NFL Playoff Picture: Primer for a wild weekend in the NFC and AFC

Jonathan Daniel

Nearly every NFL game in Week 17 could have playoff implications. Here's your rundown to what could be one of the crazier finishes to the regular season in recent memory.

Well more than half of the 32 teams in the NFL remain in playoff contention heading into Week 17. The 18 teams vying for a Super Bowl are the fourth-most in NFL history, and the most since 2008 when 18 teams were also in contention. Out of 16 games this weekend, 13 could have playoff implications. Suffice it to say, Week 17 should be a lot of fun.

NFC Playoff Picture

(X) - clinched playoff berth (Y) - clinched division

Standings

No. 1 - (X) Seattle 12-3

No. 2 - (X) Carolina 11-4

No. 3 - Philadelphia 9-6

No. 4 - Chicago 8-7

No. 5 - (X) San Francisco 11-4

No. 6 - New Orleans 10-5

In the hunt: Arizona 10-5, Green Bay 7-7-1, Dallas 8-7

The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds will be decided Sunday during winner-take-division games between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, and Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. The teams book-ending the NFC standings could take several permutations, however.

The Seattle Seahawks are currently the No. 1 seed, but could potentially fall to No. 5 with a loss to the St. Louis Rams. The Carolina Panthers would take over the No. 1 seed if they win, the Seahawks lose and the San Francisco 49ers win to create a three-way tie at the top, and force the NFL to resort to tiebreakers. The 49ers could rise all the way to No. 1 from the 5-seed with a win, a Seahawks loss and a Panthers loss.

The New Orleans Saints currently hold the most tenuous playoff spot. They can relieve a lot of pressure by winning. They can climb as high as the No. 5 seed if they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 49ers lose to the Arizona Cardinals. If the Saints lose and the Cards beat the Niners, the Saints will miss the playoffs and the Cardinals will compete for a championship as the conference's No. 6 seed.

Games to watch

Packers at Bears -- 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox

Winner takes the NFC North and a playoff bid. Loser goes home to stew in their misery. Aaron Rodgers will play for the Packers after missing seven games, and Green Bay is a slight favorite as a result, according to oddsmakers. The Bears have a lot of offensive firepower, however, and have the big benefit of playing at home.

49ers at Cardinals -- 4:25 p.m., Fox

The Cardinals are a big win and a timely Saints loss away from making the playoffs. Of course, there is a chance that this game is ultimately irrelevant to the standings, but with the Saints and Buccaneers playing concurrently, the Cardinals will have to fight for their lives. Don't expect the 49ers to roll over with home-field advantage potentially on the line.

Eagles at Cowboys -- 8:30 p.m., NBC

The Eagles are healthy favorites to win at 9-6 overall and Tony Romo's status still uncertain. The environment favors the Cowboys, however, and late-season NFC East games have a tendency to be wildly unpredictable. If the Eagles win, they will take the No. 3 seed. The Cowboys will take the No. 4 seed if they win and the Bears beat the Packers, and the No. 3 seed if the Packers beat the Bears.

AFC playoff picture

(X) - clinched playoff berth (Y) - clinched division

Standings

No. 1 - (Y) Denver 12-3

No. 2 - (Y) New England 11-4

No. 3 - (Y) Cincinnati 10-5

No. 4 - (Y) Indianapolis 10-5

No. 5 - (X) Kansas City 11-4

No. 6 - Miami 8-7

In the hunt: Baltimore 8-7, San Diego 8-7, Pittsburgh 7-8

The AFC playoff picture is a little more set than in the NFC. The Kansas City Chiefs are the only playoff team in the NFL that cannot change its position in the standings. They will be the AFC's No. 5 seed win or lose, and regardless of results around the league. The rest of the conference's playoff contenders will more or less be rearranging themselves.

The Denver Broncos sew up the No. 1 seed with a win over the Oakland Raiders. If they lose, the New England Patriots can snatch home-field advantage with a win over the Buffalo Bills. If the Pats lose, they could drop as low as the No. 4 seed if the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts win, forcing a tiebreaker between three 11-5 teams.

The battle for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye could be heated. The Patriots need to lose to make the race meaningful, but the Bengals can take the spot with a win over the Baltimore Ravens. The Colts need to beat Jacksonville Jaguars and have the Patriots and Bengals lose to earn a first-round bye.

Four teams are still vying for the AFC's last wild card spot. The Miami Dolphins are currently penciled in as the No. 6 seed based on odds, but they don't control their own destiny. They need to win and have the Ravens fall to the Bengals to ensure a playoff spot. The Ravens also need a win, and one of the Dolphins or the San Diego Chargers to lose to take the No. 6 seed. The Chargers need a win, while both the Ravens and the Dolphins lose.

If all three contenders win, collectively, the Dolphins will take the final spot in the AFC playoffs on tiebreakers. If all three lose, the Ravens take the last spot.

Got all that? Now ponder this: the Steelers, at 7-8, still have a chance to compete for a Super Bowl. They will need to beat the Cleveland Browns while the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers all lose, but the door is still slightly open for Mike Tomlin's crew.

Games to watch

Ravens at Bengals -- 1 p.m. ET, CBS

This game is the AFC's equivalent of 49ers-Cardinals. The Ravens need a win to make the playoffs, or else a lot of luck. The Bengals can potentially earn a first-round bye. Both teams will be at their absolute best as a result. Unfortunately for the Ravens, they'll be playing in Cincinnati where the Bengals are 7-0 this season.

Jets at Dolphins -- 1 p.m., CBS

The Dolphins are desperate, and are stumbling into Week 17 off an embarrassing shutout loss to the Bills. The Jets, meanwhile, showed some life last week in a 24-13 win over the Browns. Sunday's game could be Rex Ryan's last hurrah as head coach of the Jets, and you can bet he will have his players whipped into frenzy with a chance to ruin another team's playoff chances.

Broncos at Raiders -- 4:25 p.m., CBS

Not a particularly weighty matchup in terms of playoff implications, but the Broncos still need to lock up the 1-seed and there are a few notable NFL records on the line. With 18 points, the Broncos will become the highest scoring team in NFL history. One week after setting the all-time season passing touchdowns record, Peyton Manning can set the NFL's yardage record with 265 yards passing.

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