Only five teams are still alive but not yet officially in the playoff field with one Sunday left in the NFL regular season. All five of them are in the AFC after the Minnesota Vikings became the sixth team in the NFC to lock up a spot in the playoff field.
Three spots are still up for grabs in the AFC and the Denver Broncos can snare one of them in a Monday Night Football matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. A win wouldn't lock up the AFC West title for the Broncos, but it would bump Denver into the No. 2 seed and a possible first-round bye heading into Week 17.
The two teams on the outside looking in with one weekend left are the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams need help from unlikely places to get in, but the Colts need a miracle. But it's a crazy scenario that somehow still exists and would even give the Broncos the No. 1 seed in the AFC while booting the New York Jets from contention (via the ESPN Playoff Machine):
For the Colts to win the AFC South at 8-8, the team would need to beat the Texans in the sixth tiebreaker to decide a division champion. Houston has already locked up most of the tiebreakers, so Indianapolis would need 10 games to go exactly as planned to tie in the strength of victory and win the strength of schedule tiebreakers to get into the playoffs.
Their chances? Just 3,326-to-1, according to ESPN.
The miracle 9-team parlay that gets the Colts in
The entire ridiculous scenario that gets the Colts into the playoffs will be gone before Week 17 even arrives if the Bengals manage to beat the Broncos on Monday. That would officially clinch Houston's spot in the playoffs and kick the Colts to the curb.
Update: The Broncos won, keeping the Colts' slim playoff hopes alive.
Here's the full rundown of results that the Colts will be hoping for:
- Broncos beat the Bengals
- Colts beat the Titans
- Steelers beat the Browns
- Broncos beat the Chargers
- Falcons beat the Saints
- Bills beat the Jets
- Jaguars beat the Texans
- Dolphins beat the Patriots
- Ravens beat the Bengals
- Raiders beat the Chiefs
Seems easy enough.
Packers host the Vikings in back-to-back weeks
Just three years ago, the Minnesota Vikings won a Week 17 matchup in the 2012 regular season finale against the Green Bay Packers and earned an NFC Wild Card berth. It was good enough for a trip to Lambeau Field to play Green Bay exactly one week later in the playoffs, but the Packers won the rematch at home.
A similar scenario could happen in 2015 with the Packers and Vikings set up for a possible rematch, although it would mean back-to-back games at Lambeau Field.
The last time the Vikings won at Lambeau Field, it was 2009 and Brett Favre was Minnesota's quarterback. He finished with four touchdown passes, including a 51-yarder to Percy Harvin, while Aaron Rodgers managed three touchdowns in the 38-26 loss.
Both teams have already secured their postseason berths and the Packers have already locked up the No. 3 seed. That means Green Bay will host the team that finishes with the No. 6 seed in the NFC and that would be the Vikings if they are passed by the Seahawks in Week 17.
The Seahawks have a tough game against the Arizona Cardinals on the way, and the Cardinals have plenty of motivation, with the No. 1 seed in the NFC still on the line. But if the Seahawks can pull off the win and the Packers manage to beat the Vikings for the fourth consecutive time, it would set up an immediate rematch.
Steelers bounce back to grab a playoff spot
Things would be much more comfortable for the Steelers if a Week 16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens didn't occur, but Pittsburgh isn't sunk.
Neither the Broncos nor the Jets have clinched a playoff spot and that's because both can be caught by the Steelers. Denver can eliminate that possibility by grabbing a two-game lead on Pittsburgh with a win on Monday night, but the Jets will still be in reach in Week 17, regardless.
First and foremost, the Steelers have to win a season finale on the road against the Cleveland Browns. That wasn't an issue for Pittsburgh in Week 10, when it dominated the Browns, 30-9, but a win would only get the Steelers in the playoffs if the Jets lose to the Buffalo Bills, or the Broncos drop both of their last two games, beginning on Monday night against the Bengals.
It's far from the doomsday scenario that the Colts are hoping for, but pinning their hopes on the Bills or the San Diego Chargers to pull off upsets on the road against teams with double-digit wins isn't exactly ideal for the Steelers.
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