Here are the NFC Playoff Scenarios.
The AFC playoff picture cleared up after a wild week last week, with all four divisions now being clinched. However, none of the top four seeds are set. In addition, four teams are now in contention for the final playoff spot, with none of them controlling their own destiny even if they win. The scenarios are convoluted.
Here is an explanation for each team, with a handy chart for both the top four seeds and the tiebreakers for the 6 seed.
First, the Division Winners:
DENVER BRONCOS (12-3) at Oakland. Have clinched the AFC West and a first round bye, but could still miss out on the #1 seed with a loss at Oakland plus a New England win vs. Buffalo. If they win (or tie), they are the #1 seed.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-4) vs. Buffalo. Clinched the AFC East, and can finish anywhere between the #1 seed and the #4 seed depending on the outcome. They clinch a bye with a win vs. Buffalo, getting the #2 seed if Denver also wins, and the #1 seed if Denver loses.
If New England loses, then they are still the #2 seed if both Cincinnati and Indianapolis lose. New England would finish behind Cincinnati (head to head) or Indianapolis (conference record) or both, if either (or both) won. A three way tie at 11-5 would make New England the #4 seed.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (10-5) vs. Baltimore. Cincinnati has clinched the AFC North with Baltimore’s loss. Can still get the #2 seed. Cannot finish as the #4 seed if they win. Cincinnati gets the bye if New England loses, Indianapolis loses, and they win. Cincinnati is the #3 seed with a win, and a New England win.
If Cincinnati loses, then they are the #3 seed if Indianapolis also loses, and the #4 seed if Indianapolis wins.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (10-5) vs. Jacksonville. Indianapolis can still get the #2 seed with a win and a New England loss, and a Cincinnati loss. If the Colts win, Patriots win, and the Bengals win, Colts are the #4 seed. If the Colts win, Patriots win, and Bengals lose, they are the #3 seed. If the Colts lose, they are the #4 seed.
Here is a chart summarizing who gets the top four seeds based on the week 17 results. [NOTE: An earlier version had Indianapolis ahead of Cincinnati in a three team tiebreaker at 11-5 with New England, but Cincinnati would win that tiebreaker based on head to head wins over both, even though Indianapolis and New England did not play. Then, the tie between NE and IND would be broken on conference record].
Next, the wildcards:
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-4) at San Diego. The Chiefs are locked into the #5 seed.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-7) vs. New York Jets. Miami needs to win, and then have either the Ravens lose, or the Chargers win. If either of those things happen, Miami is the #6 seed. That’s because they would win a two way tiebreaker with San Diego at 9-7 based on the head to head win, and would win a three-way tiebreaker with Baltimore and San Diego based on having the best conference record (8-4).
However, the Dolphins lose a two team tiebreaker with only Baltimore at 9-7, because of the head to head loss. Also, they cannot make the playoffs with a loss, because the Jets would actually finish ahead of them based on division record tiebreaker. (The Jets, though, are eliminated. They only serve to keep Pittsburgh alive).
BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-7) at Cincinnati. Baltimore gets the #6 seed with a win, and either a Chargers loss or a Dolphins loss. In a weird twist, they win a two team tiebreaker with either San Diego or Miami at 9-7, but would lose a three-way tie at 9-7 to Miami (because San Diego did not play both teams, so it skips head to head and goes to conference record).
Baltimore can also win a giant cluster at 8-8, so long as Pittsburgh is not one of those teams also. If Baltimore loses, and Pittsburgh wins, Pittsburgh would have the tiebreaker based on division record. If Baltimore, Miami, San Diego, and the Jets are all 8-8, and Pittsburgh loses, Baltimore is the 6 seed based on New York knocking Miami out, and the Ravens winning the three way tiebreaker on conference record.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (8-7) vs. Kansas City. Chargers need to win, and have both Baltimore and Miami lose. Hey, that was simple.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (7-8) vs. Cleveland. Pittsburgh must win, and must have Baltimore, Miami, and San Diego lose. If that all happens, then Pittsburgh finishes ahead of Baltimore based on division record. The Jets would also finish ahead of Miami based on division record. It would then go to a three-way tie between the Chargers, Steelers, and Jets.
The Steelers win that based on conference record (6-6 vs. 5-7 for the other two), which is how they can still miraculously get in.
Here’s a grid summarizing what each team needs.
Of course, that doesn’t list ties. Just know that if a team ties, then they lose to those with a better record. In the extremely unlikely event there are two separate ties, the same two team tiebreakers would apply (Baltimore over Miami, Miami over San Diego, Baltimore over San Diego).