by Mike Hayes - 12/27/2005
As the NFL season enters the final week of regular season action playoff races have been all but decided though a few teams are still jockeying for position.
The following will examine the NFL playoff picture entering Week 17.
In the AFC the picture appears crystal clear as a Pittsburgh win at home against the hapless Lions would give the Steelers an 11-5 mark and the sixth and final playoff spot and a first-round match-up against the Bengals or Patriots. In the unlikely event the Steelers lost, they would still qualify for the final spot with a Kansas City loss at home against the Bengals or a San Diego loss at Denver.
The Colts have clinched the top seed and with it a first-round bye and home field throughout the playoffs and the Broncos are locked into the second seed.
For Kansas City to grab the final spot the lone AFC they would have to defeat the Bengals, the Steelers would have to lose and the Chargers would have to lose or tie their game.
The Chargers have already been eliminated from the race but factor into the outcome due to tie-breaking procedures. Should the Steelers, Chiefs and Chargers all finish 10-6, the Steelers have the tiebreaker over both teams but the Chargers have the tiebreaker over Kansas City.
As it stands now, the Bengals are the third seed and the Patriots are number four, but those teams could trade spots with a New England win against the Dolphins and a Bengals loss at Kansas City. The difference, however, would be negligible as both the three and four seed will host a first-round playoff game with the three matching up against the Jaguars and the four likely facing the Steelers.
If form holds, Indy would face the four seed in second round action but would host one of the wild card teams should they earn first-round upsets.
In the NFC the picture is a bit more murky where just three teams have clinched a playoff berth with four alive for the final three spots.
Seattle has the top seed and the Bears are number two and the Giants will be slotted four should they win the division or five if they qualify as a wildcard. Tampa Bay, Carolina and Washington will all qualify with wins but a loss by one of them could open the door for the Cowboys.
Tampa Bay appears a lock for one of the spots as a win at home against the Saints would give them the South Division crown. Even if they lose, the Bucs would still qualify as a wildcard with a loss by either Dallas or Washington or a Giants victory.
The Redskins also control their own destiny as a win at Philadelphia would guarantee a wildcard berth. A Skins victory coupled with a Giants loss at Oakland would not only send Washington to the playoffs but to a division title and a first-round home game. Washington could back in with a Cowboy loss at home against the Rams.
The Panthers need to win at Atlanta to guarantee a berth and hold slim hopes of winning the South with a win and a Tampa loss.
For the Cowboys to qualify they need to defeat the Rams at home and have the Eagles upset the Skins or Carolina lose at Atlanta. There is also a scenario in which Dallas could qualify with a Tampa Bay loss at home against the Saints and a Giant loss that involves strength of schedule tiebreakers involving the Bucs and Cowboys.
The most likely scenario has the Bucs hosting a playoff game against the six seed, which right now would be the Redskins and the Giants hosting the five seed, which in this case would be the Panthers or Cowboys.
If the Redskins manage to win the East, they would host either the Cowboys or Panthers and the Giants would travel to Tampa.
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