NFL playoff picture 2014: Only 2 spots still open, but plenty of seeding scenarios on the line Sunday
Only two playoff teams have nothing to play for Sunday. Let’s look at the teams that do have something to fight for in Week 17.
Just two current playoff teams have nothing to play for heading into the final week of the season. Both of those teams are in the AFC: the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. New England locked up the AFC East in Week 15, and secured both a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in Week 16 thanks to wins over the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
Indianapolis hasn’t locked up a bye, they simply can’t earn better than the No. 4 seed in the AFC. No matter what happens Sunday, it’ll be hosting whichever team comes out of Sunday with the No. 5 seed in the wild card round.
There are teams that don’t need to do much to lock up high seeds in the bracket. The Denver Broncos can lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC in every scenario except if they lose to the Oakland Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that case, Cincinnati would take the No. 2 seed.
Aside from those three teams, there are two spots still up for grabs and a whole lot of seeding still too do in both conferences. Let’s take a look at where things stand prior to Sunday:
In the hunt:
Atlanta Falcons (6-9)
When it comes to the NFC, no seeds are guaranteed. Four teams are in the running for the top seed, five are in the running for the No. 2 seed, and so on. The closest thing we have to guarantees when it comes to seeding: the Dallas Cowboys will earn the No. 3 seed at worst and the No. 2 seed at best, while either the Carolina Panthers or Atlanta Falcons will win the fourth seed.
Carolina and Atlanta are playing each other for the NFC South crown, while the Cowboys have already locked up the NFC East. There are no wild card spots still up for grabs, as the only team currently on the outside looking in is Atlanta.
But which team ends up where is totally up for grabs. The Seattle Seahawks can secure the No. 1 seed by beating the St. Louis Rams, but all of the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers can earn it, as well. Arizona would need a Seattle loss, a win in their game, and the Lions to beat the Packers. Detroit can get the top seed if both the Cardinals and Seahawks lose while it wins. Green Bay can get the No. 1 seed if it wins and Seattle loses.
All four of these teams could also, theoretically, wind up as No. 5 and No. 6 seeds. More accurately, one of Seattle or Arizona will get the No. 5 seed, while the loser between Green Bay and Detroit will get the No. 6 seed.
1. New England Patriots (12-3)
2. Denver Broncos (11-4)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1)
4. Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)
6. San Diego Chargers (9-6)
In the hunt:
As noted above, both the Patriots and Colts have nothing to play for and won’t influence any other game Sunday. The top seed is New England’s, which means the Broncos and Bengals are fighting for the second first-round bye. Denver needs a win to secure it, or a Cincinnati loss if it loses. Cincinnati needs a win and a Denver loss to get the No. 2 seed.
The No. 3 seed belongs to the winner of the AFC North, unless that winner is the Bengals and they benefit from the aforementioned Denver loss to take the No. 2 seed. In that case, Denver would take the No. 3 seed and Pittsburgh would take the No. 5 seed. The loser of that AFC North matchup will claim the No. 5 seed for certain.
The No. 5 seed is the unclaimed spot, and four teams are vying for it: the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs. For the Chargers, getting in is simple: they have to beat the Chiefs. If they do that, they’re in regardless. Kansas City gets in if they win and Baltimore and Houston lose to the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively. The Ravens get in if they win and the Chargers lose. The Texans can get in if they win and the Chargers and Ravens both lose.