The NFL Playoff Seeding Offers Intrigue in the Final Two Weeks

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

With only two weeks left in the regular season, there is still much in the balance in both conferences. Neither conference has any of its seeds decided for sure yet and the Wild Card spots are still in the mix. There is still a ton of meaningful football left and it’s very likely that few teams in contention, if any, will be able to rest their starter in Week 17 (assuming of course that Carolina goes for 16-0). Elsewhere, 14 teams have already been eliminated and their players and coaches are giving their all to both play spoiler as well as to pad their own resumes for the offseason. Let’s take a look around the league.

NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

In the NFC there are nine teams fighting for the six playoff spots. Carolina, Arizona, Green Bay and Seattle have made the postseason for sure. Minnesota and Washington currently occupy the six and fourth seeds respectively as well. Beyond them, the Eagles, Giants, and Falcons are all still alive for the playoffs. This is a little bit deceiving however. Neither the Giants nor the Eagles can win the sixth Wild Card spot as both are now three games behind Minnesota with two to play. The Eagles and Giants are only in the mix by virtue of a weak NFC East. Washington and the Eagles play next Saturday and then the Giants and Eagles play in Week 17. Those two matchups will decide the NFC East winner who will take the fourth overall seed and host the fifth seed on Wild Card weekend.

Atlanta, for its part, is still alive in the playoffs, but they need to win out and have Minnesota lose out to make the playoffs. Minnesota plays the Giants in Week 16 and the Packers in Week 17. The Falcons play the Panthers in Week 16 and the Saints in Week 17. With only a slim hope remaining the Falcons can only play and pray.

From the top down the rest of the seeds play out nicely. Carolina will win the first seed with a win in either Week 16 against the Falcons or in Week 17 against the Bucs. The Cardinals will win the second seed with a win against either Green Bay in Week 16 or the Seahawks in Week 17 while Green Bay can win the second seed in they beat the Cardinals and the Cards lose to the Seahawks. Green Bay and Minnesota seem destined to play for the division in Week 17. However there are some interesting scenarios to consider there.

Should Green Bay lose at Arizona next week then lose to the Vikings in Week 17 the Vikings are the three seed. Green Bay has a tiebreaker over Seattle, but two losses puts Green Bay at 10-6. Should the Cardinals beat Green Bay they will have locked up the second seed and have nothing to play for against Seattle in Week 17. With Coach Arians resting his starters, the Seahawks would likely win that matchup. Seattle plays the Rams in Week 16. Should Seattle win out in that scenario they would be 11-5 and win the fifth seed outright. As such, the Week 17 matchup between Green Bay and Minnesota could be very interesting. The winner would host the loser on Wild Card weekend with the winner taking the three seed and the loser taking the sixth seed.

In short, the first seed in the NFC is basically Carolina’s and the second seed likely belongs to Arizona unless the Packers should upset the Cardinals next week. The third seed will be taken by the winner of the Week 17 matchup between the Packers and Vikings with the loser of that game taking the last seed, while the fourth seed belongs to Washington, the Eagles or the Giants. The fifth seed looks to likely belong to Seattle. Atlanta is technically alive, but only just.

AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

The AFC playoff picture is not quite as convoluted as the NFC, but probably has more meaningful games. The Patriots have clinched a first round bye and will take the first seed with another two wins. The Pats play two road games against the Jets and eliminated Miami and will likely be favorites in both games. The Bengals play the Broncos and the Ravens. Assuming the Bengals win out and the Pats lose one of their games, both teams will be tied at 13-3. This is where the battle for the first seed gets interesting. NFL tiebreakers between division champs start with head to head record. The Pats and Bengals did not play each other this year. Next is conference record. In this scenario both teams would be tied at 10-2. After that is record against common opponents. New England would win that tiebreaker 2-1 to the Bengals 1-2, however the NFL mandates that that tiebreaker only be used if the teams in question have played four games in common between each other. With only three common games, the next tiebreaker is strength of victory. This is the win percentage of opponents each team has played. This won’t be calculated till the end of the season and while New England holds a slight edge right now, the Bengals still play the Broncos. In short, while the first seed likely belongs to New England, it could get very interesting.

The second seed is far more simple. The Bengals and Broncos play next week. Denver plays bottom feeder San Diego in Week 17 and Cincy plays bottom feeder Baltimore in Week 17. Should the Bengals beat the Broncos, they will win the second seed. Should the Broncos beat the Bengals, they need only beat the Chargers to win the second seed. The loser of this scenario will take the third overall seed.

The fourth seed is owned by the Texans currently. They scored a massive upset victory in Indy to take the division lead at a paltry 7-7. However, they play at Tennessee and at home against Jacksonville to finish the season. While neither game will be a gimme, it’s a simple road to the finish. The Colts play at Miami and then host Tennessee in Week 17. Interestingly, should Houston lose one of its next two and the Colts win out, both teams will be tied at 8-8. With a 1-1 head to head split the next tiebreaker is division record which would be tied. The next tiebreaker would be conference record, also tied. It would come down to record against common opponents. That tiebreaker would depend on which game the Texans lost. The Jaguars are technically alive in the division, but would need both clubs to lose out ahead of them to win the division at 7-9. Unlikely.

The fifth and sixth seeds are totally up for grabs between the Jets, Chiefs and Steelers. All three are tied at 9-5. The Steelers play Baltimore and Cleveland, and will likely win both. The Chiefs play the Raiders and Browns and will also likely win both. The Jets play New England and Buffalo and will likely lose at least one. Should the Steelers and Chiefs both finish with identical records, the Chiefs will take the five seed and the Steelers the six.

As such, the AFC has a little bit of tinkering at the top spots, an NFC East style finish for the fourth seed and the Wild Cards likely going to the Chiefs and Steelers. Barring the unlikely, the Pats will be the one, the winner of the Bengals-Broncos game will be the two with the loser being the three. The Texans will likely be the four. The Chiefs will be five and the Steelers six. The playoffs seem set in the AFC, but this is why they play the games.

Follow Mike on Twitter: @MichaelLoCocoWI

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