This past weekend’s action greatly simplified things in the AFC, with the only unsettled questions being the 1-4 seeding of the four division winners, who are remarkably exactly the same as last season. Things are a bit more unsettled in the NFC. An interesting tidbit that I have been tracking all season is that the NFC ended up +14 in games against the AFC this season (that is a final number as the Week 17 schedule is all division games). Where those numbers really manifest themselves is not so much the record of the playoff teams but in the bottom 10 of both conferences; the NFC will have between 1-4 teams finish above .500 but miss the playoffs while no one will do that in the AFC. Indeed, Chicago could win 10 games but miss. Also, the worst two teams in the NFC have 4 wins, whereas two teams in the AFC have only two wins. So below are the current standings followed by team-by-team scenario information (leaving ties out of the equation), starting in the AFC:
1. Houston <clinched division> (12-3) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Denver)
2. Denver <clinched division>
3. New England <clinched division> (11-4)
4. Baltimore <clinched division> (10-5)
5. Indianapolis <clinched wildcard> (10-5)
6. Cincinnati <clinched wildcard> (9-6)
7. Miami (7-8) (conference record tiebreaker on Pittsburgh)
9. San Diego (6-9) (head-to-head tiebreaker on New York)
10. New York
11. Cleveland (5-10) (conference record on Buffalo & Tennessee)
12. Tennessee (head-to-head on Buffalo)
14. Oakland (4-11)
15. Jacksonville (2-13) (conference record on Kansas City)
16. Kansas City
Houston clinches the #1 seed with a win, OR losses by both Denver and New England. They clinch a bye seed with a loss by either Denver or New England. Houston has head-to-head advantage on Denver, but not on New England.
Denver clinches a bye seed with a win OR with a New England loss. They clinch the #1 seed with a win AND Houston loss. Denver does not have the tiebreaker on either Houston or New England, having lost to both of them.
New England clinches the #1 seed with a win AND losses by both Houston and Denver. They clinch a bye seed with a win AND a loss by Houston or Denver. New England trails both by one game, but they have head-to-head tiebreaking on both of them.
Baltimore cannot get a bye seed. However, if they win AND New England loses they can move up to the #3 seed as they do have head-to-head tiebreaking on the Patriots. Basically, with only one game remaining, the Patriots can be seeded anywhere in the 1-4 range.
Indianapolis will be the #5 seed. Even if they lose and Cincinnati wins Week 17, the Colts have clinched a better record against opponents common with the Bengals.
Cincinnati will be the #6 seed.
Pittsburgh was alive entering last week but was eliminated by their loss to the Bengals. Of their 8 losses this season, five were by 3 points.
Miami was alive entering last week and won their game, but was still eliminated by the Bengals win.
Projected Playoff Schedule:
Indianapolis @ Baltimore Saturday January 5th at 4:30pm on NBC
Cincinnati @ New England Sunday January 6th at 1pm on CBS
Lower wildcard winner @ Houston Saturday January 12th at 4:30pm on CBS
Higher wildcard winner @ Denver Sunday January 13th at 4:30pm on CBS
Lower seed @ Higher seed Sunday January 20th at 6:30pm on CBS
Obviously changes in the seeds/matchups could change the schedule, especially wildcard weekend. I am frankly not certain on that wildcard schedule even if those exact matchups remain; I am guessing that NBC will claim the Washington involved game to feature, with Chicago and New York currently out and Green Bay now in bye seed position (see below). However, for all I know, they got the NFC East title game by making a deal with Fox to let them have the winner wildcard weekend. In that case I would surmise that NBC would take the #3 seed or Baltimore involved game for 8pm Saturday. I am more confident that, if Denver and New England remain #2 and #3 in either order, that the team seeded 2nd will be the late game on Sunday the 13th as if the #3 wins on wildcard weekend they visit the #2 the following weekend, and CBS would want to feature Brady v Manning matchup.
And now for the NFC:
1. Atlanta <clinched #1 seed> (13-2)
2. Green Bay <clinched division> (11-4)
3. San Francisco <clinched playoffs> (10-4-1)
4. Washington (9-6)
5. Seattle <clinched playoffs> (10-5)
6. Minnesota (9-6) (division record tiebreaker on Chicago)
In The Hunt
8. Dallas (8-7) (division record tiebreaker on New York)
9. New York
10. St. Louis (7-7-1)
11. New Orleans (7-8)
12. Tampa (6-9) (head-to-head on Carolina)
14. Arizona (5-10)
15. Detroit (4-11) (head-to-head on Philadelphia)
Atlanta has clinched the #1 seed
Green Bay clinches a bye seed with a win OR losses by both San Francisco and Seattle.
San Fransisco has clinched a playoff spot and clinches the division with a win OR Seattle loss. They clinch a bye seed with a win AND a Green Bay loss.
Washington clinches the division with a win or tie against Dallas. Failing that, it is possible for them to get a wildcard if both Minnesota and Chicago lose as they would have division tiebreaker (if necessary) on New York and they would have head-to-head on the Vikings, who would be 2nd in the North in that scenario. If the Redskins win the East they will be the #4 seed, and if they are a wildcard they would be the #6 seed.
