As NFL fans gear up for Week 15, playoff scenarios for 2012 are coming into focus.
The playoff picture is clearer in the AFC then the NFC, but Week 15 has a number of scenarios that sharpen how things stand in the league.
Heading into Week 15, three AFC teams have clinched playoff spots: the Houston Texans, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. Both New England and Denver locked down their divisions while the Texans haven’t put a bow on the AFC South despite an 11-2 record.
The NFC is more wide open, with only the Atlanta Falcons, at 11-2, clinching a playoff spot before Week 15. The Falcons clinched the NFC South.
Atlanta can further their playoff position by clinching a first-round bye. In order to do so, the NFC-leading Falcons need to win against the New York Giants and either have the San Francisco 49ers or Green Bay Packers lose. A tie between Green Bay and the Chicago Bears on Sunday couples with an Atlanta win would also clinch a first-round playoff bye for the Falcons.
The 49ers have a variety of scenarios that put San Francisco in the playoffs.
Should San Francisco win against the Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks fall to the Buffalo Bills, the 49ers would put a lock on the NFC West.
The 49ers have more chances to clinch a playoff berth. A win would put San Francisco in the postseason. So would a tie and some help from a few teams, as shown by this full list of playoff scenarios on NFL.com.
San Francisco can still make the playoffs this week without a win, but they would need the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins to all lose, plus have the Seahawks lose or tie.
The Packers have a simple path to clinch the NFC North: beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon.
If they tie the Bears, Green Bay can still get into the playoffs. They’ll need both Dallas and Washington to lose and the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings to tie. There’s also a few more scenarios that include losses by the Cowboys, Redskins and Vikings plus a 49ers win or tie. A variation of that scenario includes the Seahawks either winning or losing their game.
In the AFC, the Texans will clinch the AFC South if they defeat the Colts. Houston will need a little luck to clinch a first-round bye by winning and having the Patriots lose or tie plus a loss by the Denver Broncos.
The Baltimore Ravens can tie down the AFC North with a win against the Broncos. If they tie, Baltimore can still clinch the division with a Pittsburgh Steelers loss or tie plus a Cincinnati Bengals loss or tie. Losses by both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati would also wrap up the division for Baltimore.
If the Ravens tie the Broncos, Baltimore will be headed to the playoffs. Other scenarios for a Baltimore playoff berth include either losses or ties by Cincinatti or Pittsburgh.
The Colts can also clinch a playoff berth in Week 15 by beating the Texans. Even with a loss Indianapolis can still make the playoffs under a scenario that includes a Cincinnati loss plus a New York Jets loss or tie.
There’s other paths to the playoffs for the Colts should Indianapolis tie Houson. A tie plus a Baltimore win puts the Colts in, as well as losses or ties by Cincinnati or Pittsburgh.