As the NFL enters the final week of the regular season, a number of playoff scenarios could play out. In the NFC only one postseason spot remains open, the NFC South crown, but there could be significant jostling for the top two seeds as well as the NFC North and West divisions.
Five teams in the NFC have 11-4 records, which means the complicated list of tiebreakers will likely be used to decide who plays who in Wild Card weekend next week, and one team with a losing record will make the postseason.
Over in the AFC, the No. 1 seed has already been claimed by the New England Patriots, but if the Denver Broncos fall for a second straight week then Cincinnati, Indianapolis or Pittsburgh could possibly move up to the No. 2 seed.
The Bengals and Steelers are vying for the AFC North title, but the last wild card spot could go to either San Diego, Baltimore, Houston or Kansas City.
Let’s take a look at each conference and the potential scenarios that could completely upend this year’s postseason picture. The NFL’s tiebreakers are broken down here, starting with head-to-head record, then division record, record in common games and conference record. Then things like strength of victory and strength of schedule or used to decide seeding, if things get that far.
Right now, only one division is claimed in the NFC, the East by the Dallas Cowboys, but the Seattle Seahawks could wrap up the West and the conference for home-field advantage throughout by beating the already-eliminated St. Louis Rams.
The Detroit Lions are currently the No. 2 seed, but could move up with a Seahawks loss and a victory of their own over Green Bay for the NFC North title. The Lions loss to the Arizona Cardinals puts them behind Seattle, but they own the best division and conference records of any one in the NFC and have a solid chance of moving up or maintaining the No. 2 seed if they can best the Pack.
Because of its 7-4 conference record, two worse than Detroit and Seattle, Dallas needs to beat Washington and for Arizona to lose and Detroit and Green Bay to tie to gain the No. 1 seed. The Cowboys own a victory over Seattle, which would trump the division and conference record difference.
Of course, if the Packers win the North, they’ll move has high as the No. 2 seed and possibly the No. 1 seed. If Seattle wins, Green Bay can’t move higher than No. 2 after Week 1’s loss to the Seahawks. But even if the Cardinals lose, they own the tie breaker over Detroit after their victory in Week 11, which puts the Lions as the last team in in the NFC.
The South comes down to either Carolina or Atlanta, and no matter which squad wins, they’ll own the No. 4 seed and will play in the first weekend of the playoffs with a sub.-500 record.
Denver currently has better division and conference records than Cincy, Indy and Pittsburgh, but another bad loss and they could slip to the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye.
The Bengals and Steelers will decide the North Sunday, with the winner likely holding down the No. 4 seed since a loss for Indy against lowly Tennessee seems highly unlikely. Cincy current holds the No. 3 seed over Indy because of its tie with Carolina back in Week 6, but another loss pulls them back.
In terms of the wild card, either the Bengals or Steelers will be the No. 5 seed, but the last team in could be either San Diego, Baltimore, Houston or Kansas City.
The Chargers are currently in due to their win over the Ravens Week 13, but if they fall to the Chiefs on the road and Baltimore wins then San Diego is out and the Ravens are in.
The Chiefs need to beat San Diego and for Baltimore to lose and Houston to lose or tie in order to make the postseason for the second straight year.
The Texans have a solid 8-4 conference record, which will serve as a tiebreaker if both Baltimore and San Diego lose and they beat Jacksonville.