NFL playoff picture 2014: Panthers, Packers win to complete NFC conference bracket
The NFC conference bracket is complete. Now all that remains is a Bengals-Steelers bout to cement the AFC side.
The NFC picture was in total chaos heading into the late afternoon/early evening slate of games, however. Five teams in the conference were vying for a first-round bye based on the outcome of three separate games. Then, of course, there was the monumental bout between two six-win teams for the NFC South title.
Events unfolded rather neatly. The Seahawks, Packers and Panthers all won handily to put every team in the NFC playoff bracket in its proper place (a Cardinals loss ultimately had no effect on seeding). With just one game left to play in the 2014 NFL regular season, the postseason field is just about cemented. Here is the playoff picture as it stands right now:
Bold denotes a playoff seed that is set in stone.
1. New England Patriots 12-4)
2. Denver Broncos (12-4)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1)
4. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)
6. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
With an easy win over the Oakland Raiders, the Denver Broncos locked up the No. 2 seed in the AFC. If the Broncos had lost, the Bengals would have had a chance to earn a first-round bye with a win over the Steelers on Sunday night. As things stand, the winner of the AFC North title will take the No. 3 seed. The loser will slot in at No. 5 to face the Indianapolis Colts in the first round.
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
2. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
3. Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
4. Carolina Panthers (7-8-1)
5. Arizona Cardinals (11-5)
6. Detroit Lions (11-5)
Carolina beat Atlanta in what amounted to an early playoff game — a win-or-go home elimination bout to decide the NFC South. Left for dead after a 3-8-1 start, the Panthers won their final four games — three of them division games — to sneak into the postseason. They can count themselves fortunate for playing in the NFL’s worst division. Even off a four-game winning streak, the Panthers could enter their first-round bout as heavy underdogs against the Cardinals.
In the de facto NFC North championship game, the Packers overcame a brief Aaron Rodgers injury scare to extend the Lions’ decades-long nightmare at Lambeau Field. The Packers were in contention for the No. 1 seed if the St. Louis Rams had been able to upset the Seahawks. They’ll settle for a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed, while punting the Lions to the No. 6 seed in the hyper competitive NFC.
Because the Packers and Seahawks won, the Cardinals would have earned the No. 5 seed no matter the outcome of their bout against the San Francisco 49ers, so a Week 17 loss didn’t hurt them. The Cardinals could have earned the No. 2 seed with a win if the Rams had also won, and the No. 1 seed if both the Rams and Lions had won.
Still to come
The final game of the regular season is the Sunday Night Football matchup between the Bengals and Steelers (8:30 p.m. ET on NBC). The winner of that game clinches the AFC North and the No. 3 seed, setting up a first-round matchup with another division rival — the Ravens. The loser gets the first wild card spot and will play the Colts in Indy next week.