Dom Bonvissuto
Wednesday December 30th, 2009

The numbers break down like this: Two playoff spots are up for grabs in the AFC, with seven teams fighting for them; in the NFC, the six playoff spots are locked up, but seeds 2-6 won't be determined until Week 17 concludes. In all, nine of the 16 games in Week 17 have playoff implications.

The irony, of course, is we got into journalism and writing because numbers and math weren't our thing. It'd be a lot easier on us if tiebreakers, for instance, were based on alphabetical order and not strength of victory. Is it too late for Houston to change its nickname to the Aardvarks?

Alas, the NFL did the majority of the grunt work when they released their Week 17 playoff scenarios earlier this week. It's now our job to project how things will play out. 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 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. Without further ado...

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (14-1)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 1 seed Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Buffalo (L) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 14-2; No. 1 Extra Point: The Colts better lose this game, for their fans' sanity sake. A win here followed by a run to the Super Bowl title will leave a huge What If hanging over a great season.

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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (12-3)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 2 seed Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Washington (W) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 13-3; No. 2 Extra Point: No team is hotter than the Chargers, winners of 10 straight. With nothing to play for, we still project the Chargers won't mess with a good thing and play their starters until the outcome has been determined.

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 3 seed (wins tiebreaker with Cincinnati based on strength of victory) Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Houston (W) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 11-5; No. 3 (wins tiebreaker with Cincinnati based on strength of victory) Extra Point: The Patriots are playing for the No. 3 seed. Win, and they get it. Lose, and they risk losing it to the Bengals on Sunday night. On the chance they lose to the Texans and draw them again in the wild-card round, we project Bill Belichick playing his starters but with a very vanilla game plan so as not to give the Texans anything to record away too much.

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CINCINNATI BENGALS (10-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 4 seed Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at N.Y. Jets (L) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 10-6; No. 4 Extra Point: The Bengals will know by kickoff if they have a shot at the No. 3 seed. If they don't, expect to see a preseason-like effort of starters for a couple quarters. You know how day old bagels look the same, but don't deliver the same flavor as fresh ones? Think of Sunday's Bengals as day old Bengals.

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DENVER BRONCOS (8-7)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 5 seed (wins tiebreaker over N.Y. Jets and Baltimore based on strength of victory and conference record over Houston) Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Kansas City (W) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 9-7; out Extra Point: The Broncos are technically the No. 5 seed now, but thanks to the Chiefs, they'll lose the SOV (SOB in Denver?) tiebreakers after Week 17. So the Broncos need to win and get some help. There are 10 ways for the Broncos to make it and we think their most reasonable shot is to win and have the Ravens lose in Oakland and the Steelers lose in Miami. One important thing to keep in mind with all these 8-7 teams -- they are 8-7 for a reason. Consistency ain't their game. So it's not unreasonable to think the Ravens and Steelers will lose road games.

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NEW YORK JETS (8-7)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 6 seed (wins tiebreaker over Baltimore based on strength of victory and conference record over Houston) Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Cincinnati (W) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 9-7; No. 5 Extra Point: The best part about the Jets is their playoff scenario simplicity: Win and they're in; lose and they're out. That's it. Our projections have the Bengals giving 50 percent effort Sunday night, so unless the Jets screw that up, they're in. That would mean a rematch against the Bengals, in Cincy, next weekend.

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BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-7)

If The Playoffs Started Today: Out Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Oakland (W) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 9-7; No. 6 Extra Point: The Ravens are in the same boat as the Jets -- win, in; lose, out. Working against the Ravens is the fact the Raiders owned the AFC North this season with wins over the Bengals and Steelers (yet lost to the Browns; figure that one out).

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-7)

If The Playoffs Started Today: Out Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Miami (W) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 9-7; out Extra Point: Hopefully Steelers fans weren't lulled into a false sense of playoff security after beating the Ravens in Week 16; if they read last week's projections, they would have known beating Baltimore guaranteed absolutely nothing because Pittsburgh's division record (thanks to that loss against Cleveland) was a tiebreaker killer. Because of that, the Steelers need to win and hope any two of the Jets, Texans or Ravens lose. Although, if the combination of two is the Texans and Ravens, then Pittsburgh would also need the Broncos to lose. Your defending champions, ladies and gentleman.

