NFL Playoff Scenarios: Wildcard Wars And All NFC Divisions Up For Grabs

Week 16 of the 2013 NFL regular season is almost in the books and gives us a slightly clearer look at potential playoff scenarios.

Although some scenarios are more likely than others, not a single NFC team has locked down its division and only two—the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers—have solidified their postseason berths. The wildcard race seems easier to determine, but no matter what, these playoff scenarios are coming down to the final game.

On the flip side of the NFL, each AFC division has been decided, and Kansas City has landed a wildcard spot, leaving four teams to fight over the remaining playoff berth. With no head-to-head match between the Miami Dolphins, the Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, this one will go into the tie-breaker scenarios.


The scenarios most-likely to come to fruition involve San Francisco—favored by two touch downs—beating the Falcons Monday night to climb to 11-4; they won’t have to worry about the Cardinals, their 10-5 Week 17 dance partners because even if Arizona takes that game and evens the season series, the 49ers own the second tie-breaker with a better divisional record. The New Orleans Saints, the other team in this wildcard war, are 10-4 and hold head-to-head wins over both teams.

Two weeks ago, you would have thought the Saints to be a sure-bet for the South crown, but an upset to the lowly St. Louis Rams and loss to the Carolina Panthers have put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. With New Orleans set to face Tampa Bay at home in Week 17 and Carolina squaring off against Atlanta on the road, both teams are likely to win; the Panthers will take the South and New Orleans will clinch a wildcard playoff berth.

The North will come down to Sunday night’s showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. If the Packers can get the W, they’ll pull ahead of the Bears by virtue of the tie against Minnesota in the NFL’s Week 12.

The Seattle Seahawks, despite being tied for the NFL’s best record, haven’t locked down the West. A loss by San Francisco tonight or a win next week against the Rams will do so; should neither scenario pan out, the 49ers can take the crown with a superior divisional record

The East will come down to Week 17’s match-up between Dallas and Philadelphia. The Eagles currently get the nod at 9-6, but a Cowboys victory Sunday would pull them even and Dallas owns the season series. A 9-7 Eagles team won’t have a shot at a wildcard either, with Philly missing the playoffs entirely in that scenario.


The other side of the NFL has a neater scenario in the divisional sense (as in, non-issue), but a much more convoluted wildcard. Miami, San Diego and Baltimore all sit at 8-7. The Dolphins would capture the NFL’s most-coveted wildcard spot if the playoffs began today with better divisional record than the Ravens and Chargers. Miami will clinch with a victory against the Jets and either a loss by Baltimore to the Bengals or a win by San Diego over Kansas City. Baltimore needs a win and a loss by either team as well. San Diego needs a win and both teams to lose.

Then there’s 7-8 Pittsburgh, who could grab the sixth seed with a win and losses by all three rivals, creating a five-way tie at 8-8. The Jets would eliminate the Dolphins in the division, and the Steelers hold the edge on the remaining teams. A Pittsburgh loss renders that sloppy NFL Playoff Scenario moot and spares everyone a headache.

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