the defense, headlined by the Legion of Boom secondary, is downright terrifying.

Even in the deepest division in football, the NFC West, Seattle has emerged as the class of the NFL. That was on display when the defense picked off New York Giants QB Eli Manning five times in a 23-0 shutout on Sunday.

After the game, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner shared his thoughts on how the team avenged its previous loss in San Francisco, per Seahawks.com's Clare Farnsworth:

We had a chip our shoulder. We wanted to win this game. Especially after losing the way we did last week. So we felt like we came out with a bunch of energy, and we needed it. What was it 23-0? To come to a team’s home and do that, not a lot of teams do that. So it was a great defensive effort.

Now on to the boldest prediction from above: Many may have dismissed the Panthers after getting blown out in the Superdome by the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, but suddenly, they are back knotted at 10-4 with their NFC South adversaries.

New Orleans lost 27-16 to the St. Louis Rams (6-8) this past Sunday—incidentally, an NFC West team—and now has to travel to Charlotte with the division title on the line.

Look for the Panthers' defense to get redemption in that one after being carved up by Saints QB Drew Brees for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the last encounter. Then, Carolina will seal the deal and further confirm its legitimacy by beating the reigning division champion Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Week 17.

The NFC is top-heavy in a twisted sort of way.

You see, the Saints and 49ers are among the best teams in the game, yet they will be relegated to making a Super Bowl run entirely on the road due to the strength of their divisions.

While those franchises have had stability and consistent success in recent years, the two true wild cards will be the winners of the other two divisions: the NFC North and East.

In the East, defense isn't too commonplace to say the least, but the offensive genius of first-year Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly will allow him to enjoy a division title in his maiden season.

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13: QCoach Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles watches play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers October 13, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Eagles won 31 - 20. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Philadelphia needed a setback and to endure some adversity. That came in the form of a 48-31 Week 15 whooping from the non-contending Minnesota Vikings. Matt Cassel threw for 381 yards on the league's 31st-ranked pass defense, even without superstar running back Adrian Peterson.

Perhaps the most interesting game to watch in Week 16 will be between Philly and the Chicago Bears, who have an absolutely loaded offense themselves but a superior defense.

Jay Cutler made his first start since Nov. 10 for Chicago against the Cleveland Browns and after two interceptions early, lit up one of the better pass defenses in the league.

Check out how clutch Cutler has been, per ESPN Stats & Info:

The Bears will win on the road in Philadelphia thanks to some late-game heroics from their gutsy gunslinger and will take care of business at Soldier Field against Green Bay to cap off a division crown for another offensive guru in Marc Trestman.

That also sets up a finale for Philly to beat the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East title on the road, which is going to be detrimental to America's Team, and cap off the regular season in style.