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HOUSTON TEXANS (8-7)

If The Playoffs Started Today: Out Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. New England (L) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 8-8; out Extra Point: There are two things we're pretty certain about this weekend: 1) The Jets won't lose to the 50 percent Bengals; and 2) The Broncos won't lose at home to the Chiefs. Unfortunately, the Texans need both of those things to be wrong (or one of those things to be wrong and have the Ravens lose), in addition to beating the Patriots. Translation: Texans need a miracle.

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MIAMI DOLPHINS (7-8)

If The Playoffs Started Today: Out Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Pittsburgh (L) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 7-9; out Extra Point: Think of the Dolphins' path to a playoff spot as a four-step process. Step 1: Beat the Steelers; 2. Browns beat Jaguars; 3. Patriots beat Texans; 4. Bengals beat Jets. If any of those don't pan out, Dolphins are on the couch next weekend.

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (7-8)

If The Playoffs Started Today: Out Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Cleveland (L) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 7-9; out Extra Point: Good news, Jags fans! In order to make the postseason, you don't need all five 8-7 teams to lose. You need four. Good luck.

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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-2)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 1 seed Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Carolina (W) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 14-2; No. 1 Extra Point: Nobody wants to backslide into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak, even if you are the No. 1 seed. Expect the Saints to play hard throughout, knowing they've got the bye week to get healthy.

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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (11-4)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 2 seed (wins tiebreaker with Minnesota on conference record) Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Dallas (L) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 11-5; No. 6 Extra Point: We owe the Eagles one after predicting they had zero chance to make the postseason during last year's Week 17 projections. However, the Cowboys beat them earlier this season and are playing at home, so we'll give them the edge. If that's the case, we'll more than likely see these two teams in the same stadium next weekend. If the Eagles win, however, they'll earn the bye and send the Cowboys to No 6.

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MINNESOTA VIKINGS (11-4)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 3 seed Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. N.Y. Giants (W) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 12-4; No. 2 Extra Point: The Vikings could be as low as the No. 4 seed if they lose and the Cardinals win. But expect the Vikings to treat Sunday like a playoff game since A) they play before the Eagles and can still grab the No. 2 seed; and B) they desperately need to shake this late-season funk and gather some momentum.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS (10-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 4 seed Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Green Bay (L) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 10-6; No. 4 Extra Point: Because the Vikings game is earlier, the Cardinals will know by kickoff if the No. 2 seed is still in play. We project it won't be, and like we said last week, the Cards won't want to give anything away to the Packers so they'll rest everybody and go full tilt next weekend.

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GREEN BAY PACKERS (10-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 5 seed (wins tiebreaker with Dallas on head-to-head) Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): at Arizona (W) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 11-5; No. 5 (wins tiebreaker with Philadelphia on common games) Extra Point: The Packers are pretty much locked into playing the Cards next weekend, but there's one interesting scenario to watch out for. Should they lose and the Giants and Eagles win, the Packers would visit old friend Brett Favre and Minnesota on wild-card weekend.

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DALLAS COWBOYS (10-5)

If The Playoffs Started Today: In; No. 6 seed Remaining Schedule (Projected Results): vs. Philadelphia (W) Final Projected Record; Playoff Seeding: 11-5; No. 3 (wins tiebreaker with Philadelphia on head to head) Extra Point: Everything but the No. 1 and 5 seed is still in play for the Cowboys. A win over Philly, plus losses by the Cards and Vikings gives Dallas the No. 2. A win over Philly, a Vikings win and a Cards loss gives Dallas No. 3. A win over Philly and Vikings' and Cards' wins gives Dallas No. 4. A loss to Philly and Dallas is No. 6. Got it?

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