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NFL playoff picture 2017: 3 wild postseason scenarios that are still possible

The Bears and Broncos in the playoffs? The Patriots on the outside looking in? It’s still possible.

NFL: New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

With five weeks left before the NFL regular season ends, there are some things we already know about what January will look like. The playoffs will almost certainly include the Philadelphia Eagles — who are the only team with the chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win in Week 13 — and it won’t include the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants or San Francisco 49ers, who are all already eliminated.

But that leaves a lot of room for there to be jockeying for playoff position in December.

Even the three teams at 3-8 — the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, and Indianapolis Colts — are technically still alive. So let’s fire up the NFL Playoff Machine and hunt for the most ridiculous postseason scenarios possible:

1. The Patriots miss the playoffs

It’s been nearly a decade since New England didn’t make the playoffs. During that 2008 season, Matt Cassel was starting for the Patriots after Tom Brady tore his ACL in the season opener. Make no mistake about it, though: The Patriots are making the playoffs again this year.

But with the Buffalo Bills three games back at 6-5 — and scheduled to play the Patriots in Weeks 13 and 16 — New England still hasn’t clinched a spot. So let’s imagine what the scenario looks like that leaves the defending Super Bowl champions on the outside looking in.

First, the Bills would have to win out and the Patriots would have to lose each of their last five games. That’d put Buffalo at 11-5 and make them AFC East champions ahead of the 9-7 Patriots.

But 9-7 might be enough for a wild card berth in the weak AFC. So to keep the Patriots out, the Ravens are going to need to step up to the plate with at least four wins in the last five weeks. And both the teams tied atop the AFC South — the Titans and Jaguars — will need three wins to get to at least 10-6 and ahead of the Patriots.

And boom, just like that the Patriots are left out without even going to a tiebreaker. It’s not too convoluted of a scenario, but it’s one that New England can essentially slam the door on just by winning Sunday.

2. Two 11-5 teams left out

The NFC Wild Card race is ultra competitive with a month left, spurred mostly by the tight NFC South that features the 8-3 New Orleans Saints, 8-3 Carolina Panthers and 7-4 Atlanta Falcons. For now, all three are in line to get in the playoffs and that leaves the 7-4 Seattle Seahawks out.

But what if all those teams keep winning, and the 6-5 Detroit Lions climb into the mix too?


  1. The Lions win out (vs. Ravens, Buccaneers, Bears, Bengals, Packers).
  2. The Seahawks win four of five (vs. Eagles, Jaguars, Rams, Cowboys, Cardinals).
  3. The Falcons win four of five (vs. Vikings, Saints, Buccaneers, Saints, Panthers).
  4. Panthers, Saints, Rams all win at least three out of five.

Then there would be a big group of teams with at least 11 wins. That could be bad news for the Panthers, who went undefeated against AFC opponents and only picked up losses to NFC teams. That’d put them low on the totem pole in a tiebreaker that depends on conference record.

In the case that the Saints, Lions, Vikings, Falcons, Seahawks, Panthers and Rams all finish 11-5, Carolina and Los Angeles would be left on the outside.

3. The Bears and Broncos get in

Both Chicago and Denver sit at 3-8 and are dead last in the playoff standings in their respective conferences. But neither is mathematically eliminated, so we can still come up with a way to get them in.

It’s easier for the Broncos, who are just three games back in the messy AFC West led by the spiraling 6-5 Chiefs. With five wins — unlikely as that is — Denver would be 8-8 with a 3-3 record in divisional play.

The Broncos would have a precarious tiebreaker situation, but it’s possible that every other team in the division finishes under .500.

For Chicago, getting in is a little more complicated because it can’t catch the 9-2 Vikings. The only shot for the Bears is a run of five consecutive wins that gets them to 8-8 and some NFC chaos that leaves them in position for a wild card spot.

That scenario for the Broncos and Bears could look a little something like this.

Will these come to fruition? It’s probably safe to assume they won’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun dreaming while they’re still possible.

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