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NFL Playoff Projections, Week 16

It's a scene that's played out on many TV shows, movies and commercials. Normal Guy stands at crowded bar. Normal Guy spots Gorgeous Girl across the room. Eye contact is established. Coy smiles are exchanged. But as Normal Guy makes his way over to introduce himself, Muscle Man boyfriend emerges with a drink for Gorgeous Girl. Normal Guy is left to ponder what might have been.

In the crowded bar that is the NFL playoff picture, the Carolina Panthers might find out what it's like to be Normal Guy. The Panthers can see the big prize, homefield advantage in the NFC, and can claim it Sunday with a win over the Giants. But should the Panthers lose to the Giants, then lose again at New Orleans in the season finale, Carolina would be in jeopardy of missing the postseason all together and have to watch the Bucs, Falcons or Cowboys have all the fun.

Below, we break down the playoff picture two ways: 1) As though the season ended today; and 2) As though the season will play out the way we predict it will. We will continue to do this weekly until the playoff field is set.

(We use the NFL's official tiebreaker procedures to determine seeding. If you have any questions or comments, please email us.)

New York Giants (11-3)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 1 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Carolina (W), at Minnesota (L)Final Projected Record: 12-4; No. 1 seedExtra Point: Yes the Giants are sliding, but until the NFL announces its moving Sunday's game to Charlotte, we'll stick with the defending champs. Thanks for asking.

Carolina Panthers (11-3)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 2 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at NY Giants (L), at New Orleans (W)Final Projected Record: 12-4; No. 2 seedExtra Point: With two road games left, the Panthers are far from a lock to win the NFC South title as they would lose a tiebreaker with either the Bucs or Falcons based on conference record.

Minnesota Vikings (9-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 3 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Atlanta (L), vs. NY Giants (W)Final Projected Record: 10-6; No. 3 seedExtra Point: A loss to the Falcons, plus a Bears' win over the Packers, means the Vikings would have to beat the nothing-to-play-for Giants in order to guarantee a spot in the postseason.

Arizona Cardinals (8-6)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 4 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at New England (W), vs. Seattle (L)Final Projected Record: 9-7; No. 4 seedExtra Point: Can't understand why we pick the Cards to win on the road against a winning team but lose at home to a losing team? Simple -- unpredictable teams lead to unpredictable results.

Dallas Cowboys (9-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 5 seed (win tiebreaker with Tampa Bay on head-to-head)Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Baltimore (W), at Philadelphia (L)Final Projected Record: 10-6; outExtra Point: The head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bucs is a nice ace-in-the-hole, but it won't mean a thing if the Cowboys don't beat T.O.'s old team in T.O.'s old home in Week 17.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 6 seed (win tiebreaker with Atlanta on conference recordRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. San Diego (W), vs. Oakland (W)Final Projected Record: 11-5; No. 5/6 seed (tiebreaker with Atlanta would be strength of victory)Extra Point: As it stands right now, the Bucs hold the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Falcons. But it's close enough for the Falcons to still have a chance at overcoming that in the final two weeks, depending on other outcomes. Feel free to double-check our math.

Atlanta Falcons (9-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: OutRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Minnesota (W), vs. St. Louis (W)Final Projected Record: 11-5; No. 5/6 seed (tiebreaker with Tampa Bay would be strength of victory)Extra Point: The Falcons, who have the league's best rushing attack, have to like their chances against the Pat Williams-less Vikings. Their playoff future depends on it.

Philadelphia Eagles (8-5-1)

If The Playoffs Started Today: OutRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Washington (L), vs. Cowboys (W)Final Projected Record: 9-6-1; outExtra Point: We don't think the Eagles will beat the Redskins on Sunday, but if they do, they'll need either the Falcons or Bucs to lose either of their final two to have a shot at the wild card.

Chicago Bears (8-6)

If The Playoffs Started Today: OutRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Green Bay (W), at Houston (L)Final Projected Record: 9-7; outExtra Point: Chicago's only real hope is to win its final two while Minnesota loses out.

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Tennessee Titans (12-2)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 1 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Pittsburgh (W); at Indianapolis (L)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 13-3; No. 1 seedExtra Point: Sunday will be the biggest Titans-Steelers game since Joe Nedney aimed for an Oscar.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 2 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Tennessee (L); vs. Cleveland (W)Final Projected Record: 12-4; No. 2 seedExtra Point: Monster game Sunday against the Titans with the winner earning the right to host a potential rematch Jan. 18 for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

New York Jets (9-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 3 seed (win tiebreaker with New England and Miami on three-way, head-to-head)Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Seattle (W); vs. Miami (W)Final Projected Record: 11-5; No. 3 seedExtra Point: The cross-country trip this week is not a gimme, but get past it and we like the Jets' chances in a home game against the Dolphins in the final week.

Denver Broncos (8-6)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 4 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Buffalo (W); at San Diego (L)Final Projected Record: 9-7; No. 4 seedExtra Point: If you enjoy the misery of others, root for the Broncos to finish just one game ahead of the Chargers after losing to them in Week 17. Ed Hochuli might never be welcome in San Diego again.

Indianapolis Colts (11-4)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 5 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Tennessee (W)Final Projected Record: 12-4; No. 5 seedExtra Point: The Indy-Tennessee showdown in Week 17 should be a Sorgi-Young snoozefest.

Baltimore Ravens (9-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 6 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Dallas (L); vs. Jacksonville (W)Final Projected Record: 10-6; No. 6 seed (win tiebreaker with New England on conference record)Extra Point: The Ravens will be playing against history in the Cowboys' final game at Texas Stadium, but should still be dancing provided they take care of business at home in Week 17.

New England Patriots (9-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: OutRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Arizona (L); at Buffalo (W)Final Projected Record: 10-6; outExtra Point: Esteemed colleague Don Banks points out the Patriots could become just the second 11-win team to miss the playoffs since the merger. Quite the stat but we don't think their defense holds up against Kurt Warner and the Cardinals.

Miami Dolphins (9-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: OutRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Kansas City (W), at NY Jets (L)Final Projected Record: 10-6; outExtra Point: Can't ask for much more than the chance to play your way into the playoffs against a division rival.

San Diego Chargers (6-8)

If The Playoffs Started Today: OutRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Tampa Bay (L); vs. Denver (W)Final Projected Record: 7-9; outExtra Point: It would be a fitting nail in the coffin for the Chargers if they were to travel 3,000 miles and upset the Bucs only to have the Broncos finally clinch the West with a win against the Bills.

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