By Chris Burke
December 11, 2012

The Bears' playoff hopes are in serious danger, especially if Jay Cutler has to miss any time with the neck injury he suffered vs. the Vikings. (Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports) The Bears' playoff hopes are in serious danger, especially if Jay Cutler has to miss any time with the neck injury he suffered vs. the Vikings. (Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports)

Believe it or not, nary a team secured a playoff berth in Week 14. So, with three weeks left in the regular season, we're still stuck on four guaranteed postseason participants -- Houston, New England, Denver and Atlanta -- with eight spots still on the table.

Amazingly, we might still be on a four-down, eight-to-go scenario coming out of Week 15 too, if the Texans, Broncos, Patriots, Steelers, Bengals and Bears all win.

Need help figuring out why that's the case? This weeks' Playoff Picture tries to sort through all the scenarios ...

* means team has clinched a playoff spot.


Texans No. 1 seed: Houston Texans (11-2)*Remaining games: vs. Colts (9-4), vs. Vikings (7-6), at Colts (9-4)

The Texans remain atop the AFC, despite Monday night's debacle in Foxboro. They can secure the AFC South by beating the Colts once in the teams' two matchups down the stretch, starting with Sunday's showdown in Houston. As far as the No. 1 seed goes, the Texans have a head-to-head tiebreaker edge over Denver but not over New England, so winning out may be a necessity. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 10

Patriots No. 2 seed: New England Patriots (10-3)*Remaining games: vs. 49ers (9-3-1), at Jaguars (2-11), vs. Dolphins (5-8)

The Patriots' sights are set squarely on the AFC's top seed -- they have wins over both Houston and Denver, so they are in spectacular shape regarding potential tiebreakers. New England has the AFC East clinched already. Win out and the lowest the Patriots can be is the two-seed. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 10

Broncos No. 3 seed: Denver Broncos (10-3)*Remaining games: at Ravens (9-4), vs. Browns (5-8), vs. Chiefs (2-11)

Denver will be a top-four seed, courtesy of winning the AFC West -- Sunday's trip to Baltimore may decide whether the Broncos slot in at No. 3 or No. 4 in the playoffs. They'll need some help to climb any higher than that because of their 0-2 mark against Houston and New England. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 10

Ravens No. 4 seed: Baltimore Ravens (9-4) — Remaining games: vs. Broncos (10-3), vs. Giants (8-5), at Bengals (7-6)

One more Baltimore win (or at least one loss each by Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) would clinch the AFC North for the Ravens. And the only way they can miss the playoffs entirely is if they lose out while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati finish 2-0-1, tying in Week 16. A win Sunday against Denver would lock down Baltimore's playoff spot and do wonders for its seeding. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 9.9

Colts No. 5 seed: Indianapolis Colts (9-4)Remaining games: at Texans (11-2), at Chiefs (2-11), vs. Texans (11-2)

Indianapolis controls its fate in the AFC South -- win out, a run that would include two victories over Houston, and the Colts will take the division. A win this week also would clinch a playoff berth for the Colts (as would losses by both the Jets and Bengals). Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 9

Steelers No. 6 seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6)Remaining games: at Cowboys (7-6), vs. Bengals (7-6), vs. Browns (5-8)

Pittsburgh missed a glorious chance to take a stranglehold on this wild-card spot, instead losing to San Diego in Week 14. The Steelers still control their destiny, and their Week 16 game with Cincinnati may decide this race. Pittsburgh can still win the division if it wins out and Baltimore finishes 0-3. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 6

Bengals Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)Remaining games: at Eagles (4-9), at Steelers (7-6), vs. Ravens (9-4)

The Bengals may need a 3-0 finish to get in -- simply beating Pittsburgh in Week 16 won't cut it if the two teams still finish with the same record. But like the Steelers, the Bengals can steal the AFC North at 10-6, if the Ravens fall to 9-7. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 4

JetsNew York Jets (6-7) -- Remaining games: at Titans (4-9), vs. Chargers (5-8), at Bills (5-8)

Welcome to the Playoff Picture party, Jets. The climb here remains steep, as the Jets likely have to get to 9-7 to have a shot (they can get in at 8-8, but only if Cincinnati finishes 8-8 and Pittsburgh 7-9). Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): "So you're telling me there's a chance."

