The playoff picture is starting to come into focus on this happy note: Win and you are in as a division champion.
That's the easy scenario for the Broncos and either the Cowboys or Giants. And while Baltimore already owns at least a wild-card spot, a victory for the Ravens will earn them the AFC North and a first-round bye.
Denver is tied atop the AFC North with Oakland at 8-7, with the Broncos hosting the Chiefs on Sunday, and the Raiders at home for San Diego. Denver has the tiebreaker, but if it loses and the Raiders win, the Broncos can't get a wild card. The Raiders can get a wild card if both they and Denver win, as long as Cincinnati and Tennessee lose, or Cincinnati loses and the New York Jets win. Got it?
In first place in the woeful NFC East are the Cowboys and the Giants, who meet at the Meadowlands. A win or a tie will give New York (8-7) the East title; neither team can be a wild card.
The Ravens (11-4) swept the Steelers this year, so by winning at Cincinnati (9-6), they will get the AFC North crown. Should Baltimore falter, Pittsburgh (11-4) will get the division title and the bye. Both teams own at least a wild card.
Cincinnati will grab the other AFC wild card with a victory over Baltimore, and also can get it with a loss if the Jets and Raiders both lose, or the Jets and Broncos both lose. Again, got it?
AFC East champion New England (12-3) already has a bye and with a win at home against Buffalo will earn home-field advantage in the conference playoffs. That advantage also would come to the Patriots if both Baltimore and Pittsburgh lose, even if the Bills beat New England. However, the Ravens and Steelers both hold the edge over the Patriots for home-field advantage should they finish with the same record.
To get the wild card, the Jets (8-7) need to win at Miami while the Bengals, Titans, and Raiders all lose, or the Bengals, Titans, and Broncos all lose.
The Titans are similarly challenged. Tennessee (8-7) needs to win at AFC South winner Houston and have one of the following three things occur:
losses by Cincinnati and Oakland, and a win by the Jets.
losses by Cincinnati and Denver, and a win by the Jets.
losses by Cincinnati and the Jets, and wins by Denver and Oakland.
That's a lot of things to happen.
In the NFC, New Orleans can clinch the South by beating Atlanta on Monday night, or with a victory on the final weekend over Carolina. The Falcons (9-5) also are in excellent shape for a wild card, needing one win in the final two weeks. Atlanta hosts Tampa Bay in its finale.
Should the Falcons win out and the Saints lose out, Atlanta will win the division and New Orleans will become a wild card.
New Orleans still has hopes for a first-round bye, but must win out for a shot.
Detroit is one NFC wild card, while Chicago was eliminated from playoff contention when it lost to Green Bay, 35-21, on Sunday night to fall to 7-8.
With the win, NFC North champ Green Bay (14-1) secured home-field advantage through the conference final.
NFC West winner San Francisco (12-3) will get a bye by beating St. Louis in the finale, but that's about it. Any hope the 49ers had of gaining home-field advantage faded when the Packers hammered the Bears.
- Associated Press