Well, it's the last week of the NFL season, which means that all of the post-season invites will be sent out as of Sunday evening. With the Vikings having nothing on the line but pride this afternoon when they take on the Detroit Lions, let's take a look around the league and see how the playoff brackets might shake out.
Starting in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons still have the inside track on the #1 seed in the NFC, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. All they need to do to secure that is to beat the NFL's worst team, the Carolina Panthers, at home today. If they somehow manage to lose to Carolina, either New Orleans or Chicago could be the top seed in the NFC. A Saints victory over Tampa Bay coupled with an Atlanta loss would give New Orleans the top seed in the NFC. If the Falcons and Saints both lose and the Bears beat Green Bay, then the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC would run through Chicago.
The Bears can only be the #1 or #2 seed. Either New Orleans or Atlanta will be the #5 seed.
That #5 seed will travel to take on the NFC West Champion, a spot that will be decided in Sunday Night's winner-take-all match-up on NBC between the St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks. Either of those teams will be the worst division champion in the history of the NFL (in terms of record), and if the Seahawks win, they will be the first team in NFL history to reach the playoffs with a sub-.500 record.
The #6 seed is a three-way battle between Green Bay, the New York Giants, and Tampa Bay. Green Bay controls their own destiny. . .if they beat the Bears, they're in. If the Packers lose and the Giants win, the Giants are in. If the Packers and Giants both lose and the Buccaneers win, then Tampa Bay is in.
The only NFC playoff slot that is completely solidified is the Philadelphia Eagles as the #3 seed. They can't move from that spot.
In the AFC, the New England Patriots are slotted at #1, and that's not going to change. The #2 seed is still a matter of some conjecture, as both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens can still claim it. If the Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns, they lock up the #2 seed and a first-round bye. Should the Steelers lose and the Ravens defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens will win the AFC North and, with it, the #2 seed in the AFC. The AFC North's other playoff team will more than likely be the #5 seed.
The Kansas City Chiefs have locked up the AFC West, and can clinch the #3 seed with a victory over the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium today. Should the Chiefs lose and the Indianapolis Colts can defeat the Tennessee Titans, the Colts will be the #3 seed and the Chiefs will be in at #4. Of course, if the Colts lose to the Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Houston Texans, the Chiefs will still be the #3 seed and the Colts won't make the playoffs at all. . .the Jaguars will as the #4 seed.
The New York Jets will likely be the #6 seed in the AFC. The only scenario that would have the Jets as the #5 rather than the #6 would be the Steelers losing to the Browns, the Ravens defeating the Bengals, and the Jets knocking off the Buffalo Bills.
Oh, and if you're curious about the NFL Draft? The Panthers have already locked up the #1 overall pick, but there are eight teams with either four or five victories on the season that could all still, technically, move themselves into the #2 slot in the draft. We'll have more on that once all the regular season games are in the books and things are more solidified.
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