Seattle has clinched a playoff spot and clinches the division with a win AND San Francisco loss. If they win the West they can get a bye seed if Green Bay loses, thanks to head-to-head tiebreaker earned due to the NFL not having regular referees working at the beginning of the season. If they are a wildcard it will be as the #5 seed, as even if they lose and Minnesota or Chicago wins, they have head-to-head tiebreaker on both the Vikings and the Bears.
Minnesota controls their destiny for making the playoffs. If they win they are a wildcard and the #6 seed. They could also make the playoffs with a loss if Chicago, New York, and Dallas all lose. The losses by New York and Dallas are necessary as the Vikings would lose a tie with the Giants on conference record, and they also lose a tie with the Redskins (who are playing Dallas) on head-to-head.
Chicago can make the playoffs if they win and Minnesota loses its game with Green Bay. They would be the #6 seed at 10-6 even if Seattle loses as they lost to the Seahawks head-to-head. They cannot make the playoffs if they lose.
Dallas controls its destiny; a win and they win the East division and get the #4 seed on a superior record vs opponents common with the Redskins (if the Giants win they would also be tied but dropped on division record). The Cowboys cannot be a wildcard.
New York does have a chance to make the playoffs, but they must win AND have losses by the Vikings, Bears, and Cowboys. They need Dallas to lose in order to rise to 2nd in the East, then they would win the tie with the Vikings (who would be ahead of the Bears in the North division) on conference record. Needing a total of 4 games to go the right way is not good odds. However, it has happened before. Off the top of my head I remember the 1989 Steelers needed a final week win plus 3 other teams losing in order to get in at 9-7, including the Bengals losing on Monday Night Football at Minnesota. It all happened, and that Steelers team went on to win the wildcard game at Houston in overtime before losing to Denver. So it’s possible.
St. Louis and New Orleans were alive last week and won their games but was eliminated by other results.
Projected Playoff Schedule:
Seattle @ Washington Saturday January 5th at 8pm on NBC
Minnesota @ San Francisco Sunday January 6th at 4:30pm on Fox
Lower wildcard winner @ Atlanta Saturday January 12th at 8pm on Fox
Higher wildcard winner @ Green Bay Sunday January 13th at 1pm on Fox
Lower winner @ Higher winner Sunday January 20th at 3pm on Fox
As I explained above with the AFC schedule, I am not confident in the wildcard weekend predictions, and with a fluid seeding situation the actual matchups could also change. I flipped the divisional weekend matchups with the change on who the #2 seed projects to be as the only reason I had Atlanta on Sunday is I had San Francisco Saturday because they cannot host a game at 1pm EST (10am PST). But with Green Bay in that #2 slot it allows for what I think what Fox and the NFL would prefer anyhow; Atlanta on Saturday night. Also, it would make a certain amount of sense to let the “frozen tundra” be a daylight game, although that has not been an overriding factor in playoff scheduling in recent years.
Below is the official clinching scenarios from nfl.com (including ties):
GREEN BAY PACKERS (at Minnesota Vikings)
Green Bay clinches a first-round bye:
1) GB win
2) GB tie + SF loss or tie
3) SF loss + SEA loss or tie
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (vs. Arizona Cardinals)
San Francisco clinches NFC West division:
1) SF win or tie
2) SEA loss or tie
San Francisco clinches a first-round bye:
1) SF win + GB loss or tie
2) SF tie + GB loss
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (vs. St. Louis Rams)
Seattle clinches NFC West division:
1) SEA win + SF loss
Seattle clinches a first-round bye:
1) SEA win + SF loss + GB loss
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (vs. Dallas Cowboys)
Washington clinches NFC East division:
1) WAS win or tie
Washington clinches a playoff berth:
1) CHI loss + MIN loss
DALLAS COWBOYS (at Redskins)
Dallas clinches NFC East division:
1) DAL win
NEW YORK GIANTS (vs. Philadelphia Eagles)
NY Giants clinch a playoff berth:
1) NYG win + DAL loss or tie + CHI loss + MIN loss
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (vs. Packers)
Minnesota clinches a playoff berth:
1) MIN win
2) MIN tie + CHI loss or tie
3) DAL loss or tie + NYG loss or tie + CHI loss
CHICAGO BEARS (at Detroit Lions)
Chicago clinches a playoff berth:
1) CHI win + MIN loss or tie
2) CHI tie + MIN loss
HOUSTON TEXANS (at Colts)
Houston clinches a first-round bye:
1) HOU win or tie
2) NE loss or tie
3) DEN loss
Houston clinches home-field advantage:
1) HOU win
2) HOU tie + DEN loss or tie
3) NE loss or tie + DEN loss
DENVER BRONCOS (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
Denver clinches a first-round bye:
1) DEN win or tie
2) NE loss or tie
Denver clinches home-field advantage:
1) DEN win + HOU loss or tie
2) DEN tie + HOU loss
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (vs. Miami Dolphins)
New England clinches a first-round bye:
1) NE win + DEN loss
2) NE win + HOU loss
New England clinches home-field advantage:
1) NE win + DEN loss + HOU loss