There is still plenty to sort out regarding the playoff picture in the NFL entering the final week of the 2019 season. Few teams know their path in the Wild Card Round, bar the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills.
The Vikings are locked in as the sixth seed in the NFC, meaning they will play on the road against the third seed during Wild Card Weekend beginning on Saturday, January 4. Meanwhile, the Bills are cast as the fifth seed and look likely to be on the road against the Houston Texans once the playoffs begin.
It's a guessing game for the rest in the postseason picture. The top seed and home-field advantage are still up for grabs in the NFC, with the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks all still in the frame if results go their way.
Outstanding issues in the AFC include whether the New England Patriots or Kansas City Chiefs enjoy a first-round bye. There's also the matter of the Tennessee Titans holding on to the sixth spot with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders lurking.
Playoff Picture Entering Week 17
- 1st seed: Baltimore Ravens (13-2)
- 2nd seed: New England Patriots (12-3)
- 3rd seed: Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
- 4th seed: Houston Texans (10-5)
- 5th seed: Buffalo Bills (10-5)
- 6th seed: Tennessee Titans (8-7)
- In the Hunt: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7), Oakland Raiders (7-8)
- 1st seed: San Francisco 49ers (12-3)
- 2nd seed: Green Bay Packers (12-3)
- 3rd seed: New Orleans Saints (12-3)
- 4th seed: Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)
- 5th seed: Seattle Seahawks (11-4)
- 6th seed: Minnesota Vikings (10-5)
- In the Hunt: Dallas Cowboys (7-8)
NFL 2019 Playoff Picture via the league's official website.
Wild Card Weekend Schedule
- Saturday, January 4: 4:30 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET
- Sunday, January 5: 1 p.m. ET and 4:30 p.m. ET
The Vikings can't improve their seeding, no matter what happens at home to NFC North rivals the Chicago Bears on Sunday. It means head coach Mike Zimmer's team will likely face either the Saints or the Seahawks on the road.
A Vikings, Seahawks wild-card matchup looks a good bet because Seattle will feel confident about beating the Niners at CenturyLink Field in Week 17. Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to a win in California in Week 10, and he can find joy against a San Fran defense guilty of surrendering a host of big plays against the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo may struggle to keep pace during his first start at one of the more intimidating venues in the league:
NFL Research @NFLResearch
Per @NextGenStats, Jimmy G & Russell Wilson are opposite on deep passes this season. Garoppolo: Throws deep on 6.4% of att (Lowest in NFL) - 3.0 yards of separation (Most in NFL) Wilson: Throws deep on 16.8% of att (Highest in NFL) - 1.5 yards of separation (Lowest in NFL)
A Seattle win would be enough to wrap up the NFC West title, but Wilson and Co. won't earn a first-round bye without a loss by the Packers. Green Bay losing on the road against the 3-11-1 Detroit Lions seems unlikely.
It's also unlikely the Saints will stay in the third spot, not when Drew Brees and his offense get the chance to feast on the 5-10 Carolina Panthers in Week 17. Brees will know the Saints have to win to take advantage of any slip by the 49ers.
The Vikings won't be a pushover for any team, even while having to go on the road. This is still a team with a powerful defense and bruising running game. Those things usually add up to winning football in the postseason.
Playoff quarterbacks will want to avoid testing versatile linebacker Eric Kendricks in space:
Next Gen Stats @NextGenStats
Eric Kendricks has been among the best cover linebackers in the NFL this season, forcing a tight window on 29% of targets, the only LB over 20% (min. 30 targets). @EricKendricks54 also leads all LB in average separation (2.4 yards) & passes defended rate (21%). #GBvsMIN | #Skol https://t.co/7EC6XTQTfI
Similarly, defenses won't be able to focus entirely on keeping gifted Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook under wraps. Not when Kirk Cousins and Stefon Diggs give the Vikings a credible threat through the air:
The Vikings don't have the look of a team primed to be one-and-done in the playoffs.
Neither do the 49ers, who will likely have to deal with facing the Philadelphia Eagles on the road. This Eagles team has invaluable experience of thriving when the stakes are high and should make enough plays to see off the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium and seal the NFC East title at the expense of the Dallas Cowboys.
The Patriots aren't in much danger of relinquishing the second seed, not when beating the 4-11 Miami Dolphins at home is all the Super Bowl champions need to ensure a week off.
A win for the Pats would still leave the Chiefs needing to guarantee the third seed by beating the Los Angeles Chargers at home. KC winning would grant head coach Andy Reid's team a home wild-card matchup with the sixth seed.
The Titans seem to have it in hand, but winning on the road against the AFC South champion Texans won't be easy. A win for Houston, coupled with a loss for the Chiefs, would give the Texans the third seed courtesy of their win in Kansas City back in Week 6.
Oakland and Pittsburgh lie in wait if the Titans slip up, but both face divisional foes on the road, with the Raiders meeting the Denver Broncos, while the Steelers visit the Baltimore Ravens, who have home-field advantage and the top seed already in hand.
Reid and the Chiefs have stumbled in the Wild Card Round before, notably against the Titans at home in 2018. However, this year's Chiefs have a burgeoning defense baffling quarterbacks with a mixture of edge pressure and disguised coverages:
Whether it's Ryan Tannehill, Devlin Hodges or Derek Carr, the Chiefs will beat up on the man under center during Wild Card Weekend.
The Chiefs staying at No. 3 will leave the Texans with the uncomfortable task of hosting the Bills. Buffalo enters this postseason with a useful defense well-coached by Sean McDermott and coordinator Leslie Frazier:
Keeping Deshaun Watson in the pocket will be key, but corralling DeAndre Hopkins, the best wideout in football, may be an impossible task.