With week sixteen in the books the NFL playoff picture is starting to clear up. That’s not to say everything is settled – five teams still in contention will be eliminated between now and the end of the season – but things are starting to settle a bit as we move closer to the post-season.
New England (12-3) has won the AFC East and will have a first-round bye. A win next week (vs Buffalo) assures the Pats of the #1 seed. And if they lose they will also still finish with the #1 seed if both Baltimore and Pittsburgh lose. If the Pats lose and either the Ravens or Steelers win they will be the #2 seed.
Baltimore (11-4) gets the #1 seed if they win (at Cincinnati), plus the Pats lose. If the Ravens and Pats both win then Baltimore is #2. If Baltimore loses they would still be #2 as long as Pittsburgh loses as well; if the Steelers win and the Ravens lose then Baltimore is #5.
Houston (10-5) has won the AFC South and is locked in as the #3 seed.
Denver (8-7) takes the AFC West and #4 seed with a win next week (vs Kansas City), or if Oakland loses. San Diego and Kansas City were both eliminated from playoff contention Saturday.
Oakland (8-7) wins the AFC West and the #4 seed with a win (vs San Diego) coupled with a Denver loss.
Pittsburgh (11-4) could be the #1, #2 or #5 seed. A win (vs Cleveland) combined with a Baltimore loss and they win the AFC North and a first round bye. That would be as the #2 seed if the Pats win; if they win, the Ravens lose and the Pats lose they are the #1 seed. Otherwise the Steelers will be the #5 seed.
All of the above is relatively easy to follow; the battle for the final AFC playoff spot gets a bit murkier.
Cincinnati (9-6) is the frontrunner; a win (vs Baltimore) and they’re in, but that’s not going to be an easy task. If the Bengals lose they can still back in with the trifecta of a Titans win, a Jets loss and a Raiders loss.
If Denver does not win the AFCW they cannot make the playoffs as a wild card.
If Oakland does not win the AFCW they can still make the playoffs as the #6 seed. In the first scenario the Raiders need to win, plus the Bengals lose, plus the Titans lose. The other option would be for Oakland to win, plus the Bengals lose, plus the Jets win.
Tennessee (8-7) has two scenarios where they could make the playoffs – one involving four games and the other with five; in either case they first have to win their own game (at Houston). Option one includes a Bengals loss, a Raiders loss and a Jets win; option two calls for a Bengals loss, a Broncos win, a Raiders win and a Jets loss.
That leaves the New Jersey Jets (8-7) as the last team still alive in the AFC. The Jets need to win (at Miami), plus have the Bengals lose, the Titans lose, and the Raiders lose.
Green Bay (13-1) has clinched the NFC North and a first-round bye. They’ll be the #1 seed with either one more win (Sunday vs Chicago; or next week vs Detroit), or a San Francisco loss.
San Francisco (12-3) has clinched the NFC West; they can have a bye with a win (at St. Louis) next week.
New Orleans (11-3) clinches the NFC South with a win (vs Atlanta monday, or vs Carolina next week). The Saints can also clinch with a loss by the falcons.
Next week Dallas (8-7) is at New York (8-7); the winner is the NFC East champ and the #4 seed. The loser not only is not division champ, they are eliminated from the playoffs.
Detroit (10-5) has clinched a playoff spot; they clinch the #5 seed with a win (at Green Bay) or a loss by Atlanta.
Atlanta (9-5) wins the NFC South by winning their last two games (at New Orleans, vs Tampa Bay) while the Saints lose their last two games. They also clinch a playoff spot by winning either one of their last two games – or if the Bears lose either one of their final two games.
Chicago (7-7) must win its final two games (at Green Bay and at Minnesota) while at the same time Atlanta loses its final two games to make it into the playoffs as a #6 seed.
Philadelphia, Seattle and Arizona were eliminated from the playoffs Saturday.
Merry Christmas everyone!
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