NFL playoff scenarios for Week 16
The NFL playoff picture continues to move ever closer to being 100 percent clear -- we'll be there by next Sunday night, if not before. All of this week's playoff scenarios can be found here, but we will be keeping track below of what Sunday's action means to the postseason races ...
• Baltimore has won the AFC North: Despite Cincinnati's victory in Pittsburgh, the Ravens clinched the division with a rout of the Giants. Baltimore cannot fall any lower than fourth in the conference and cannot climb any higher than third -- the latter would occur if the Ravens beat Cincinnati next week and Miami upsets New England.
Barring that, the Ravens will open the playoffs as the AFC's No. 4 seed, at home, against Cincinnati.
• The Colts and Bengals are going to the playoffs: Thanks to Indianapolis' victory in Kansas City and Cincinnati's win in Pittsburgh, the AFC's playoff field is set -- at least in terms of which six teams will be participating.
Josh Brown's field goal with eight seconds left handed the Bengals a 13-10 win, eliminating the Steelers and Dolphins from postseason contention. Cincinnati now has a shot to swipe the AFC North crown from Baltimore, if the Ravens lose to the Giants on Sunday.
Indianapolis almost certainly will be the No. 5 seed. The only way that could change is if the Bengals or Ravens flip the strength-of-victory tiebreaker against the Colts, which is very unlikely.
• The top three seeds are still up for grabs: Not that long ago, Houston seemed locked in as the AFC's top seed. Not anymore. With Houston's loss Sunday, both the Broncos and Patriots will have a chance to leapfrog the Texans next week if the Texans lose to Indianapolis.
Houston holds the head-to-head tiebreaker on Denver but not on New England. A Week 17 Texans loss, then, could drop the longtime AFC leader to the three-seed -- out of bye position.
• The Dolphins and Steelers have been eliminated: Miami needed a Pittsburgh win Sunday to stay alive. Cincinnati's victory instead bounced the Dolphins from the conversation, despite Miami's beatdown of Buffalo.
The Steelers' loss ended any hopes they had. Had they won Sunday and again in Week 17, they would have clinched a playoff berth.
• Seattle has clinched a playoff spot; San Francisco still leads the West: The Seahawks locked up one of the NFC"s two wild-card spots with their win over San Francisco. However, the 49ers need only to beat Arizona in Week 17 to clinch the NFC West. A Cardinals victory plus Seattle win over St. Louis would flip-flop the 49ers and Seahawks in the division.
• Atlanta has clinched the No. 1 seed: The Falcons' 31-18 victory over the Lions on Saturday night means that at least one team will have to win in Atlanta to prevent Matt Ryan's crew from a Super Bowl trip. As things stand now, of those teams still alive in the playoff race, the only one the Falcons cannot play in their playoff opener -- a divisional-round game on either Jan. 12 or 13 -- is current No. 2 seed San Francisco.
• Green Bay jumped San Francisco: Packers fans might contest that the Seahawks owed them one because of the infamous Hail Mary game from early this year, but Seattle definitely helped out Sunday night. With the Seahawks' win over San Francisco, Green Bay now sits in second place in the NFC -- a win over Minnesota would secure for the Packers a first-round bye.
San Francisco can finish no lower than third place if it wins the division. but now needs a win plus a Packers loss in Week 17 to reclaim second.
• Washington will head into Week 17 in first place ... but Dallas controls its destiny: By virtue of a seven-point win in Philadelphia, the Redskins moved to 9-6 and kept hold of first place in the division. If the Redskins beat the Cowboys next Sunday, Washington will claim the NFC East title.
The Cowboys have the same scenario, thanks to the Giants' loss. If Dallas can come up with a road win over Washington next Sunday, then it would win the division.
• About the Giants' chances ...: The defending NFC East and Super Bowl champions can no longer win the division. Just to get back to the postseason, the Giants need to beat Philadelphia in Week 17 and have three of the following happen: Minnesota loss, Chicago loss, Dallas loss, 0-2 finish by Seattle.
• Minnesota is still the No. 6 seed, and now controls its own destiny: Another team impacted by the Giants' loss to Baltimore. Here, it plays to Minnesota's benefit big-time. The 9-6 Vikings no longer can be knocked from the playoffs with a Week 17 win -- beat Green Bay, and they are in.
The Vikings could still reach the postseason with a loss to the Packers, but Dallas, New York and Chicago all would have to lose next Sunday as well.
• Chicago is Green Bay's biggest fan: The NFL playoff race can make for weird alliances, and this is one. Barring an 0-2 finish from Seattle (vs. San Francisco, St. Louis), the Bears' only hope for making the postseason is for Green Bay to win in Minnesota next week. That result would make the Bears' visit to Detroit a do-or-die scenario. • The NFC East winner will be the No. 4 seed: Green Bay's victory Sunday set the top three teams in this conference -- Atlanta is the No. 1, with San Francisco and Green Bay in the next two slots, currently in that order. No matter which team takes the NFC East, that squad will be the No. 4 seed and more than likely, will face Seattle in the wild-card round.