NFL Playoff Scenarios: A Guide to This Sunday

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Week 17 of the NFL season is upon us this weekend, and while there are still plenty of moving (or potentially moving) parts left to be slotted, the one thing we are sure of is that in the NFC the Atlanta Falcons will have a first round bye and home field throughout the playoffs.

The Texans have to be a little bit jealous. Sixty minutes of even decent football this past Sunday, and they're in the clubhouse with the Falcons, sipping on some Battle Red punch. That's what was supposed to happen. But by now we all know what went down.

Matt Schaub went down. Three times in fact. And he was hurried several more times. And next thing you know the Texans are losing 23-6 to a painfully average Vikings team and having to actually game plan for Sunday against the Colts.

So with the Texans now firmly in harm's way, let's look at the best case and worst case scenarios in play for all of the mathematically alive and playoff entrenched teams (with overall W-L record, division W-L, conference W-L and Week 17 opponent in parentheses):

AFC
HOUSTON TEXANS (12-3, 5-0, 10-1, at Indianapolis)
Best Case: The Texans go into a hostile environment in which they've never won before and in which the opponent has a decided emotional edge (Colts head coach Chuck Pagano's returning from cancer, not sure if you've heard.) to try and go 6-0 in the division for the first time ever and do what they should have done last weekend -- clinch the number one overall seed in the AFC
Worst Case: The Texans lose to the Colts, and the Broncos and Patriots win their near lay up home games (Both are double digit favorites.) to relegate the Texans to the third seed and a first round game against Cincinnati. This would mean the Texans went from a likely Super Bowl road of "bye, home, home" to "home, road, road" in a matter of a week.

DENVER BRONCOS (12-3, 5-0, 9-2, vs Kansas City)
Best Case: The Broncos handle their business against the Chiefs and the Texans get snowed under by a wave of Chuck Pagano inspiration, making the Broncos the top seed in the AFC.
Worst Case: Broncos lose to the Chiefs as Bronco castoff Brady Quinn throws for 300 yards. Meanwhile, Tom Brady rolls the Dolphins making the Broncos the number three seed, courtesy of a Week 5 31-21 Patriots win.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-4, 5-0, 10-1, vs Miami)
Best Case: It's a long shot, but if the Texans and Broncos both lose, and the Patriots win, they would have the number one overall seed in the AFC thanks to a 2-0 record against Houston and Denver. (More of a long shot because of the Broncos playing the Chiefs, than the Texans playing the Colts.)
Worst Case: The Patriots have the biggest window between floor and ceiling of any AFC division winner. They could be the top seed or fall all the way to fourth seed with a loss and Ravens win (Baltimore won 31-30 over the pats in Week 3.)

BALTIMORE RAVENS (10-5, 4-1, 8-3, at Cincinnati)
Best Case: The Ravens move up to the three seed, although I'm not so sure that if the chalk wins Sunday that the four seed isn't an easier path. Which scenario would you rather have to go through to get to the AFC title game?

1. Home game against a rookie quarterback, and then a shaky as hell Texans squad on the road (with Schaub at quarterback)
2. Home game against a hot division opponent who you just played a week ago, and then travel to Denver to face the hottest team in football

Scenario one right? Well, that's what Baltimore gets with the four seed. So I think....

Worst Case: ....we've established that the Ravens should just play and whatever happens happens on Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (10-5, 3-2, 7-4, vs Houston)
Best Case: Even if they lose to the Texans, the Colts are locked in at the fifth seed in the AFC. However, Indy offensive coordinator Bruce Arians claims the Colts will "play to win," which means....
Worst Case:....J.J. Watt did sack Andrew Luck three times a couple weeks ago, didn't he? I'm not saying anyone will try to hurt Luck, but he will get hit. Plenty. Just saying.

CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-6, 2-3, 6-5, vs Baltimore)
Best Case: They're locked in at the sixth seed, but if they're scoreboard watching, and taking into account how the teams above them are playing down the stretch, they should hope like hell for the Texans worst case to play out, and not....
Worst Case:...the Texans and Broncos best cases to play out. That would leave the Bengals with a trip to New England in Round One.

