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NFL Playoff Projections, Week 15

The NFL proudly tells us there are 24 teams in playoff contention with three weeks remaining. In fact, they're tweeting about it. So don't give up, fans of the 5-8 Panthers. Even with games left against the 11-2 Vikings, the 7-6 Giants and the 13-0 Saints, the NFL says your dreams of meaningful football in January can still come true.

We're here to tell you that in reality, there are 16 teams legitimately thinking about the postseason -- nine in the AFC and seven in the NFC. Five more -- the 6-7 quintet of the Steelers, Texans, Titans, Niners and Falcons -- might have more hope in Week 16 if some things fall their way this weekend. But let's not confuse things by getting ahead of ourselves.

Below, we lay out 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 use the NFL's official tiebreaker procedures to determine seeding. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail us or find us on Twitter. Week 14 clinching scenarios can be found here. Without further ado...

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (13-0)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 1 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Jacksonville (L); vs. N.Y. Jets (W); at Buffalo (L)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 14-2; No. 1Extra Point: Perfect record or not, the Colts have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Everything else, to quote Lt. Sam Weinberg, is just smoke-filled coffeehouse crap.

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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (10-3)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 2 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Cincinnati (W); at Tennessee (L); vs. Washington (W)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 12-4; No. 2Extra Point: A win over the Bengals this week and the Chargers can put their feet up the rest of the way.

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CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-4)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 3 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at San Diego (L); vs. Kansas City (W); at N.Y. Jets (L)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 10-6; No. 4Extra Point: Losing three of their final four games would not be the ideal way for the Bengals to enter the postseason from a momentum standpoint. But the Bengals did their grunt work early by sweeping the Ravens and Steelers and would be able to survive a late season swoon.

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (8-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 4 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Buffalo (W); vs. Jacksonville (W); at Houston (W)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 11-5; No. 3Extra Point: As unimpressive as the Patriots have looked the past month, we still project them winning out to overtake the Bengals for the No. 3 seed. Where things get complicated is if the Pats and Bengals finish tied at 11-5 or 10-6. Conference record would be the same as would record against common foes (if the Bengals beat the Jets), meaning strength of victory would determine the No. 3 seed.

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DENVER BRONCOS (8-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 5 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Oakland (W); at Philadelphia (L); vs. Kansas City (W)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 10-6; No. 6Extra Point: A 10-6 record puts the Broncos at risk of losing the No. 5 seed to the Ravens, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to Denver's Week 8 loss in Baltimore.

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (7-6)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 6 (wins tiebreaker with Baltimore and Miami based on conference record)Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Indianapolis (W); at New England (L); at Cleveland (W)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 9-7; outExtra Point: The Jags would certainly deserve a playoff berth if they beat the mighty Colts and Patriots in back-to-back weeks. And if tied with the Ravens and/or Broncos at 10-6, the Jags would win the tiebreaker on conference record over both teams to become the No. 5 seed.

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BALTIMORE RAVENS (7-6)

If The Playoffs Started Today: OutRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Chicago (W); at Pittsburgh (W); at Oakland (W)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 10-6; No. 5 (wins tiebreaker with Denver on head-to-head)ExtraPoint: Baltimore won three straight to start the season, so winning four in a row to close it out isn't too much of a reach. Have to imagine a certain team with three stars on its helmets would take pleasure in thwarting the Ravens' playoff hopes.

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MIAMI DOLPHINS (7-6)

If The Playoffs Started Today: OutRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Tennessee (L); vs. Houston (W); vs. Pittsburgh (L)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 8-8; outExtra Point: The division title, believe it or not, is still within reach for the Dolphins. How? If Miami wins out and New England finishes 10-6, the Dolphins would win the tiebreaker (either division record or common games, depending on which game the Pats lose over the final three weeks).

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NEW YORK JETS (7-6)

If The Playoffs Started Today: OutRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Atlanta (W); at Indianapolis (L); vs. Cincinnati (W)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 9-7; outExtra Point: We said this last week, but it bears repeating: The Jets are weak in tiebreakers, with no head-to-head wins with anybody they'd be tied with (Broncos, Dolphins, Pats, Steelers, Ravens, Jags). The best conference record they can achieve is 7-5, which wouldn't beat anyone at 10-6.

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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-0)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 1 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Dallas (W); vs. Tampa Bay (W); at Carolina (W)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 16-0; No. 1Extra Point: Saturday night is the season for the 16-0-seeking Saints. Can't see them losing either of their final two, even if they opt to rest some starters.

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MINNESOTA VIKINGS (11-2)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 2 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Carolina (W); at Chicago (L); vs. N.Y. Giants (W)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 13-3; No. 2Extra Point: The first-round bye is within reach in Week 15, if the Vikings win and the Eagles lose. Otherwise, with a tough trip to Soldier Field in Week 16, Minnesota may indeed have something to play for in Week 17 against the Giants.

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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (9-4)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 3 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. San Francisco (W); vs. Denver (W); at Dallas (L)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 11-5; No. 3Extra Point: The Eagles may have the most difficult final three games of any playoff-hopeful team. Still, if they take care of business at home the next two weeks and the Cowboys lose once during that span, Week 17's finale at Dallas will be meaningless to Philly.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 4 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Detroit (W); vs. St. Louis (W); vs. Green Bay (L)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 10-6; No. 4Extra Point: Conversely, the Cardinals may have the easiest path of any playoff-hopeful team yet to clinch a spot. Wins against the 2-11 Lions and 1-12 Rams, would mean Week 17 against Green Bay won't mean a thing to Arizona. That'd be beneficial, since the Packers could be the Cardinals' first-round playoff foe.

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GREEN BAY PACKERS (9-4)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 5 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Pittsburgh (L); vs. Seattle (W); at Arizona (W)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 11-5; No. 5Extra Point: Since the Packers own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Cowboys, getting 10 wins will just about guarantee Green Bay makes the postseason. We say "just about" because should the Cowboys win out to get to 11-5 and the Packers and Giants end up tied at 10-6, Green Bay could be in trouble because they'd lose a common games tiebreaker to New York.

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DALLAS COWBOYS (8-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 6 seedRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at New Orleans (L); at Washington (W); vs. Philadelphia (W)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 10-6; No. 6Extra Point: A loss Saturday would be the Cowboys' third straight, giving them the opposite of momentum (nomentum?) heading into the final two weeks. But even if they scrape out wins in the final two weeks, they'll need the Giants to lose one of their final three since New York swept Dallas and own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

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NEW YORK GIANTS (7-6)

If The Playoffs Started Today: OutRemaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Washington (W); vs. Carolina (W); at Minnesota (L)Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 9-7; outExtra Point: If the Cowboys lose Saturday night, the Giants will go into Monday night's game against Washington in complete control of their playoff destiny.

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