Still alive: Browns (5-8), Chargers (5-8), Bills (5-8), Dolphins (5-8)

Eliminated: Titans (4-9), Raiders (3-10), Jaguars (2-11), Chiefs (2-11)


Falcons No. 1 seed: Atlanta Falcons (11-2)*Remaining games: vs. Giants (8-5), at Lions (4-9), vs. Buccaneers (6-7)

The Falcons' mystique took a hit in Week 14, but the NFC playoff road still seems set to roll through Atlanta. They can clinch a first-round bye with a win Sunday plus a loss by either San Francisco or Green Bay; or they can wrap up the No. 1 seed with a win plus losses by both San Francisco and Green Bay. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 10

49ers No. 2 seed: San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1)Remaining games:  at Patriots (10-3), at Seahawks (8-5), vs. Cardinals (4-9)

The 49ers can lock up a playoff berth officially by winning in New England. Short of that, they'd need losses by Minnesota, Dallas, Washington and Seattle to punch their ticket in Week 15. But a win plus a Seattle loss also would hand San Francisco the NFC West title, relieving the pressure of that Week 16 game against the Seahawks. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 9

Packers No. 3 seed: Green Bay Packers (9-4)Remaining games: at Bears (8-5), vs. Titans (4-9), at Vikings (7-6)

Win in Chicago on Sunday, and the Packers will wear the NFC North crown this season. Lose and not only would the division race be wide open again, but also the Packers would have to wait until at least Week 16 to clinch a playoff berth. Green Bay also has a very solid shot to catch San Francisco for a bye, as things stand now. But first things first ... Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 8

Giants No. 4 seed: New York Giants (8-5)Remaining games: at Falcons (11-2), at Ravens (9-4), vs. Eagles (4-9)

No matter what happens this week, no NFC East team can lock down a playoff spot officially. The Giants can, however, keep pace on or extend their lead over the Redskins and Cowboys with a victory, as well as put the heat on San Francisco and Green Bay for the two- and three-seed, respectively. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 6

Seahawks No. 5 seed: Seattle Seahawks (8-5)Remaining games: at Bills (5-8), vs. 49ers (9-3-1), vs. Rams (6-6-1)

Suddenly, the Seahawks are in very good shape -- ahead of Chicago for the higher wild-card spot and 1.5 games back of the 49ers, with that Week 16 clash looming. Seattle also cannot clinch a playoff berth this week, but a win in Buffalo would put the Seahawks right on the brink. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 6

Bears No. 6 seed: Chicago Bears (8-5)  — Remaining games: vs. Packers (9-4), at Cardinals (4-9), at Lions (4-9)

Back-to-back losses have Chicago in a tenuous spot here, especially with Washington, Dallas and Minnesota closing. The scariest reality for Chicago right now is that 10-6 might not be enough to reach the postseason -- if the Bears, Seattle and at least two NFC East teams hit that mark, the Bears would be on the outside looking in. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 4.5

Redskins Washington Redskins (7-6)Remaining games: at Browns (5-8), at Eagles (4-9), vs. Cowboys (7-6)

Depending what happens to Chicago and New York, the Redskins' Week 17 game with Dallas could be for a wild-card spot, the NFC East title ... or nothing. Washington still needs a little help to surpass the Giants or Bears, but the Redskins hold the two-team tiebreaker against both teams. Basically, if the Redskins win out, it's hard to see them missing the playoffs. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 4

Cowboys Dallas Cowboys (7-6)Remaining games: vs. Steelers (7-6), vs. Saints (5-8), at Redskins (7-6)

Currently, the Cowboys would win a two-team tiebreaker with the Giants and lose one to the Redskins ... but they could flip the latter with a Week 17 victory. Of course, Dallas has two difficult home games before then. Would 9-7 be enough to get in, if that mark included a victory over Washington? It may come down to the conference record tiebreaker, in which the Cowboys currently trail both Chicago and Seattle. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 3.5

VikingsMinnesota Vikings (7-6)Remaining games: at Rams (6-6-1), at Texans (11-2), vs. Packers (9-4)

The Vikings' Week 6 loss to Washington looms large at the moment, but it may only matter if Minnesota can somehow find a way to go at least 2-1 during a brutal closing stretch. There's still a very outside possibility that a Week 17 game with Green Bay could be for the NFC North title.  Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 2

RamsSt. Louis Rams (6-6-1) -- Remaining games: vs. Vikings (7-6), at Buccaneers (6-7), at Seahawks (8-5)

The Rams have to finish 3-0 -- an 8-7-1 record won't do them any good in the playoff race. But if they make it to 9-6-1 and knock off both Minnesota and Seattle (for a second time) in the process ... St. Louis already has a victory over Washington under its belt, though the Rams did lose to Chicago, which could come back to haunt them. Likelihood of making the playoffs (out of 10): 1.5

Still alive: Buccaneers (6-7), Saints (5-8)

Eliminated: Panthers

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