One game and one more week left in the 2014 NFL regular season. The NFC South is the only division in the conference that remains undecided, as either the Carolina Panthers or the Atlanta Falcons will be the sixth team in the playoffs. In the AFC, there are two spots up for grabs, with the San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans all with the ability to clinch one of them.
Things aren’t that complicated. Five teams are in the playoffs: Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. The sixth spot will go to the NFC South winner – either the Carolina Panthers or the Atlanta Falcons. The two teams go head to head in week 17, and the winner goes to the postseason. A tie, and the Panthers advance (6-8-1 to the Falcons’ 6-9). No second team comes from this division.
So what is there to play for? Seeding, and the first round bye.
At the moment, Seahawks and Lions have the edge for the top two spots, but both need to win their division. The Seahawks will be NFC West champions once again if they win at home against the Rams or the Cardinals lose to the 49ers. For the Cardinals to win the division, they need Seattle to lose and to beat the 49ers themselves. The only tie break they win among the five 11-4 teams is against the Packers right now.
In the NFC North, it’s quite simple: The final game of the season is between the Packers and the Lions. Detroit won the first game, so a win or tie will make them the division winners for the first time since 1993, when they were still playing in the NFC Central. The Packers can only win the North if they win this game, and it won’t promise them a first round bye.
The Cowboys, also in the playoff and the only guaranteed division winners, play on the road against the Redskins. A win, and it becomes an intrigue of inner calculations for them to get the first round bye. If they win in Washington, a Detroit or Seattle loss gives them a week of rest. Both teams losing gives them home field advantage in the playoffs.
The AFC still hasn’t completed week 16, as the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos go head to head. The Broncos have already clinched the division, and can clinch a first round bye if they win one of their two remaining games (including Oakland in week 17).
The Bengals, playing the Steelers on the final week, can clinch a playoff spot if they win one of the two games, or if both San Diego (playing in Kansas City) and Baltimore (at home vs the Browns) lose their games.
The Steelers have already clinched their playoff spot. To win the division, they need to beat the Bengals on the final game. The Chargers can’t win their division, but if they beat the Chiefs, they’ll be in on the last day at the expense of the Ravens for a second straight year.
Baltimore, once again complicating things for themselves, have to beat Cleveland and need San Diego to lose against the Chiefs.
And there are the two extra long shots: The 8-7 Texans and Chiefs. If Houston manage to get in the playoffs, that means they beat the Jags (very reasonable) while both the Chargers and Ravens lost. In order for the Chiefs to make it in, it meant they beat the Chargers while both the Ravens and the Texans lost.
The Patriots have already clinched their first round bye, and if they win their final game of the season against the Bills, they’ll clinch home field advantage in their two games. They can still get it if the Broncos lose one of their two remaining games. The only the Broncos finish with the number one seed is if the Patriots lose to Buffalo while Denver beat Cincinnati and Oakland.
The Colts will finish as the winners of the AFC South. At 10-6 or 11-5, they can’t clinch one of the first round byes.