Last weekend saw a few teams sew up NFL playoff spots and/or division titles. The Denver Broncos (12-3) are looking the best now since they clinched both the AFC West title along with a first-round playoff bye. Of course, this weekend’s game against Oakland is by no means a rest-your-starters situation because Denver must win to lock up home field advantage.
And why is this the case? Because the AFC East champion New England Patriots (11-4) hold the tiebreaker over the Broncos. If they can beat the Bills at home and Denver loses against Oakland, they’ll grab home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. However, if New England loses, they could be out of a first-round bye.
Both the Cincinnati Bengals (10-5) and Indianapolis Colts (10-5) have a chance at unseating New England for the second first-round bye. Cincinnati, which clinched the AFC North, has to beat a playoff-desperate Baltimore team and have New England lose. Indianapolis needs to beat the Jaguars, plus have both Cincy and New England lose.
Rounding out the five AFC teams that have already secured a postseason spot is the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4). They have no chance of winning the AFC West (swept by Denver), and are locked in as the AFC’s number five seed. So if they feel like it, Kansas City could rest their starters against San Diego.
The NFC picture is a lot murkier at the top. Only three teams have clinched playoff berths, and nobody has wrapped up a first-round bye or division title. So far, we only know that the Seattle Seahawks (12-3), Carolina Panthers (11-4) and San Francisco 49ers (11-4) are assured of a postseason bid.
Seattle is in the driver’s seat of NFC home field advantage, but they must beat the Rams to secure this edge. If they lose, everything opens up at the top because Carolina could gain NFC home field advantage if they beat the Falcons, the Niners win at Arizona, and Seattle loses against St. Louis. For San Francisco to grab home field advantage and unseat Seattle for the NFC West title, they must win, have Seattle lose, and have Carolina lose or tie.
What we’ve discussed so far only covers the teams that are guaranteed a playoff spot. There are four remaining postseason bids left, which we’ll discuss below.
Last AFC Wild Card Spot – Four teams are still alive for the last AFC Wild Card berth. Due to a myriad of tiebreakers, all of these teams need help in making the postseason, and you can check out the scenarios here. Baltimore holds a tiebreaker over Miami (current sixth seed), but San Diego holds the tiebreaker over Baltimore, and Miami holds the tiebreaker over San Diego. In short, it’ll be interesting to see how this playoff-hunting triangle plays out. As for the Pittsburgh Steelers, well, they need all three of the aforementioned teams to lose, plus a victory this weekend.
Last NFC Wild Card Spot – The final NFC Wild Card slot is a much simpler matter because only the Saints and Cardinals are chasing after it. Assuming New Orleans wins against Tampa Bay, they are in. But if they lose, Arizona makes the playoffs with a victory over San Francisco.
NFC East Title – The Dallas Cowboys got a dramatic, come-from-behind victory over Washington to set up a huge game this weekend. Now, they’ll play the Philadelphia Eagles at home for the NFC East crown. The winner goes to the playoffs and grabs home field in the first round, while the loser will be watching on TV next week.
NFC North Title – Just like the East, this is another win-or-you’re-out scenario. Chicago plays Green Bay at home, with the victor grabbing the North title and a playoff spot.
NFC South Title – This one is between Carolina and New Orleans. If Carolina wins, they capture the South title. But if they lose and New Orleans wins, the latter clinches the South and a playoff bid.
NFC West Title – Seattle must win to secure themselves the West title. However, if they lose, then San Francisco could step in and take the West crown with a victory over Arizona.