NFL Playoff Picture: Clinching scenarios for teams entering Week 16
Here’s how the AFC and NFC playoff pictures look headed into Week 16:
1. Denver Broncos (11-3): AFC West leader *
2. New England Patriots (10-4): AFC East leader
3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-5): AFC North leader
4. Indianapolis Colts (9-5): AFC South leader *
5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3): Wild card *
6. Baltimore Ravens (8-6): Wild card
In the Hunt: Miami Dolphins (8-6), San Diego Chargers (7-7), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8)
(* = has clinched playoff berth)
The AFC playoff scenarios for Week 16 are as follows:
• Denver clinches the AFC West and a first-round bye with a win plus a Kansas City loss. The Broncos would clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with those two outcomes and a New England loss.
• New England clinches the AFC East with a win or tie, or a Miami loss or tie (a Cincinnati loss also would clinch a playoff spot for the Patriots). The Patriots clinch a first-round bye with a win, Cincinnati loss or tie and an Indianapolis loss or tie; or a tie and losses by Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
• Cincinnati clinches the AFC North with a win plus a Baltimore loss or tie, or a tie and Baltimore loss. The Bengals can secure a playoff spot with a win and a Miami loss or tie, or a tie and a Miami loss.
• Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with a win plus a Miami loss and a San Diego loss or tie.
• Miami clinches a playoff spot with a win plus losses by Baltimore and Cincinnati.
At least one of the AFC's spots will be up for grabs headed to Week 17, regardless of what goes on this Sunday and Monday. But all four division titles could be sewn up by that point, as the Broncos, Patriots and Bengals all have scenarios that would allow them to clinch this week.
The Steelers need a long list of circumstances to fall their direction to even stay alive beyond this week. The Chargers could fall by the wayside too, if they lose or both the Ravens and Dolphins win -- either scenario would bounce San Diego from contention.
Two games that loom very large: New England at Baltimore and Indianapolis at Kansas City. The latter could be a wild-card round preview, but the Chiefs still have their eyes on the No. 1-overall seed. Indianapolis still could secure a first-round bye as well, with a little help. And while the Patriots need a win to clinch the AFC East, the Ravens not only still have a shot at a wild card but also control their own destiny in the AFC North race.
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1. Seattle Seahawks (12-2): NFC West leader *
2. New Orleans Saints (10-4): NFC South leader
3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-6): NFC East leader
4. Chicago Bears (8-6): NFC North leader
5. Carolina Panthers (10-4): Wild card
6. San Francisco 49ers (10-4): Wild card
In the Hunt: Arizona Cardinals (9-5), Green Bay Packers (7-6-1), Detroit Lions (7-7), Dallas Cowboys (7-7)
The NFC playoff scenarios for Week 16 are as follows:
• Seattle clinches the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win or tie, or a San Francisco loss or tie.
• New Orleans clinches the NFC South and a first-round bye with a win. The Saints also could clinch a playoff spot by virtue of a tie plus an Arizona loss; a tie plus a San Francisco loss or tie; a tie plus an Arizona tie; or a San Francisco loss and Arizona tie.
• Carolina clinches a playoff spot with a win, or a tie and a loss by either Arizona or San Francisco, or losses by both Arizona and San Francisco.
• San Francisco clinches a playoff spot with a win or an Arizona loss, or ties by both teams.
• Philadelphia clinches the NFC East with a win plus a Dallas loss or tie, or a tie and Dallas loss.
• Chicago clinches the NFC North with a win plus a Green Bay loss and a Detroit loss or tie.
The game that stands out on the NFC schedule for Week 16 is New Orleans' trip to Carolina. A win there by the Saints coupled with a Seattle victory over Arizona would set in stone the top two seeds for this conference. Carolina could leapfrog New Orleans into the No. 2 spot with a win, though, which might force the Saints to win in Week 17 or risk missing the playoffs entirely.
The pressure's on the Cowboys (at Washington), Packers (vs. Pittsburgh) and Lions (vs. the Giants) to stay alive, but the North-East crossover game between Chicago and Philadelphia on Sunday night looms as one of the most important of this entire NFL season. The loser there would face a do-or-die game in Week 17 -- and the winner might, too.