NFC
ATLANTA FALCONS (13-2, 3-2, 9-2, vs Tampa Bay)
Best Case: No resting starters get rolled on the sidelines in Sunday's game.
Worst Case: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White get simultaneously taken out by a violently tumbling Gerald McCoy.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (11-4, 5-0, 8-3, at Minnesota)
Best Case: Aaron Rodgers catches Minnesota in an understandable letdown after a huge win in Houston and takes care of business, closing out a 12-4 regular season after a 2-3 start, and clinching a first round bye as the 2 seed in the NFC.
Worst Case: Packers lose, San Francisco loses, and the Seahawks win. This would make the Packers and Seahawks both 11-5 division winners, and the tie would be broken by....yes, the Golden Tate Hail Mary replacement ref botch in Week 5. Roger Goodell prayed in church on Christmas Eve that this wouldn't happen.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (10-4-1, 2-2-1, 6-4-1, vs Arizona)
Best Case: Beat Arizona (which has roughly a 114 percent chance of happening) and Minnesota rises up again this week and beats Green Bay, and the Niners would be the number two seed.
Worst Case: Green Bay wins, then it doesn't matter what the Niners do. On a side note, it's weird to think that a team that's been touted as the "best in the league" at two or three distinct junctures this season (including as recently as a couple weeks ago) would not have a first round bye.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (9-6, 4-1, 7-4, vs Dallas)
Best Case: Beat the Cowboys, win the division, go into the playoffs as the four seed. (Also, if he has a big game, watch Robert Griffin III garner more than a few MVP votes.)
Worst Case: Lose at home to the Cowboys and then all it takes is a Chicago or Minnesota win to end this magical run by the fighting Shanahans. They would go home.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-5, 2-3, 7-4, vs St. Louis)
Best Case: Win against the Rams, get a Festivus miracle from the Cardinals against the 49ers, and get a Packers loss in Minnesota, and the Seahawks have a first round bye.
Worst Case: Even with a loss to St. Louis, the Seahawks would be locked in to the five hole at 10-6 with head to head wins over the other two potential 10-6 wild card teams (Minnesota and Chicago).

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (9-6, 3-2, 6-5, vs Green Bay)
Best Case: Beat Green Bay and head into the playoffs as a sixth seed and a live one at that with wins down the stretch over Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston, and presumably over Green Bay. (Also, lock up the MVP for Adrian Peterson if this happens.)
Worst Case: Lose at home to Green Bay and either Chicago at 10-6 or some other 9-7 team sneaks in as the sixth seed. Even in this playoff-less scenario, this has to be considered a wildly successful season for the Vikings.

CHICAGO BEARS (9-6, 2-3, 6-5, at Detroit)
Best Case: Beat a reeling Lions squad and get some help from the Packers (Just remember Bears fan, my enemy's enemy is my friend. Rationalize. You can do it.), and the Bears will overcome a 2-5 second half going into Week 17 to make the playoffs.
Worst Case: Lose and go home. And Lovie Smith is squarely back on the hot seat he was on heading into 2010 a couple years ago.

DALLAS COWBOYS (8-7, 3-2, 5-6, at Washington)
Best Case: Beat the Redskins, and the Cowboys win the NFC East, and we get to see the next sequel in the Tony Romo Playoff Choke box set. Awesome!
Worst Case: Lose and go home. That's it. Four seed as division champ or bust.

NEW YORK GIANTS (8-7, 2-3, 7-4, vs Philadelphia)
Best Case: You know those WWE matches where it's a Pier 6 brawl (great wrestling term, by the way) in the ring and about four or five other guys interfere, the ref gets knocked out by a chair, a second ref comes in and counts someone;s shoulders down 1-2-3 and you're like "What the hell just happened?" Well, that's what the Giants need to make the playoffs -- they the Bears, Vikings, and Cowboys to all lose and meanwhile need to beat the Eagles in Week 17, no gimme the way the G-men are playing right about now.
Worst Case: The Giants lose capping a December that's been the exact opposite of their two Super Bowl runs under Coughlin.

By the way, just know that if Roger Goodell has his way and gets 16 teams in the playoffs, then we are having conversations like this about teams like Miami, the Jets, and Tampa Bay. Please for the love of God, somebody find that man a hobby so he is distracted from screwing with the game we all love.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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