NFL Playoff Scenarios: What's At Stake In Week 17

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 11: Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after the Cowboys scored against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter at Cowboys Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The NFL moved to a scheduling format where all Week 17 games are played between teams in the same division. That's created a scenario this year where nearly every Week 17 game is meaningful.

Last year the NFL tweaked the schedule so that every Week 17 game was a game between two teams in the same division with the goal being that these late season games have more meaning.

Consider that mission accomplished this season. As PFT pointed out, only three of the league's 16 games this weekend are essentially meaningless, whether that's for the playoff picture or the 2012 NFL draft.

The meaningless games in Week 17 include: Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals; Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles; Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings.


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The rest of the games? They're all pretty important and will affect the playoffs and/or draft. Here's a look at what's at stake for every Week 17 game:

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants: The only true play-in game this weekend. The winner is the NFC East champ and heads to the playoffs while the loser goes home. This game is on Sunday night so we won't know the complete playoff field until after this game is over, sometime around 11:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday night.

Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers: The Packers have everything all wrapped up, so this means nothing for them, and you can expect backup QB Matt Flynn to see some action in this game. The Lions have also clinched a wild card spot, but they don't yet know their seed. With a win, they can clinch the fifth seed, which means they would likely play the winner of the Cowboys-Giants game in the wildcard round, as opposed to the Saints.

Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints: The Saints still have quite a bit to play for actually. If they can win this game, and the 49ers lose to the Rams, then New Orleans would have the No. 2 seed and a first round bye. But if the 49ers win, then this game doesn't matter as New Orleans will be the third seed.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons have already clinched a playoff spot, so they're just playing for their NFC seed right now. If they win, and the Lions lose, then Atlanta gets the fifth seed, potentially avoiding the Saints in the wildcard round. If they lose, however, they're likely playing New Orleans or San Francisco in round one as opposed to Dallas or New York.

San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams: This game surprisingly means a lot. First, the 49ers need to win to secure the second seed and a first round bye in the playoffs. A 49ers loss combined with a Saints victory means San Francisco would get the third seed, and miss out on a first round bye. Meanwhile on the other end of the spectrum, the Rams have a legitimate shot at the No. 1 pick. if they lose this game, and the Colts beat the Jaguars, they can guarantee themselves the top pick. A Rams win and the Colts are in line for the No. 1 pick.

Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: The Bills are out of it but the Patriots are still trying to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win. A Patriots loss means the Ravens or Steelers could swoop in and take the top seed but the worst the Pats can do is the second seed.

New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins: Somehow, someway the Jets are still alive. To get in, New York needs: A.) beat the Dolphins B.) Bengals lose C.) Titans lose or tie D.) Raiders or Broncos lose or tie.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals: The Ravens need to win to secure the AFC North title and the No. 2 seed in the AFC (and possibly No. 1 if New England loses). A Ravens loss combined with a Steelers win and Baltimore would lose out on the division title, and a first round bye. Meanwhile, the Bengals need to win and they're in. If they don't win, a Jets loss combined with either a Raiders loss or tie or a Broncos loss or tie would get them in.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns: Believe it or not, the Steelers still have a shot at the AFC's No. 1 seed. They need to win this weekend and see the Ravens lose to secure the AFC North title and the No. 2 seed. If New England loses as well, the Steelers jump up to the top seed.

Tennessee Titans vs. Houston Texans: The Texans have clinched the AFC South and they're locked in as the No. 3 seed in the AFC regardless of what happens this weekend. The Titans still have an outside shot at sneaking into the playoffs. In the first two scenarios, they would need a) to beat the Texans, b) Bengals to lose, c) Jets to win, and d) either Broncos or Raiders lose or tie. The other scenario is a) to beat the Texans, b) Bengals to lose, c) Jets to lose or tie, and d) Raiders and Broncos to win.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Of every game, this may be the one that affects the NFL for the longest time. If the Colts lose, they secure the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft and a chance to draft Andrew Luck. If they win, however, like they've done the last two weeks, the Rams could swipe the top pick if they lose. This is obviously a huge game because Luck appears to be one of those franchise-altering type of players.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Denver Broncos: If the Chiefs had won last week, this would be a Cowboys-Giants type of win-and-you're-in matchup, but KC lost, which means they're out of the playoff picture. Denver, meanwhile, can win the division by simply beating the Chiefs. If they don't, they still have a shot if Oakland loses.

San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders: The Chargers, like the Chiefs, are out of the playoff picture as of last week. Oakland's playoff scenario is fairly simple: Win plus a Broncos loss and they're in.

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