NFL Playoff Scenarios, Week 17: Two spots left in NFC race
For all the scenarios that we've picked through over the past few weeks, the situation heading into the NFL's final Sunday is pretty straightforward.
All six AFC playoff berths have been claimed with two teams, No. 5 Indianapolis and No. 6 Cincinnati, already cemented into their seeds. The top four seeds remain unsettled, but Nos. 1 through 3 can all hold onto their current spots with victories.
The other conference has a few more teams in play. The NFC East is down to two contenders, the Cowboys and Redskins -- in serendipitous fashion, they meet in Washington next Sunday. Five teams are alive in the race for the NFC's second wild-card spot, but Seattle RSVP'd to the postseason with a win over San Francisco.
So, just two of the league's 12 playoff bids are unclaimed with one day left in the regular season. What do the teams with life need to happen to get into the playoffs? Here we go ...
* means team has clinched a playoff spot.
The Texans remain a win away from clinching the AFC's top seed. However, if Houston loses in Indianapolis, both Denver and New England could jump the Texans in the standings by winning -- which would drop the Texans down to third and cost them a first-round bye.
Denver has won 10 straight, but don't expect Peyton Manning's club to let up against the Chiefs. While the Broncos still could leapfrog Houston for the No. 1 seed, they also could slip to third with a loss plus a New England win.
The Patriots have the most fluid situation of the AFC's division winners -- they could finish as high as No. 1 or as low as No. 4. New England holds head-to-head tiebreakers over Houston and Denver, but lost earlier this season to Baltimore. If New England beats Miami, it will clinch at least a top-three spot.
The Ravens halted their late-season collapse by putting a whooping on the Giants. That win gave Baltimore the AFC North title and took almost all the importance out of the Ravens-Bengals Week 17 matchup. The Ravens could move up to No. 3 in the AFC if they win and New England loses; they cannot fall lower than No. 4.
No. 5 seed: Indianapolis Colts (10-5)* — vs. Texans (13-2)
The Colts clinched a playoff berth Sunday, and they are locked into the No. 5 seed. The big question here for Week 17: Will the Colts go all out to try to knock Houston from the AFC's top spot or will they play it safe in preparation for the playoffs? Indianapolis will open at either New England or Baltimore (likely the latter) once the postseason begins.
No. 6 seed: Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)* — vs. Ravens (10-5)
The Bengals clinched this spot by bouncing the Steelers from the chase Sunday. Cincinnati has nothing to play for in Week 17 against the Ravens -- the division title is Baltimore's, even if Cincinnati finishes with a matching 10-6 record.
The Falcons' challenge for Week 17 is figuring out how to prevent rust from settling in -- Atlanta has the NFC's No. 1 seed secured, meaning that it will not play a meaningful game for three weeks.
San Francisco's Sunday night loss was Green Bay's gain -- with that result, the Packers jumped over the 49ers for second place in the NFC. If the Packers beat Minnesota next Sunday, they would clinch a first-round bye. A Green Bay loss coupled with a San Francisco win over Arizona would switch the order again.
No. 3 seed: San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1)* — vs. Cardinals (5-10)
The 49ers still need a win in Week 17 (or a Seattle loss) to claim the NFC West title. If they get the former, a Minnesota victory would allow San Francisco to enjoy a bye. Should the 49ers lose to Arizona and fall to second place in the NFC West, they would be the conference's No. 5 seed and play at either Washington or Dallas in round 1.
No. 4 seed: Washington Redskins (9-6) — vs. Cowboys (9-6)
Washington is in as the NFC East champion and the conference's No. 4 seed if it beats Dallas. The Redskins still could sneak into the playoffs with a loss -- if Minnesota and Chicago both lose, Washington would clinch a berth. Because the Cowboys-Redskins game was flexed to Sunday night, it is possible that Washington will have a clinched at least a wild-card spot before kickoff.
There is not much wiggle room here for the Seahawks, who clinched a playoff spot in Week 16. If Seattle wins and San Francisco loses, the Seahawks would win the NFC West and take the No. 3 seed; if San Francisco wins or Seattle loses, the Seahawks will stay right where they are and play at either Washington or Dallas in the wild-card round.
No. 6 seed: Minnesota Vikings (9-6) — vs. Packers (11-4)
This is the NFL's only wild-card spot left unsettled following Week 16. Minnesota can end the drama by beating Green Bay. The Vikings can lose that game and go to the playoffs only if Chicago loses and both New York and Dallas lose or tie.
Go Packers? The Bears can make the playoffs if they win and their hated rival, Green Bay, drops Minnesota. The Chicago-Detroit game is in the early slot next Sunday, while Green Bay-Minnesota is set for late afternoon, so the Bears could be out of the mix before the Vikings even take the field.
Dallas Cowboys (8-7) — at Redskins (9-6)
Like Washington, Dallas will claim the NFC East and head to the playoffs with a victory next Sunday night. Unlike Washington, the Cowboys cannot lose and make the postseason.
New York Giants (8-7) — vs. Eagles (4-11)
This situation ... is not a good situation. Thanks to their face-plant in Baltimore, the Giants are out of the NFC East running and sit fourth in the pecking order for that final wild-card spot. The Giants need to beat Philadelphia and root for Minnesota, Chicago and Dallas to lose. Should any one of those four circumstances fail to occur, there will be a new Super Bowl champion this season. Eliminated: Rams (7-7-1), Saints (7-8), Buccaneers (6-9), Panthers (6-9), Cardinals (5-10), Lions (4-11), Eagles (4-11)