San Diego shook up the AFC playoff picture with a road win in Denver last night, putting New England now “in control of their own destiny” when it comes to getting the #1 seed. It also gave the Chargers’ fleeting chances some hope.
They still need lots of help. San Diego would lose a tiebreaker with Miami (head-to-head), Baltimore (conference record), or both in a three-way tiebreaker. San Diego can get to 9-7 now with that win, as it requires a win over Oakland at home, and then against Kansas City at home. Whether Kansas City has something to play for, rather than just being locked into the #5 seed, depends on whether they are still tied with Denver on record entering the final week.
Baltimore and Miami both play more difficult schedules, so two losses is not out of the question. Miami would have the easier road of the two, and we will know a lot more after Sunday’s game against New England. Miami can still technically win the AFC East (by winning out and the Patriots losing the remaining three games), but will be eliminated and need work with a loss. Miami then plays at Buffalo and at home against the Jets.
Baltimore holds the tiebreaker over both Miami (head to head) and San Diego. They also face the toughest stretch of games. They play three teams in playoff position right now, at Detroit, at home against New England, and at Cincinnati.
The Jets? We’ll talk about their slim chances if they beat Carolina on the road.
Here is a quick breakdown of the rest of the key playoff races:
AFC West: Denver still holds the tiebreaker. Kansas City needs Denver to lose at least one of the last two (at Houston and at Oakland) and finish ahead in wins.
AFC North: Cincinnati has a two game lead, but Baltimore would win a tiebreaker if they end up tied on record (which would necessarily require a win or tie at the Bengals in week 17).
AFC East: Miami has to beat New England and win out, and New England has to lose every game in order for the Patriots not to win the division.
#1 Seed and #2 Seed in AFC: New England now controls and gets it by winning the last three. They would win the tiebreaker over either Denver (head to head) or Kansas City (conference record). Cincinnati, by the way, would win any three way tiebreaker at 12-4 with New England and the AFC West champ.
Cincinnati can also get a first round bye if they get to 12-4 and either New England, or both Denver and Kansas City, loses.
NFC Wildcard: Realistically, only Carolina, San Francisco, and Arizona are in contention for wild card slots. I won’t go through the Armageddon scenarios that would still put a runner-up in the North or East in.
Arizona needs major help, because they trail by a game and would lose a tiebreaker to San Francisco (even if they beat them in week 17) because of division record. Because ties are broken within the division first, that means the win over Carolina head to head may not matter, if for example, all three teams finish at 11-5.
In order for Arizona to catch San Francisco, they need to be even entering week 17. Arizona either needs a San Francisco loss before that matchup, or for Carolina to lose 2 of the last 3.
NFC East: Dallas would win a tiebreaker with Philadelphia, but they have to be close enough to make it count. The Cowboys need to stay within a game of the Eagles over the next two weeks in order to set up the Sunday Night playoff showdown. Philadelphia clinches with two wins and a Dallas loss, or a win and two Dallas losses before then. Dallas can also clinch the division outright before then, by winning the next two and the Eagles losing the next two games.
NFC North: Green Bay is lurking a half game behind Chicago and Detroit. They need to win the last three to get to 9-6-1 (which would include a week 17 win over the Bears), and then have Detroit lose a game. Detroit holds the tiebreaker over Chicago, and would appear to have the inside track with home games against Baltimore and the Giants before going to Minnesota.
NFC West: Seattle has a two game lead, and San Francisco would hold the tiebreaker. Seattle’s magic number is two (combo of wins or San Francisco losses).
NFC South: New Orleans would hold the tiebreaker at 12-4, so Carolina not only needs to beat New Orleans in week 16, but also get another Saints’ loss.
#1 and #2 Seeds in the NFC: Seattle has the tiebreaker over Carolina and New Orleans, and a one game lead. The magic number to clinch the #1 seed is also two.
The #2 seed will most likely be the NFC South champion. Philadelphia has an outside chance as they would win a tiebreaker at 11-5 over either New Orleans or Carolina based on conference record.