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2015 NFL playoff picture and scenarios: Broncos clinch, but seeding still a mystery

Heading into Week 17, almost anything can still happen in a ridiculously tight AFC playoff race.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

With an overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, the Denver Broncos have officially punched their ticket to the 2015 NFL playoffs. After a 7-0 start, it was unfathomable that Denver would need to wait this long to secure a spot, but late-season floundering and a 9-0 run by the Kansas City Chiefs complicated things.

The Broncos still can't rest easy. Because the AFC race is so tight, the Broncos can earn the No. 1 seed or No. 6 seed, depending on how events unfold in Week 17 (and every seed in between except for the No. 4 seed reserved for the AFC South winner). If the Broncos win and the New England Patriots lose next week, the Broncos will earn a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. A Broncos loss coupled with a Chiefs win bumps them to the Wild Card, however, and if the New York Jets also win the Broncos would have to play every game on the road.

Two teams can still jump into the playoffs -- the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. Because the Steelers lost to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, they will need the Jets to lose in addition to beating the Cleveland Browns in their season finale. The Colts would need an insane confluence of events to occur that you can read about here.

The NFC is shuffling deck chairs. The Arizona Cardinals can still jump the Carolina Panthers for the No. 1 seed, but both teams have already clinched first-round byes. The Minnesota Vikings will visit the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night to determine the NFC North, with the winner earning the No. 3 seed.

Here are the standings entering Week 17:


1. (zNew England Patriots (12-3)
2. (x) Denver Broncos (11-4)
3. (y) Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)
4. Houston Texans (8-7)
5. (x) Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)
6. New York Jets (10-5)

In The Hunt

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6)
Indianapolis Colts (7-8)


1. (z) Carolina Panthers (14-1)
2. (z) Arizona Cardinals (13-2)
3. (x) Green Bay Packers (10-5)
4. (y) Washington (8-7)
5. (x) Minnesota Vikings (10-5)
6. (x) Seattle Seahawks (9-6)

(z) - First-round bye
(y) - Division winner
(x) - Playoff berth

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