I just broke down the playoff scenarios for the NFC (including my predictions for what the first round matchups will look like).
Now let’s break down the playoff scenarios for the AFC based on what happens in Week 17. There is still a lot to be decided.
AFC Playoff Scenarios
The NFC playoff scenarios started out with an easy one – the Cowboys-Giants winner is the #4 seed, the loser goes home – and the AFC playoff scenarios start out with an even simpler one:
The Houston Texans are the #3 seed in the AFC playoffs, regardless of what happens in Week 17.
While Houston could finished in a three-way 11-5 tie with Baltimore and Pittsburgh, here is a quick explanation for why they could not vault over either for the #2 seed, via HoustonTexans.com:
If the Texans, Ravens and Steelers all finish 11-5, the Steelers would be eliminated from a tiebreaker because the Ravens beat them twice and would be AFC North champions. The Ravens would win a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Texans because they beat them in Week 6.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have clinched the AFC East as well as a first round bye. In Week 17, they have home field advantage on the line.
If the Pats can beat Buffalo at home, they will be the #1 seed in the AFC. If they lose to Buffalo, the Patriots will still nab the #1 seed if Pittsburgh and Baltimore lose.
If New England loses and either or both of Baltimore/Pittsburgh win, they would have identical 12-4 records. New England loses the tie-breaker with both the Steelers and Ravens.
The Ravens have clinched at least a wild card spot, along with Pittsburgh. With both teams sitting at 11-4, the AFC North (and more) remains up in the air.
If Baltimore beats Cincinnati, the Ravens clinch the AFC North and a first round bye because they beat Pittsburgh twice and thus own the tie-breaker. The Ravens also clinch the AFC North if they lose to Cincy and Pittsburgh loses to Cleveland. However, if Baltimore loses to Cincy and Pittsburgh beats Cleveland, then the Ravens get the wild card.
As mentioned above, the Ravens also can clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if they win and New England loses to Buffalo.
If Pittsburgh beats Cleveland and Baltimore loses to Cincinnati, the Steelers are AFC North champions and will host a first round playoff game. Should the Steelers lose, or if they win and Baltimore wins, the Steelers are the wild card.
If the Steelers win and both Baltimore and New England lose, the Steelers become the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs and will have home field advantage throughout as well as a first round bye.
The Broncos clinch the AFC West title and the #4 seed by beating Kansas City in Week 17. If the Raiders lose to the Chargers, then the Broncos win the AFC West regardless of if they win or lose against Kansas City.
In the unlikely even that Denver and Kansas City tie, Denver still goes to the playoffs if Oakland loses or ties.
And now let’s run down the many, many, many possibilities for what could happen with the #6 seed in the AFC:
AFC Playoff Scenarios for #6 Seed
The Bengals have, theoretically, the best chance at securing the #6 seed because they have a “win and in” scenario (though it does come against Baltimore). If Cincinnati beats Baltimore, or ties, they are in as the #6 seed.
Cincinnati can still make the playoffs with a loss if one of the following scenarios play out:
- The Jets lose or tie and Oakland loses or ties
- The Jets lose or tie and Denver loses or ties
If Oakland wins and Denver wins, Oakland cannot win the AFC West and host a first round playoff game. However, the Raiders could still earn the #6 seed if they win and the following happens:
- Cincinnati loses and Tennessee loses or ties
- Cincinnati loses and the Jets win
New York Jets
Yes, the Jets can still make the playoffs. They need a lot of help to do it though.
First, New York needs to beat Miami in Miami. That will be no easy task. If New York loses, they are out no matter what.
If they win, the Jets will make the playoffs if one of the following two scenarios play out:
- Cincinnati loses, Tennessee loses or ties, and Oakland loses or ties
- Cincinnati loses, Tennessee loses or ties, and Denver loses or ties
The Titans also still have a shot at the playoffs, but a lot has to happen. Of course, they have to beat Houston. If they do, they will make the playoffs if one of the following scenarios play out:
- Cincinnati loses and the Jets win and Oakland loses or ties
- Cincinnati loses and the Jets win and Denver loses or ties
- Cincinnati loses and the Jets lose or tie and Oakland wins and Denver wins
Whew, that’s a lot of help the Titans need…
AFC Playoff Predictions
With so many possibilities, what will actually happen?
Here are my predictions for the pivotal Week 17 games:
- New England beats Buffalo
- Miami beats New York
- Baltimore beats Cincinnati
- Pittsburgh beats Cleveland
- Tennessee beats Houston
- Denver beats Kansas City
- San Diego beats Oakland
This would create the following first playoff matchups:
- Byes: #1 New England (13-3), #2 Baltimore (12-4)
- #3 Houston (10-6) v #6 Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
- #4 Denver (9-7) v #5 Pittsburgh (12-4)
What do you think will happen? Comment below.