NFL Playoff Picture through Week 15
Here’s how the AFC and NFC playoff pictures look after Sunday’s action (Baltimore plays at Detroit on Monday):
1. Denver Broncos (11-3): AFC West leader *
2. New England Patriots (10-4): AFC East leader
3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-5): AFC North leader
4. Indianapolis Colts (9-5): AFC South leader *
5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3): Wild card *
6. Baltimore Ravens (8-6): Wild card
In the Hunt: Miami Dolphins (8-6), San Diego Chargers (7-7), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8), New York Jets (6-8)
(* = has clinched playoff berth)
The Broncos’ Thursday night loss to San Diego might turn out to be rather moot, thanks to Miami’s upset of New England. With the dramatic Dolphins’ victory, Denver reclaimed control of its own destiny for the AFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage until the Super Bowl.
Same goes for the Patriots’ loss to Miami, at least in terms of how it affected the chase for first-round byes. Cincinnati could have pulled in front of New England for the No. 2 seed by beating Pittsburgh on Sunday night. Instead, the Bengals crumbled. (If you’re wondering how the Steelers can sneak into the playoffs, by the way, here’s that scenario.)
The Bengals still could clinch the AFC North with a Week 16 win coupled with a Baltimore loss to New England. But the Ravens also control their own destiny — win their final two and they’d leapfrog the Bengals by virtue of a head-to-head sweep.
Miami also is in with a 2-0 finish, because of that remaining Cincinnati-Baltimore game. At 10-6, the Dolphins would jump past the loser of that game (either a 9-7 Ravens team or a 10-6 Bengals team on the conference-record tiebreaker).
Kansas City clinched a playoff spot with its win Sunday, becoming the third AFC team to lock down a bid.
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-2): NFC West leader *
2. New Orleans Saints (10-4): NFC South leader
3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-6): NFC East leader
4. Chicago Bears (8-6): NFC North leader
5. Carolina Panthers (10-4): Wild card
6. San Francisco 49ers (10-4): Wild card
In the Hunt: Arizona Cardinals (9-5), Green Bay Packers (7-6-1), Detroit Lions (7-7), Dallas Cowboys (7-7)
There was movement in the NFC, too. Both of the NFC East leaders (Philadelphia and Dallas) lost, the latter in shocking fashion. As a result, the Eagles stayed on top of the division and could clinch the title next week with a win plus a Dallas loss or tie. Barring that set of circumstances, those two teams will play for the division crown in Week 17.
The NFC North also appears headed to Week 17, one way or another. The Bears could clinch the division crown next Sunday with a win and losses by both Green Bay and Detroit. Saving that, the Bears may need to beat the Packers in Week 17.
The Lions, who once appeared a near-lock to take the division, would be eliminated from contention in Week 16 if both the Bears and Packers win. Since those two teams play on the season’s final Sunday, Detroit would be unable to pull past both regardless of how it finishes.
Carolina and San Francisco both won, moving the teams to the brink of clinching wild-card spots. Arizona kept pace, though, and is now 9-5. The Cardinals need help to secure a postseason spot. None of the other teams still alive — Green Bay, Detroit, Dallas — can catch the Panthers or 49ers for a wild-card spot.