NFL playoff scenarios: Broncos, Patriots can clinch in Week 15
The playoff picture could become a lot clearer after this week’s game, with several clinching scenarios on deck for both the AFC and NFC.
We are 15 weeks into the 2014 season and little has been decided in the NFL’s crowded playoff races. There are still 24 teams mathematically alive for the postseason, and not a single one has clinched a spot to play in January with three games remaining.
While there is barely any separation at both the top of the standings and on the fringes of the playoff field, there should be some more clarity after this week’s slate with several clinching scenarios to watch for in Week 15. Here’s a look at where things stand and the possible scenarios in a very crowded AFC playoff picture.
AFC playoff standings
No. 1 – New England Patriots (10-3)
No. 2 – Denver Broncos (10-3)
No. 3 – Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
No. 4 – Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1)
No. 5 – Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)
No. 6 – San Diego Chargers (8-5)
The AFC is a mess, especially on the bubble, but there are a few simple scenarios on deck this week. The Broncos, Patriots and Colts each can win their divisions with a victory or a tie on Sunday as they face off against the second-place teams chasing them in the AFC West (Chargers), East (Dolphins) and South (Texans).
The Broncos and Patriots can also secure first-round byes with a win and some help. For Broncos, they have two scenarios to get in: a Colts loss, a Bengals loss and a Steelers loss/tie; or a Colts loss, a Bengals loss, and if they earn the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Steelers (via other results). The Patriots also have two scenarios to secure their playoff spot: a Colts loss, a Steelers loss/tie and a Bengals loss/tie; or a Colts loss, a Steelers loss/tie and a Broncos loss.
While the Colts can only clinch a playoff spot with a win, the Broncos and Patriots can get into the postseason even if they lose on Sunday and the right dominoes fall into place. Here’s what it will take for the Broncos to clinch a playoff spot regardless of the outcome of their game against the Chargers:
1) MIA loss or tie + HOU loss or tie + CIN loss + PIT loss OR
2) MIA loss or tie + HOU loss or tie + BAL loss + CLE loss or tie OR
3) MIA loss or tie + HOU loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT win
Here’s what it will take for the Patriots to clinch a playoff spot regardless of the outcome of their game against the Dolphins:
1) BUF loss/tie + CIN loss + PIT loss + BAL loss + HOU loss/tie OR
2) BUF loss/tie + CIN loss + PIT loss + KC loss/tie + SD loss OR
3) BUF loss/tie + HOU loss or tie + KC loss/tie + SD loss + BAL loss
Got all that? Good.
The NFC is still wide-open and very top-heavy with six teams boasting at least nine wins entering Week 15. And of course we have to acknowledge the NFC South, which is guaranteed to produce a division winner with a non-winning record. A look at the NFC standings and possible clinchings:
NFC playoff standings
No. 1 – Arizona Cardinals (10-3)
No. 2 – Green Bay Packers (10-3)
No. 3 – Philadelphia Eagles (9-4)
No. 4 – Atlanta Falcons (5-8)
No. 5 – Seattle Seahawks (9-4)
No. 6 – Detroit Lions (9-4)
Only the the top two teams in the conference can punch their tickets on Sunday. Arizona clinches a playoff spot in three fairly complicated scenarios:
1) ARI win + DAL/PHI game does not end in a tie OR
2) ARI win + DET loss + ARI clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over GB OR
3) ARI win + DET loss + GB win/tie
The Packers can secure a postseason berth with a win, a Cowboys loss, and if they earn the strength of victory tiebreaker over Dallas (via other results).