The 2015 NFL regular season will end this coming Sunday, and the postseason will soon begin.
However, there's still a lot to be decided in the playoff picture, and nothing will be 100 percent certain in the AFC until Week 17 has concluded. As of now, the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs have clinched playoff berths, but in terms of seeding, not one spot in the AFC has been locked up.
The only team guaranteed to have a top-two seed and first-round bye is the Patriots. They'll also clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win over the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, or with a loss by Denver. The Broncos host the 4-11 San Diego Chargers at home on Sunday afternoon. That means New England needs to win in Miami to ensure they're the AFC's top seed, If they falter, Denver needs only to beat the Chargers to win the top seed thanks to their head-to-head win over the Patriots. These are the only two teams that can win the AFC's top seed.
As for the Bengals, they are still in the running for the No. 2 seed. In order to get it, they'll need to beat the Ravens and then have Denver either tie or lose to San Diego. There's also an interesting scenario in which they can lose and still get the No. 2 seed, but only if the Broncos lose to the Chargers and the Chiefs win at home vs the Oakland Raiders.
The common theme among all of these games is divisional rivalry. The NFL has made it so every team plays a divisional game in Week 17 to ensure that each team is bringing their A-game, whether they're in or out of the playoff mix. No one wants to end their season with a loss, let alone one to a division rival.
The Steelers will look to avoid that this week and get back into the playoffs when they face the Cleveland Browns. If Pitt beats them and the New York Jets lose to the Buffalo Bills, the Steelers get the sixth seed.
If that happens, then Pittsburgh is likely coming to Cincinnati in the Wild Card round. The Steelers can only get in the playoffs as the sixth seed. The Jets get the sixth seed if they win or tie the Bills.
There's also a scenario where the Chiefs end up the sixth seed and come to Cincinnati in the Wild Card round. They'd have to lose at home to the Raiders and then have the Jets beat the Bills. However, the Steelers cannot move up to the fifth seed because the Chiefs have a head-to-head win over Pittsburgh.
The Houston Texans are nearly sure to win the AFC South, but there's a very slim chance the Indianapolis Colts could win the division. For that to happen, the Colts need the following nearly impossible scenario to occur in Week 17. The Colts must win, the Texans must lose and the Colts would need to tie the Texans in the strength of victory tiebreaker and clinch via a strength of schedule tiebreaker. For this to happen, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Denver and Miami need to win as well as Oakland winning or tying and Pittsburgh winning or tying, as long as both Oakland and Pittsburgh don't tie. For that to happen, the Bengals, Jets, Patriots and Chiefs would all need to lose.
- The Bengals can only win the AFC's No. 2 or 3 seed.
- The Bengals win the No. 2 seed if they beat the Ravens and the Broncos lose or tie the Chargers.
- Only the Patriots and Broncos can win the No. 1 seed, but the Patriots cannot fall lower than the No. 2 seed.
- The Patriots win the top seed with a win vs the Dolphins or a Broncos loss to the Chargers.
- The Broncos win the No. 1 seed with a win and a Patriots loss, which would make the Patriots the No. 2 seed.
- If the Bengals and Broncos win, the Broncos (2 seed) get the first-round bye over the Bengals (3).
- If the Chiefs win and the Broncos lose, the Chiefs will be the 3 seed and the Bengals will be the 2 seed.
- If the Bengals play in the Wild Card Round, they will either host the Steelers, Jets or Chiefs.
- If the Bengals win the No. 2 seed and earn a first-round bye, they'll host either the winner of the No. 3 seed if that teams beats the No. 6 seed, or, if the 6 seed beats the 3 seed, the No. 4 seed vs No. 5 seed winner.
- If the Chiefs, Jets and Steelers all win, the Chiefs (5) and Jets (6) make the playoffs.
- If the Chiefs and Steelers lose while the Jets win, the Jets (5) and Chiefs (6) make the playoffs.
- If the Steelers win and the Jets and Chiefs lose, the Chiefs (5) and Steelers (6) make the playoffs.
- If the Steelers, Jets and Chiefs all lose, the Chiefs (5) and Jets (6) make the playoffs.
Most likely AFC playoff scenario:
- Patriots beat Dolphins and win No. 1 seed.
- Broncos beat Chargers and earn No. 2 seed, leaving Bengals as No. 3 seed.
- Chiefs beat Raiders to clinch No. 5 seed and face the No. 4 seed Houston Texans in Wild Card round.
- Jets beat Bills to clinch No. 6 seed and face No. 3 seed Bengals in Wild Card round.
- Steelers beat Browns but miss out on playoffs.