The final week of the NFL’s regular season is upon us, and there are still a couple playoff spots still up for grabs, as well as some seeding and home-field advantage left to be decided. I’ve already given you my picks for Sunday’s games, now it’s time to go over the games with playoff implications. All six playoff spots in the NFC have been claimed, but the NFC North title is still out there for a couple of teams to grab. In the AFC, the AFC South and one of the Wild Cards are still undecided. We’ll start in the AFC.
1. New England Patriots
2. Denver Broncos
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Houston Texans
5. Kansas City Chiefs
6. New York Jets
The Texans are in control of their destiny in the AFC South. They’re in a win-and-in situation; it’s as simple as that — beat the Jaguars, win the division and get the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. If they lose, however, that opens the door — ever so slightly — for the Colts to sneak into the playoffs as the AFC South champion. If the Texans lose and Colts win, the Colts then need all of the following teams to win to clinch the division: Ravens, Falcons, Bills, Broncos, Dolphins, Raiders, Steelers. Any other scenario gives the Texans the division title and a spot in the playoffs.
The Jets, who visit the Bills on Sunday, also have a win-and-in situation. If they win the game, they clinch one of the conference Wild Cards. If the Jets lose, the Steelers get that Wild Card spot with a win at the Browns. If both lose, it goes to the Jets, who currently hold a one-game lead over the Steelers.
The Broncos currently lead the AFC West, but the Chiefs could pass them and win the division. For the Broncos, they simply need a win against the Chargers or a Chiefs loss to the Raiders to clinch the division. Kansas City, meanwhile, needs a win and a Broncos loss to earn the division title, which would mean hosting a game in the first round, rather than having to go on the road — likely against the Texans — that opening weekend. As you’ll see below, the Broncos winning the division would also net them a first-round bye.
The Patriots and the Broncos each have a shot at getting home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Patriots simply need a win against the Dolphins, while the Broncos need to win and the Patriots to lose. The Patriots have already clinched one of the conference’s first-round byes. The Broncos and Bengals are fighting for the second bye; the Broncos get it with a win, while the Bengals need to beat the Ravens and have the Broncos lose. Or the Bengals could get the bye with a Broncos loss and a Chiefs win over the Raiders.
1. Carolina Panthers
2. Arizona Cardinals
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Washington Redskins
5. Minnesota Vikings
6. Seattle Seahawks
There’s not as much still to be decided in the NFC, as all six of the conference’s playoff slots have been claimed; it’s just a question of which teams get which seeds. The only team that is locked into its current seed is the NFC East champion Redskins, who have the No. 4 seed.
The Panthers and Cardinals have each locked up a first-round bye, with Carolina currently holding home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Panthers clinch home-filed with a win against the Buccaneers or a Cardinals loss to the Seahawks. The Cardinals need a win and a Panthers loss to take home-field advantage away from Carolina.
As you can see, the NFC playoff picture is much more straightforward than it is in the AFC.