Here’s how the AFC and NFC playoff pictures look after Sunday's action. One game remains in Week 16 (Atlanta at San Francisco):
1. Denver Broncos (12-3): AFC West leader *
2. New England Patriots (11-4): AFC East leader*
3. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5): AFC North leader*
4. Indianapolis Colts (10-5): AFC South leader *
5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4): Wild card *
6. Miami Dolphins (8-7): Wild card
In the Hunt: Baltimore Ravens (8-7), San Diego Chargers (8-7), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
(* = has clinched playoff berth)
With the Chiefs falling at home to the Colts, the Broncos' win clinched for them the AFC West and a first-round bye. New England still could jump Denver for No. 1 overall -- the Patriots beat the Broncos head-to-head -- but Denver cannot fall behind the second seed.
Both Cincinnati and Indianapolis stayed in the hunt for a first-round bye, too, though it will take a New England loss in Week 17 for either to have a shot at the top two. The Bengals host the Ravens next week, with a chance to possibly knock the Ravens from the playoffs.
Because they hold the conference-record tiebreaker over the Ravens, the Dolphins currently sit in the No. 6 spot, even though Baltimore beat Miami head-to-head. Earlier, Miami's loss clinched the AFC East for the Patriots. Baltimore lost control of its destiny over a playoff spot (as well as any chance at the AFC North crown) by virtue of its loss to the Patriots.
The Chargers and Steelers, remained alive in the wild-card race thanks to the losses by Miami and Baltimore, plus the win by the Jets (tiebreakers come into play with New York). Both of those teams, now at 8-7, are still in the hunt heading to the season's final week.
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-3): NFC West leader *
2. Carolina Panthers (11-4): NFC South leader*
3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6): NFC East leader
4. Chicago Bears (8-7): NFC North leader
5. San Francisco 49ers (10-4): Wild card
6. New Orleans Saints (10-5): Wild card
In the Hunt: Arizona Cardinals (10-5), Dallas Cowboys (8-7), Green Bay Packers (7-7-1)
Most of the NFC contenders sat out Sunday's early games, but two early contests loomed large: Carolina's win over New Orleans and Dallas' comeback victory at Washington.
By rallying to stun the Saints late, the Panthers clinched a playoff spot and claimed the NFC South lead. Carolina would clinch the division with a win or a Saints loss in Week 17. It's also a win (or New Orleans loss) away from clinching a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Saints remain likely to secure a playoff spot, but they have not clinched one as of yet.
And the Cowboys' victory means that the NFC East race will be decided in Week 17, even though Philadelphia won in convincing fashion on Sunday night. Even with that result, the Cowboys can steal the division with a Week 17 win over the Eagles. Should Philadelphia win, it would be the No. 3 seed; Dallas would settle at No. 4 if Chicago wins the North and No. 3 if it's Green Bay.
The Bears had a chance to clinch the division this week -- Detroit was eliminated from playoff contention on a loss to the Giants, while Green Bay fell to Pittsburgh. However, they were unable to take advantage of that opportunity, meaning Week 17's Chicago-Green Bay game at Soldier Field will decide the division. The Bears would be the champs with a win or tie; the Packers need a victory to jump into first place. The Cardinals' huge win in Seattle is important for a number of reasons: San Francisco's still alive in the NFC West race; Carolina's still alive for the No. 1 seed in the NFC; and Arizona itself now has a chance in Week 17 to claim a wild-card spot. (The Cardinals do still need some help there.)