We're just about to enter the 16th week of the 2016 NFL season. This, folks, is the time of year they refer to as the homestretch.
A few teams, like the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots, have already locked up their spots in the 2016-17 postseason. There are still several berths up for grabs, however, and these last couple of gameweeks are going to determine who gets them.
Will teams like the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers hang on to secure their respective divisions? Will teams such as the Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins leap up and secure postseason spots that would have seemed surprising at the start of the season? No one can be certain. All we know is what could happen before Week 17 draws to a close.
We're going to examine the standings at the top of each conference and examine some of the more interesting potential playoff scenarios.
Week 16 NFL Standings
|Projected AFC, NFC Seeds after Week 15|
|1||New England Patriots||12-2|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||10-4|
|5||New York Giants||10-4|
|6||Green Bay Packers||8-6|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||8-6|
If the Season Ended Today
If the NFL season were only 15 weeks long, the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders would have first-round byes in the AFC. Over in the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks would get a break for the opening round.
The Pittsburgh Steelers would host the Miami Dolphins in the opening round, which would be an interesting matchup. The Dolphins hosted Pittsburgh earlier this season and earned a 30-15 victory. That was before Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered ligament sprains in his knee, though. The Houston Texans would host the Kansas City Chiefs in a rematch of last year's opening round.
The Chiefs won that game 30-0.
In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons would host the Green Bay Packers. This would be a rematch from earlier in the season, when the Falcons won 33-32 in Atlanta. The New York Giants would visit the Detroit Lions.
The Giants beat Detroit 17-6 in New York on Sunday.
Scenarios to Watch For
The Packers Win Out
The Packers sit a game behind the Lions in the NFC North. The Packers also have one head-to-head win over the Lions on their resume and will visit Detroit in the regular-season finale. This means that if Green Bay goes 2-0 down the stretch, the Packers will win the NFC North.
Green Bay will have to get through the Minnesota Vikings in order to earn a championship bout with the Lions, but it's a scenario that looks a lot more likely than it did as recently as maybe even Week 15.
The Packers are two victories away from that 10-win mark.
This would put Green Bay in the No. 3 or No. 4 slot. Depending on how the Lions do against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday, it could also leave Detroit outside of the postseason entirely.
The Titans Win Out
The Tennessee Titans face a similar scenario over in the AFC South. They are tied with the Texans at 8-6 but have lost the first head-to-head matchup. If Tennessee can make it through the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, though, they'll face the Texans in Week 17 for the division crown.
What Houston does in Week 16 against Cincinnati Bengals doesn't necessarily affect the title race because the Texans own that first head-to-head win. If Houston loses on Saturday but wins in Week 17, it'd finish at 9-7 with two wins over the Titans.
A win over the Bengals would certainly help Houston's chances of making the postseason as a wild-card team, though, in the event the Titans finish 10-6 and with the AFC South title.
If the Titans get into the postseason, their surprisingly potent offense—rated fourth overall by Pro Football Focus—could give teams trouble. Tennessee has already knocked off the Chiefs and the Denver Broncos this season.
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Baltimore Beats Pittsburgh in Week 16
For the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, the AFC North title game is essentially on Sunday. Pittsburgh has a one-game lead, but Baltimore owns the first head-to-head matchup.
All the Steelers need to do to win the division is beat the visiting Ravens on Christmas Day. This would give Pittsburgh a two-game lead with one gameweek remaining. In other words, the division would be clinched.
If the Ravens win in Week 16, though, things get just a tad more complicated. The two bitter rivals would then be tied, with the Ravens owning both head-to-head victories. Baltimore would then have to beat the Bengals in its season finale to win the division. Either that, or the Ravens have to hope the Steelers somehow lose to the lowly Cleveland Browns in Week 17.
The winner of the AFC North won't have a shot at earning a first-round bye but could land in the No. 3 depending on how things unfold.
The Seahawks Lose Out
The Seahawks have already locked up the NFC West and own the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The winner of the NFC East—likely the Cowboys but possibly the Giants if Dallas can't win another game—will earn the No. 1 seed.
However, the Seahawks haven't yet locked up that first-round bye. Seattle hosts the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday and then travels to face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 17. If the Seahawks lose both of those games, they would slip to 9-6-1 and potentially out of the No. 2 slot.
Either the Falcons or the Lions could move to 11-5 by winning out. This means that even one loss could cost the Seahawks a first-round bye. Losing both games, though, would put the Seahawks in even more danger.
If either the Lions or the Falcons went 1-1 down the stretch, they'd take the No. 2 seed away from a 9-6-1 Seattle team.
Earning the bye would be huge for the Seahawks because it would mean the team would play, at most, one road playoff game before the Super Bowl. Seattle has been wildly inconsistent on the road this season and has had offensive outputs of three, six, five and 10 points away from CenturyLink Field.
Losing out could be disastrous for Seattle.