Heading into the final week of the NFL’s regular-season, half of the 14 playoff spots remain waiting to be pounced on.
Seven teams have punched their playoff tickets and 15 teams have been eliminated, which leaves 10 teams still wrestling for the remaining seven spots (two division titles, and five wild-card positions). Some, certainly, have a clearer path than others.
In the NFC, the Green Bay Packers (12-3, North), New Orleans Saints (11-4, South), and Seattle Seahawks (11-4, West) have clinched division titles, and the Packers can secure the NFC’s lone playoff bye with a victory over the Chicago Bears (8-7) on Sunday.
But if Green Bay falters the Saints can leapfrog them by beating the Carolina Panthers (5-10), and should both leaders lose, the Seahawks could vault past both by beating the San Francisco 49ers (6-9).
The Tampa Bay Bucs (10-5), meantime, are assured of one of the three wild-card spots.
The NFC East remains in control of the Washington Football Team (6-9), which merely needs to beat the Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1) on Sunday. Should Washington lose, the winner of the Dallas Cowboys (6-9) vs. New York Giants (5-10) would take the division.
The NFC wild-card race, is down to three teams and two games: The Los Angeles Rams (9-6) face the Arizona Cardinals (8-7), with the winner reaching the playoffs, while the Chicago Bears (8-7) can advance by beating the Packers, or even if they lose the Bears advance if the Cardinals lose to the Rams.
The Rams make the playoffs by either winning OR the Bears losing.
In the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs (14-1) have clinched the West and the conference’s No. 1 seed, which means they get the lone AFC bye in this season’s extended playoff field of seven teams per conference.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3, North) and Buffalo Bills (11-3, East) have clinched their division titles. In the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans can capture the division by winning or if the Indianapolis Colts lose; the Colts capture the division only if they win and the Titans lose.
With five teams (including the Titans and Colts) bunched at 10-5 heading into the weekend, there is room for only four of them in the playoffs.
Of those five teams, four of them can play their way into the AFC wildcard spots with a victory on Sunday: The Titans, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns. The Colts, however, need to win and get help with at least one of those other 10-5 teams losing or in some cases tying.
Here is the pecking order in the AFC Wildcard race:
The Browns need to beat Pittsburgh (12-3) OR a loss by the Colts OR a loss by the Titans plus wins for Miami and Baltimore.
The Titans need to beat the Texans (4-11) OR any loss by Baltimore, Indianapolis, or Miami.
The Ravens need to beat Cincinnati (4-10-1) OR a loss by Cleveland or Indianapolis.
The Dolphins need to beat the Bills (11-3) OR a loss by Ravens, Browns, or Colts.
The Colts need to beat the Jaguars (1-14) AND a loss by Titans, Ravens, Browns, or Dolphins.