The NFL Playoff picture is starting to clear up heading into the final few weeks of the year. At the top of the AFC postseason bracket , three teams are jockeying for position, while three other teams are battling for two wild-cards spots. Over in the NFC three of the four divisions are essentially locked up, along with the two wild-card representatives. The only thing left is to battle for position. Let's take a closer look at the division matchups and make a few predictions about which teams will make the playoffs.
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AFC Playoff Scenarios
No. 1 Seed : New England: The Patriots are in control of their own destiny and simply need to win out in order to grab the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The defending Super Bowl champs have matchups against Tennessee, New York (Jets) and Miami (all winnable games), but they could drop a road game against either division rival. New England is facing a host of injuries, but they will be getting many of these players back over the next few weeks, so there is little reason to doubt that Tom Brady and company will keep winning. Prediction: Expect the Patriots to grab another No. 1 seed and make a deep playoff run.
No. 2 or No. 3 : Cincinnati, Denver: Denver has two tough matchups left on its schedule with games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati remaining. The Broncos played poorly last week with a disappointing loss to Oakland, but the worst the team can do is fall into the No. 3 seed. Cincinnati's only tough game left is the Week 16 matchup against Denver, but the team has bigger problems with its starting quarterback, Andy Dalton, expected to be out for at least the remainder of the regular season with a fractured thumb. Prediction: Cincinnati grabs the No. 2 seed and Denver the No. 3.
No. 4 Seed : Indianapolis or Houston: It seems like every year an undeserving squad sneaks into the playoff as a division champ with a sub-standard record. This week might end up deciding the division as both will face off in Indianapolis with a one-game lead on the line. Houston has the easier remaining schedule, but a loss on Sunday to the Colts would essentially take them out of the running. Prediction: Neither team can grab the wild card, so this Sunday is everything. Houston feels like the "hotter" team, so let's go with them.
Wild-card spots : Kansas City, New York Jets or Pittsburgh: The AFC wild-card race may be the most interesting battle left in the season. With three 8-5 teams all peaking at the right time, a 10- or 11-win squad could end up getting bounced from a tougher-than-usual AFC. Kansas City has won seven straight games, owns the tiebreakers and faces the easiest schedule of the bunch, so pencil them into the No. 5 spot. The Jets have matchups against Dallas, New England and Buffalo (two of them on the road), while the Steelers will face Denver, Baltimore and Cleveland. Prediction: Expect the New York to be the odd team out, while Pittsburgh grabs the No. 6 spot.
NFC Playoff Scenarios
No. 1 and No. 2 Seeds : Carolina and Arizona: The Top 2 spots in the NFC are essentially set in place, unless either Carolina or Arizona drops two of the last three matchups, which looking at the schedule seems unlikely for the Panthers but a distinct possible for the Cardinals. Carolina has games against New York (Giants), Atlanta and Tampa Bay left on the schedule, while Arizona will face Philadelphia, Green Bay and Seattle to close out the year. A worse case for Arizona would be falling to the No. 3 spot. Prediction: Expect things to stay the same with Carolina at No. 1 and Arizona at No. 2
No. 3 Seed : Green Bay or Minnesota: The Packers essentially control their own destiny with a one-game lead over Minnesota for the NFC North title. Green Bay has road games against Oakland and Arizona and a home matchup against the Vikings, which could be for the division, left on its schedule. Minnesota has games against Chicago and the New York Giants, before the season-ending showdown with Green Bay. The Vikings have lost three of four and seem to be in a bit of a free fall. Prediction: Minnesota loses to New York during Week 16, while Green Bay loses only to Arizona and maintains a one-game lead.
No. 4 Seed : Washington or Philadelphia: The winner of the horrendous NFL East will grab a No. 4 seed, while the loser has little chance of grabbing a wild-card spot. New York is in the mix for the division crown as well, but Washington and Philadelphia hold tiebreakers over the Giants. Both teams play each other during Week 16, but the Eagles will host the game. At this point it doesn't even matter who will come out of the NFC East because the winner will probably face Seattle in the first round anyway. Prediction: Philadelphia leapfrogs Washington during Week 16 and win the division crown.
Wild-card spots : Seattle and Minnesota: The final two wild-card spots are all but locked up. The No. 7 and No. 8 teams in the NFC are currently sitting on a 6-7 record, so all the Seahawks and Vikings need to do is keep winning. Minnesota could switch spots with Green Bay if they win the final three games, but the most likely outcome is for things to stay the same.
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Read more articles by George Monroy
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