NFL Playoff Scenarios 2016: New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers Can Clinch Playoff Byes

NFL playoff scenarios for 2016 present a lot of possibilities for Week 15. The most notable NFL playoff scenarios begin at the top of the standings, with the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers working for homefield advantage now. By beating the Houston Texans on Sunday, December 13, the Patriots took back the top seed for the AFC Playoffs. The Panthers shutout the Atlanta Falcons, clinching a first-round bye and taking a stronger hold of the top seed for the NFC Playoffs.

In the updated NFL standings, the Patriots (11-2) are a game ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals (10-3) and Denver Broncos (10-3). A Patriots victory combined with a Broncos loss in Week 15 clinches a first-round bye for Tom Brady. The Bengals can clinch the AFC North with a victory or with a Pittsburgh Steelers loss. The Week 15 NFL schedule has the Cincinnati Bengals vs. San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals can also clinch a playoff spot with a win or a loss by either the New York Jets or Kansas City Chiefs.

Additional 2016 NFL playoff scenarios from the AFC revolve around the Denver Broncos. The Broncos can clinch the AFC West by beating the Steelers and having the Kansas City Chiefs lose. The Broncos can simply clinch a playoff spot by winning, but can't in Week 15 with a loss. In the race for the AFC wild card slots, the Steelers need only win to pass the New York Jets. If the Chiefs, Jets, and Steelers all have 9-5 records by Sunday night, the Steelers would take over a tie-breaker owned by New York.

Tom Brady Beats Houston Texans
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

First place in the AFC South is also in question, as the Indianapolis Colts (6-7) and Houston Texans (6-7) both need victories in the race. A nice coincidence for football fans is that the teams play each other to decide which one will reside in first place heading into Week 16. The Colts will play host to the game and have a chance to complete the season sweep of the Texans. A win in this game would mean the Colts only need to win one of the final two games to clinch the South.

For the NFL playoff scenarios in the NFC, the Panthers clinch homefield advantage through the postseason by either winning or having the Arizona Cardinals lose in Week 15. Carolina is on the road against the New York Giants, while the Cardinals are on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cardinals can clinch the NFC West by either beating the Eagles or the Seattle Seahawks losing at home to the Cleveland Browns. A first-round bye for the Cardinals comes with a win or a loss by the Green Bay Packers.

The Green Bay Packers (9-4) clinch a spot in the 2016 NFC Playoffs with a win or losses by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins. Clinching the NFC North could take a bit longer, as the Minnesota Vikings (8-5) still have a shot at the division. The Vikings can actually clinch a playoff spot in Week 15 with a win and several different scenarios. If the Buccaneers, Redskins, and Atlanta Falcons lose, then the Vikings are in the playoffs. It also happens if the Buccaneers, Redskins, and Seahawks lose or if the Buccaneers, Giants, and Falcons lose.

Seahawks Beat Ravens
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

For the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) to clinch a spot in the NFC Playoffs, the team needs to win and then have the Buccaneers and the Giants, Redskins, or Falcons to lose. That ends the 2016 NFL playoff scenarios for teams that can clinch spots, but several other teams can gain important victories in the race for the postseason. That includes the tight race in the NFC East.

Currently the Washington Redskins (6-7) lead the Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) and New York Giants (6-7) for first place in the NFC East. It is very likely that only one of the three teams will make the postseason, meaning the East division crown is necessary to make the playoffs. Tough games await all three in Week 15, as the Eagles play the Arizona Cardinals, the Giants play the Panthers, and the Redskins play the Buffalo Bills. The NFL playoff scenarios for the NFC East will come down to which team can win the head-to-head battles in Weeks 16 and 17.

[Photo by: Grant Halverson/Getty Images]