Though Week 16 started on Christmas Eve, it’s tonight’s Saturday showdown between Washington and the Eagles that will be the first Week 16 to effect the playoff picture. That game could decide the NFC East champions, but no longer has impact on the wild card hunt as the Eagles were eliminated from wild card contention in Week 15. There’s still the potential for a fair amount of shakeup among the potential wild card teams, though, especially in the AFC. Here’s how the wild card hunt currently stands.
3rd Seed: Denver Broncos (10-4)
The Broncos might currently be slated for the #3 seed, but they could easily end up having to enter the playoffs as a wild card team – or even missing out on the postseason entirely. Only one game clear ahead, the Broncos are positioned to be on the losing end of tiebreakers with all of the other three teams jostling for a wild card spot, and even a win against the Bengals this Sunday won’t guarantee them a postseason berth. If the Chiefs and Broncos end up on an equal record, the Chiefs will win the AFC West due to having a better record within the division. Should that happen, the Broncos better hope that they end up a game ahead of both the Steelers and Jets, as both teams have a stronger conference record than the Broncos. Denver cannot afford to misstep this weekend.
5th Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (9-5)
Having won eight straight games, the Chiefs are unlikely to finish lower than with a 5th seed spot. However, they do have a chance to move up in the playoff seeding as they could still beat Denver to the AFC West title if the Broncos lose to Cincinnati on Monday night, or the Chargers in Week 17. Both sides of the ball are playing well, especially the defense. Kansas City’s opportunistic defense leads the league with six defensive touchdowns and can make the Chiefs a real dark horse in the playoffs. With just the Browns and Raiders remaining, Kansas City could finish the season on a ten-game winning streak. If they remains the fifth seed, they would also face the winner of the dismal AFC South.
6th Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)
Having beaten two of the AFC’s best teams over the past two weeks, the Steelers are rapidly becoming the most dangerous team in the conference. Ben Roethlisberger leads an offense that is easily the best in the AFC, especially with Antonio Brown making history virtually every week. However, Pittsburgh’s defense struggled to contain Denver in the first half on Sunday, and may struggle against playoff offenses. The Steelers will likely end up with the sixth seed unless the Chiefs win the AFC West, in which case the Steelers could find themselves with the fifth seed over either the Broncos or Jets.
7th Seed: New York Jets (9-5)
The Jets are now the only remaining team currently outside the playoff picture who could still win a wild card berth, but they must first face New England after coming off an ugly win against the Cowboys. The Jets are fairly solid on both sides of the ball, but are prone to making mistakes. The offense is their best unit, and is now centered more on Ryan Fitzpatrick rather than the running game. Unfortunately, the Jets are in the position where they cannot control their own destiny, but must rely on other teams’ slip ups. That starts on Sunday against the Patriots, where a loss could see them eliminated from the playoffs entirely.
3rd Seed: Green Bay Packers (10-4)
The Packers have secured a playoff spot no matter what, but could enter the postseason as the 3rd, 5th or 6th seed. Week 17’s game against the Vikings will be key, but the Packers could wrap up the NFC North this week as long as they have a better result against the Cardinals than the Vikings get against the Giants (e.g. a win + a Vikings loss or tie, or a tie + a Vikings loss). If they do lose both their remaining games, they’ll compete with the Seahawks for the fifth seed, whom Green Bay own the head-to-head tiebreaker over, making it unlikely that the Packers will finish with the bottom seed in the conference.
5th Seed: Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
It’s hard to see the Seahawks moving from this spot, especially as Arizona clinched the NFC West title with a win over Philadelphia. Seattle are one of the hottest teams in the league right now. Russell Wilson is playing at an extraordinary level, with 20 touchdowns without an interception over the last few weeks. The Seahawks could cause serious problems in the NFC playoff race, and would draw the NFC East winner in the wild card round.
6th Seed: Minnesota Vikings (9-5)
It’s highly unlikely that Minnesota will face any challenge from the Falcons for the sixth seed, so are virtually locked into the playoffs. However, the Vikings could still win the NFC North if they win their final two games against the Giants and Packers, as long as Green Bay lose to Arizona this week. Teddy Bridgewater has played well over the last two games despite Adrian Peterson being largely ineffective, but will need to stay at that level to give the Vikings a chance to make a run. Peterson left the game against Chicago with an ankle injury, and the Vikings cannot afford to lose him for an extended period. They also need to get healthy on defense if they want to contend in the playoffs.
7th Seed: Atlanta Falcons (7-7)
Atlanta are realistically out of the playoffs, and would need both the Seahawks and the Vikings to lose both their remaining games, as well as to win both their own remaining fixtures. Atlanta are still a massively flawed team despite a win over Jacksonville, and must still play Carolina one last time. The Falcons are very unlikely to finish above .500 this year, which will be a huge disappointment after starting the season 5-0.