So, as we head into the final week of the 2011 NFL regular season, there are a few spots up for grabs in both the NFC and AFC. This weekend should prove to be a dramatic one. Here's how things look right now:
- Green Bay, 14-1 (clinched home field advantage and first-round bye)
- San Francisco, 12-3 (clinched division; can clinch first-round bye with win over St. Louis)
- New Orleans, 12-3 (clinched division; can clinch first-round bye with win over Carolina and San Francisco loss)
- NY Giants/Dallas, 8-7 (winner clinches NFC East, loser is eliminated)
- Detroit, 10-5 (clinched Wild Card; secures 5th seed with win over Green Bay)
- Atlanta, 9-6 (clinched Wild Card; can move up to 5th seed with win over Carolina and Detroit loss)
Green Bay will probably beat Detroit this Sunday at home, unless they rest their starters. Green Bay really has nothing to play for at this point, other than pride, and it's not an uncommon thing to do. I think Rodgers and starters play at least through halftime, though, and the Packers finish the season at 15-1.
San Francisco will probably beat St. Louis to lock up the 2nd seed. Doing so makes New Orleans' game meaningless. New Orleans' game only means anything if they win and San Francisco loses.
The NY/Dallas game is a tossup, in my opinion. That should be a fun game to watch, even though I'm not a fan of either team.
If Detroit loses to Green Bay, it opens the door for Atlanta to move into the 5th seed, since Atlanta beat Detroit in Week 7. Atlanta has a favorable matchup this week against
Carolina [Ed: Tampa Bay. Thanks, my mistake. Still a favorable matchup, as pointed out in the comments], so it looks like they have a decent shot of moving up.
This is exciting to me because, even though we already know most of the teams that will be in the NFC playoffs, each team (except Green Bay) has something to play for this week. The difference between the 5th and 6th seed is the difference between playing a mediocre Dallas/NY team and Drew Brees. I would not want to have to face Brees in the first round at all.
- New England, 12-3 (clinched division and first-round bye; can clinch home-field advantage with win over Buffalo)
- Baltimore/Pittsburgh, 11-4 (see below)
- Houston, 10-5 (clinched division; their game against Tennessee means nothing for them. They are locked into the 3rd seed regardless of the outcome of this game)
- Denver/Oakland, 8-7 (see below)
- Baltimore/Pittsburgh (see below)
- Cincinnati/Tennessee/Oakland/NY Jets (see below)
New England is guaranteed to finish no lower than the 2nd seed in the AFC. A win over Buffalo would lock them in to the #1 seed. A loss opens up the door to either Pittsburgh or Baltimore.
Baltimore has a wide range of possibilites right now: they could finish as high as the #1 overall seed and as low as the #5 seed. A win over Cincinnati on the road guarantees that they finish no lower than the #2 seed. If Baltimore wins and New England loses, Baltimore would clinch the #1 overall seed; however, if Baltimore loses and Pittsburgh wins, Baltimore would fall below Pittsburgh and be stuck with the #5 seed.
Pittsburgh could also finish as high as #1 and as low as #5. If Pittsburgh wins on the road against Cleveland and Baltimore and New England lose, Pittsburgh would clinch the #1 overall seed. If Pittsburgh wins and Baltimore loses, Pittsburgh would clinch the #2 seed. If Baltimore wins or Pittsburgh loses, Pittsburgh would be stuck with the #5 seed.
Houston has no incentive to win their game against Tennessee, unless they want to ruin Tennessee's playoff hopes. Houston has locked up the #3 seed and will host the #6 seed in the first round of the playoffs, no matter what.
Denver's playoff hopes are in their (or dare I say Tebow's) hands. If they beat Kansas City at home, they win the AFC West. If they lose and Oakland wins, then Denver is eliminated from contention. There is absolutely no way they can win the Wild Card, it's AFC West. or bust for them.
Oakland can clinch either the 4th or
5th [Ed: 6th. Thanks, my mistake] seed. They must win to have any chance at all though. It is impossible for them to make the playoffs if they lose at home to San Diego. If Oakland wins, they would clinch the AFC West with a Denver loss. If both Oakland and Denver win, and Cinncinati loses, then Oakland would clinch the Wild Card.
Tennessee can clinch the Wild Card if they beat Houston on the road, and Cincinnati and Oakland lose.
The Jets can clinch the Wild Card if they beat Miami on the road, and Cincinnati, Oakland, and Tennessee lose.
Cincinnati will clinch the Wild Card with a win over Baltimore at home. If Cinncinnati loses, they can only get in if Tennessee, NY, and Oakland lose; OR if Tennessee, NY, and Denver lose, and Oakland wins.
Wow, so you can see that there is much to play for in Week 17. Even though all but 1 team has yet to be determined in the NFC, there is a lot of room for moving around among the qualified teams there. In the AFC, there are 4 teams vying for the 2 remaining playoff spots, and there is a lot of room for variation among the 4 qualified teams. Exciting stuff, for sure.
Finally, here's my weak attempt at a prediction for the first week of playoffs:
#1 Green Bay - BYE
#2 San Francisco - BYE
#3 New Orleans vs. #6 Detroit
#4 Dallas vs. #5 Atlanta
#1 New England - BYE
#2 Pittsburgh - BYE
#3 Houston vs. #6 Cincinnati
#4 Denver vs. #5 Baltimore