NFL Playoff Picture: A Lot Up In The Air Heading To Sunday’s Finale

The NFL playoff picture remains fluid as we get set for the final week of the season on Sunday (there are no Thursday or Monday games for this week, it’s a full 16-game Sunday). The following remains up in the air…

*Both #1 seeds–Denver/New England are still jousting in the AFC and homefield in the NFC can go to either Seattle or Carolina.

*Three of the four first-round byes–Denver is the only team assured of both the division title and a week off. The other bye in the AFC can go to New England or Cincinnati, while the NFC contenders beyond Seattle and Carolina include both San Francisco and New Orleans.

*Three division titles–two of these will be easy to settle. Green Bay-Chicago and Philadelphia-Dallas will settle the mediocre “races” in the NFC North and NFC East head-to-head. Seattle still has to wrap up the NFC West when they host St. Louis.

*The final wild-card spot in both conferences–New Orleans can not only get a bye, they can also miss the playoffs entirely if they don’t take care of a home game with Tampa Bay. If the Saints lose, that opens the door for the Arizona Cardinals, if the Cards can win at home against San Francisco.

The AFC is even crazier–Miami, Baltimore, San Diego and Pittsburgh are all alive for the #6 seed and none control their own destiny. The Steelers’ case is straightforward–they need to win and everyone else needs to lose. Miami and Baltimore are who this spot likely goes to, but with the Ravens going to Cincinnati and the Dolphins coming off a hideous tank job in Buffalo, who knows?

We’ll preview and predict all of the Week 17 games here at TheSportsNotebook later in the week. A recap of all Week 16 games is available here.  For now, let’s keep it simple and project how the NFL playoff bracket will look if the betting-line favorites all win on Sunday. At least that way we have a grasp for who’s really in prime position.

One note–at this early point, there are no lines on Carolina-Atlanta, Green Bay-Chicago and Arizona-San Francisco. The Packer-Bear game has injuries all over, but with Aaron Rodgers looking unlikely to return and now Clay Matthews out, I’m finally conceding this game to Chicago.

I’m not sure why the hesitancy on the other two games, although if I had to guess it would be that because Atlanta and San Francisco just played last night, oddsmakers are waiting final word on injuries. In either case, I’m sure the Panthers will be heavy road favorites. I’m also going to cautiously project Arizona at home.


1st Round
(6)Miami at (3)Cincinnati
(5)Kansas City at (4)Indianapolis

(6)San Francisco at (3)Philadelphia
(5)New Orleans at (4)Chicago

(1)Denver (2) New England
(1)Seattle (2) Carolina