NFL playoff picture: A guide to what each teams needs to do (updated)

December 27, 2013

By Sunday night, the playoff picture will be set. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Update: In the AFC wild-card round, San Diego will play at Cincinnati, Kansas City at Indianapolis; in the NFC wild-card round, San Francisco will play at Green Bay with New Orleans playing at the Dallas-Philadelphia winner. Games are next weekend, with times and days yet to be announced. (See more here.)

On the final Sunday of the NFL’s regular season, 13 of 16 games will affect either playoff spots or playoff seedings and two will decide division titles outright.

Here’s a look at where teams stand with degree of difficulty for each scenario based on a 1-5 scale (with 5 the toughest). Playoff requirements for each team were supplied by the NFL.

AFC

The following teams have clinched either a division title or a playoff spot or both (in other words, these are, with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld, known knowns):

Denver — AFC West and first-round bye

New England — AFC East

Cincinnati — AFC North

Indianapolis — AFC South

Kansas City — playoff spot

Here’s what’s on the line for each team.

Denver (at Oakland) can clinch home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:

1) A win or tie OR

2) a New England loss or tie

Degree of difficulty: 2 (It seems like a no-brainer, but strange things can happen on the road in the AFC West, even against a poor team like the Raiders.)

New England (vs. Buffalo) can clinch a first-round bye with:

1) A win or tie OR
2) A Cincinnati loss or tie + an Indianapolis loss or tie

Degree of difficulty: 2 (At home? Against Buffalo? Just win and see what happens. Which is one reason why Coach Bill Belichick says he isn’t going to be paying attention to any other games.

New England can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with:

1) A win + a Denver loss

Degree of difficulty: 4 (The second part of the equation seems unlikely to come to pass.)

Cincinnati (vs. Baltimore) can clinch a first-round bye with:

1) A win + a New England loss

Degree of difficulty: 4 (Recent history shows the Ravens know how to play in December, even without Ray Lewis and with Joe Flacco hobbled.)

Indianapolis (vs. Jacksonville) can clinch a first-round bye with:

1) A win + a New England loss + a Cincinnati loss or tie

Degree of difficulty: 4 (Indy played well last week so that part seems relatively easy, but depending on New England and Cincy is the tough part.)

Miami (vs. New York Jets) can clinch a playoff spot with:

1) A win + a Baltimore loss or tie OR

2) A win + a San Diego win OR

3) A tie + a Baltimore loss + San Diego loss or tie OR

4) A tie +  a Baltimore tie + a San Diego tie

Degree of difficulty: 4 (Beating the Jets might be the tougher part of this.)

Baltimore (at Cincinnati) can clinch a playoff spot with:

1) A win + a San Diego loss or tie OR

2) A win + a Miami loss or tie OR

3) A tie + a Miami loss + a San Diego loss or tie OR

4) A tie + a Miami tie + a San Diego loss OR

5) A Miami loss + a San Diego loss + a Pittsburgh loss or tie

Degree of difficulty: 3 (Winning in Cincy is Step 1. The Ravens can’t worry about anything else.)

San Diego (vs. Kansas City) can clinch a playoff spot with:

1) A win + a Miami loss or tie + a Baltimore loss or tie OR

2) A tie + a Miami loss + a Baltimore loss

Degree of difficulty: 3 (The Chargers are playing well and the Chiefs are sliding at the wrong time of the season. Still, it’s possible that too many other things have to happen.)

Pittsburgh (vs. Cleveland) can clinch a playoff loss with:

1) A win + a Miami loss + a Baltimore loss + a San Diego loss

Degree of difficulty: 5 (Tough spot for the Steelers.)

NFC

Seattle, Carolina and San Francisco have clinched playoff spots; the four division titles will be decided Sunday.

Seattle (vs. St. Louis) can clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with:

1) A win or tie OR

2) A San Francisco loss or tie

Degree of difficulty: 2 (The Rams are pesky, but losing Jake Long is crushing and, although they’re 3-2 over their last last five games, the Seahawks aren’t likely to lose two in a row –  at home.)

Carolina (at Atlanta) can clinch the NFC South and a first-round bye with:

1) A win or tie OR

2) A New Orleans loss or tie

Degree of difficulty: 2 (Sure, winning in the dome can be tough, but the Falcons are dreadful and the Panthers are … not.)

Carolina clinches home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with:

1) A win + a Seattle loss + a San Francisco win

Degree of difficulty: 5 (The Seattle loss seems like the tricky part.)

Philadelphia (at Dallas) can clinch the NFC East with:

1) A win or tie

Degree of difficulty: 3 (Philly should win with Tony Romo out the rest of the way.)

Chicago (vs. Green Bay) can clinch the NFC North with:

1) A win or tie

Degree of difficulty: 3 (Can home-field advantage for the Bears outweigh the lift Aaron Rodgers provides for the Packers? Oh, if only THIS one were in prime time.)

San Francisco (at Arizona) can clinch the NFC West and a first-round bye with:

1) A win + a Seattle loss

Degree of difficulty: 5 (Just winning this one is going to be tough enough for the 49ers.)

San Francisco can clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with:

1) A win + a Seattle loss + a Carolina loss or tie

Degree of difficulty: 5 (Winning in Arizona, which is difficult, may be the easiest part of this equation.)

New Orleans (vs. Tampa Bay) can clinch the NFC South and a first-round bye with:

1) A win + a Carolina loss

Degree of difficulty: 5 (Beating Tampa Bay is the easy part.)

New Orleans can clinch a playoff spot with:

1) A win OR

2) A tie + an Arizona tie OR

3) An Arizona loss

Degree of difficulty: 2 (Beating the Bucs? In the SuperDome?)

Arizona (vs. San Francisco) can clinch a playoff spot with:

1) A win + a New Orleans loss or tie OR

2) A tie + a New Orleans loss

Degree of difficulty: 5 (If only the Cardinals could get into the NFC East or the NFC North…)

Dallas (vs. Philadelphia) can clinch the NFC East with:

1) A win

Degree of difficulty: 5 (Without Romo, the Cowboys’ chances look dismal.)

Green Bay (at Chicago) can clinch the NFC North with:

1) A win

Degree of difficulty: 3 (Winning in Chicago gets a whole lot easier with Rodgers.)

H/T to NFL

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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Cindy Boren · December 26, 2013

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