NFL playoff picture 2014: Broncos, Patriots can clinch divisions Sunday
The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots are among the few teams who can clinch playoff spots and even first-round byes on Sunday.
There are just three Sundays left in the regular season, which means the playoff race is in full swing. Unlike previous years, it’s taken awhile for talk of clinching divisions and tanking to percolate, thanks to generally competitive divisional races down the stretch. Even in divisions where there wasn’t much of a chance for the second-tier teams to actually win them, teams like the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans helped keep things relatively close.
But now we’re starting to see various playoff- and division-clinching scenarios. The top teams in the league right now can clinch playoff spots and there are a couple divisions on the line as well. The AFC West, AFC East and AFC South can all be clinched on Sunday, which would leave the competitive AFC North as the lone AFC division without a champion heading into Week 16.
As far as the NFC is concerned, none of the four divisions are up for grabs, but both the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers can clinch playoff spots with specific scenarios, which we’ll talk about in the division-by-division breakdown.
In addition to the divisions being on the line, both the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots can lose and still clinch playoff spots with specific scenarios, and both teams also could find themselves clinching first-round byes if the situations play out as they need them. No team in the NFC can do that just yet. Here’s a look at the conference standings and how things would look if the season ended today:
Matchups if playoffs started today:
Cardinals bye week
Packers bye week
Eagles vs. Lions
Falcons vs., Seahawks
New England Patriots, AFC East (10-3)
Denver Broncos, AFC West (10-3)
Indianapolis Colts, AFC South (9-4)
Cincinnati Bengals, AFC North (8-4-1)
Pittsburgh Steelers, Wild Card (8-5)
San Diego Chargers, Wild Card( 8-5)
Matchups if playoffs started today:
Patriots bye week
Broncos bye week
Colts vs. Chargers
Bengals vs. Steelers
Here’s a look at how things are looking on a division-by-division basis:
The Broncos are in control of this division, and can clinch the AFC West with a win or a tie against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. The Kansas City Chiefs have fallen behind at 7-6 and have an outside chance of a wild card berth. The Chargers are 8-5 and still healthy in the wild card hunt, but they need to beat the Broncos on Sunday. The Oakland Raiders are, obviously, not in the running.
Denver clinches AFC West with win or tie
Denver clinches first-round bye with win, IND loss, CIN loss, PIT loss or tie OR
Denver clinches first-round bye with win, IND loss, CIN loss, DEN clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over PIT
Denver clinches a playoff spot with MIA loss or tie, HOU loss or tie, CIN loss, PIT loss OR
Denver clinches a playoff spot with MIA loss or tie, HOU loss or tie, BAL loss, CLE loss or tie OR
Denver clinches a playoff spot with MIA loss or tie, HOU loss or tie, BAL loss, PIT win
The Patriots essentially have the division in hand, and can take it with a win or a tie on Sunday. They’re playing the Miami Dolphins, who sit at 7-6 on the season, and are favored to take the game. The Bills and Dolphins kept the AFC East closer than expected, but the Patriots aren’t looking back at this point. They’re now focused on playoff seeding.
New England clinches AFC East with win or tie
New England clinches first-round bye with win, IND loss, PIT loss or tie, CIN loss or tie OR
New England clinches first-round bye with win, IND loss, PIT loss or tie, DEN loss
New England clinches a playoff spot with BUF loss or tie, CIN loss, PIT loss, BAL loss, HOU loss or tie OR
New England clinches a playoff spot with BUF loss or tie, CIN loss, PIT loss, KC loss or tie, SD loss OR
New England clinches a playoff spot with BUF loss or tie, HOU loss or tie, KC loss or tie, SD loss, BAL loss
The AFC North is still the most competitive division in football. As such, nobody can clinch in Week 15. The Bengals maintain a narrow lead with an 8-4-1 record, leading the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, who sit at 8-5. The Steelers beat the Bengals in Week 14, and the two teams will play again before the season is up, making things incredibly interesting. The Browns are 7-6 and still in the discussion, but they’re giving a rookie quarterback his first start on Sunday, against the Bengals. It should be interesting, at the very least.
The Colts had this division on lockdown from the beginning, though few expected the Texans to be lingering around as they are. The Texans were the worst team in football a season ago, but they’re just two games back of the Colts for the lead. With three games to go, one of which is Sunday’s game between the two teams, the Colts are looking solid.
Indianapolis clinches AFC South division with win or tie
The Cardinals are 11-3, two games up on the Seahawks, but that’s thanks to playing on Thursday this week. The Seahawks have a chance to keep the division close and open as they take on the San Francisco 49ers Sunday. San Francisco is still in the discussion, but they’re on the outside looking in at this point.
Arizona clinches playoff spot with win, DAL vs. PHI game does not end in a tie OR
Arizona clinches playoff spot with win, DET loss, ARI clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over GB OR
Arizona clinches playoff spot with win, DET loss, GB win or tie
This division has been a two-team race all along. The Eagles dominated the Dallas Cowboys in Week 13 to take the lead, but they fell in Week 14 while the Cowboys managed a victory. So they’re both at 9-4 on the year and they play each other Sunday. This one could decide the division, though neither can clinch anything this week. Washington and the New York Giants are going back to the drawing board.
The Packers are 10-3, with a one-game lead over the Lions in the NFC North. Sunday should be interesting when the Packers play the relatively tough Bills, while the Lions are facing the rival Minnesota Vikings, a team they’ve already beaten this season. The Lions have already beaten the Packers once and play them again in Week 17.
Green Bay clinches playoff spot with win, DAL loss, GB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over DAL
The NFC South is sad, but at least it’s competitive. At the end of the day, some much better teams will miss the playoffs while the NFC South will be won by an 8-8 team at best with the Falcons and New Orleans Saints tied at 5-8. The Carolina Panthers are 4-8-1 and still in the discussion. Carolina has an easy game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Saints have a game against the Chicago Bears on Monday and the Falcons will play the Steelers on Sunday. Atlanta definitely has the toughest matchup of the three.