Here’s how the AFC and NFC playoff pictures look as Week 15 begins (updated through Denver's loss to San Diego on Thursday):
1. Denver Broncos (11-3): AFC West leader
2. New England Patriots (10-3): AFC East leader
3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4): AFC North leader
4. Indianapolis Colts (8-5): AFC South leader
5. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3): Wild card
6. Baltimore Ravens (7-6): Wild card
The AFC playoff scenarios for Week 15 are as follows:
• Denver could have clinched the AFC West with: a win plus a Chiefs loss. The Broncos could have clinched a first-round bye with a win, Chiefs loss and Bengals loss or tie.
• Kansas City clinches a playoff spot with: a win or tie; or Miami loss or tie; or Baltimore loss or tie.
• New England clinches the AFC East with: a win or tie. The Patriots also can clinch a playoff spot with a Baltimore loss or tie.
• Cincinnati clinches the AFC North with: a win plus a Baltimore loss or tie; or a tie plus a Baltimore loss. The Bengals clinch a playoff spot with a win plus a Miami loss or tie; or a tie plus a Miami loss.
The top five is mostly set in the AFC, though there still could be some drama in the AFC North. Baltimore could take over control of its own destiny there with a win and Cincinnati loss, since the Bengals and Ravens still have a game left against each other. Saving that, the Ravens could use a victory simply to keep the wolves at bay in the wild-card picture.
Pittsburgh and Tennessee are both on their last legs. Each could be eliminated from contention with losses this week.
Denver lost a chance to clinch the AFC West and a first-round bye in its loss to the Chargers. That setback could prove extremely costly, as the Patriots (with a head-to-head win over Denver in their back pocket) now control their own destiny in the race for the No. 1 seed. A Kansas City victory this week also would erase any cushion the Broncos had in the division race -- Denver did sweep Kansas City this season, so the Chiefs have to finish with a better record to claim the title.
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1. Seattle Seahawks (11-2): NFC West leader
2. New Orleans Saints (10-3): NFC South leader
3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-5): NFC East leader
4. Detroit Lions (7-6): NFC North leader
5. Carolina Panthers (9-4): Wild card
6. San Francisco 49ers (9-4): Wild card
The NFC playoff scenarios for Week 15 are as follows:
• Seattle clinches the NFC West and a first-round bye with: a win plus San Francisco loss or tie; or a tie plus a San Francisco loss. The Seahawks also could clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win, 49ers loss or tie, plus a New Orleans loss.
• New Orleans clinches a playoff spot with: a win; or a tie, plus a loss or tie by either Arizona or San Francisco; or an Arizona loss, plus a loss or tie by either Philadelphia or Dallas; or a San Francisco loss, an Arizona tie, and a loss or tie by either Philadelphia or Dallas.
• Carolina clinches a playoff spot with: a win, Arizona loss, San Francisco loss, and a loss or tie by either Philadelphia or Dallas.
• San Francisco clinches a playoff spot with: a win, Arizona loss, and a loss or tie by either Philadelphia or Dallas.
Only one game involving an NFC team -- Washington at Atlanta -- does not carry some level of weight in the postseason race. Detroit, Philadelphia and Carolina all could be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in by the end of the Lions' Monday night matchup with Baltimore. Ratcheting up the drama further: None of the NFC teams still alive as of right now can be eliminated this week. Detroit, Chicago and Green Bay could all be bounced from wild-card competition, but all of those NFC North squads will carry division-title hopes to at least Week 16, regardless of this weekend's results.