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NFL Playoff Picture Scenarios -- Week 14

By Joe Ferreira | Special to CBSSports.com
Houston can clinch the AFC South, a first-round bye, and/or home field advantage this week. (US Presswire)

In Week 13, we had five teams that could clinch playoff spots and four teams came through with key wins. The lone outlier was Baltimore, who lost a nailbiter to Pittsburgh and now has to deal with a tough schedule and hungry division chasers in the weeks ahead.

NFL playoff picture analysis
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A quick review of where we are in the AFC shows two division champions crowned (New England and Denver both at 9-3), one team that has the best record in the conference at 11-1 (Houston) and has secured a playoff berth and Baltimore with a two-game lead over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Indianapolis is in the Wild Card driver's seat at 8-4 while both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have a two-game edge over the rest of the pack fighting for the sixth and final playoff seed.

Over in the NFC, 11-1 Atlanta has clinched the South division title and has a 2.5 game lead over its nearest competitor (8-3-1 San Francisco) for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Green Bay and Chicago are both 8-4 and headed for a Week 15 clash in Chicago, while the N.Y. Giants hold a one-game lead over both Washington and Dallas with their loss Monday night. The Wild Card race shows the Green Bay-Chicago non-division winner and 7-5 Seattle with the slots if the season ended today, but Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Dallas (and maybe Washington after tonight) are on their heels at 6-6.

Some notes:

  • From tiebreaker record keeper Ivan (thenflrules): The four teams that clinched postseason berths on Week 13 (Atlanta, Denver, Houston, New England) are the most teams to secure a playoff spot with four weeks still remaining in a season. The previous record was three (1990: Chicago, N.Y. Giants and San Francisco; 1998: Atlanta, Denver and Minnesota).
  • Also from the record books: The three divisions titles clinched this week by New England, Denver and Atlanta are the most division titles clinched with four weeks to play in modern NFL history. Previously, the most was two, with four weeks still remaining in a season (1973, 1990, 2009, 2011).
  • If Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati win in Week 14, that will eliminate all teams with eight losses in the AFC (due to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati playing each other in Week 16).
  • If Indianapolis wins against Tennessee and Houston loses at New England, Indianapolis will control its own destiny for the AFC South title since the Colts play the Texans twice on Weeks 15 and 17. Hmmmmm.
  • If Houston clinches homefield advantage soon, that will render their game against Indianapolis on Week 17 likely meaningless for the Texans. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh fans should be rooting for New England over Houston next Monday night to keep the Texans from clinching the No. 1 seed and potentially rolling over for the Colts.
  • Baltimore has a tiebreaker advantage over Cincinnati on division record and Pittsburgh on conference record.
  • Dallas has key losses to Seattle and Chicago and five conference losses, which will likely hurt the Cowboys in the wild card hunt. Their best bet is to win the division (they could have a division record advantage over New York).
  • How many people are hoping for a wild card weekend game of No. 6 Seattle at No. 3 Green Bay? Anyone remember the ending to Green Bay at Seattle on Week 3? It could be billed the "Replacement Redemption Bowl."

Now let's jump into our Week 14 playoff clinching scenarios:

  • Houston can clinch the AFC South division title with EITHER a WIN + Indianapolis loss/tie OR a TIE + Indianapolis loss. This is a simple case where Houston needs to have overall record supremacy over Indianapolis since they play head to head in Weeks 15 and 17 and the Colts can sweep and win that tiebreaker.
  • Houston can also clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs (No. 1 seed) with a WIN + Indianapolis loss/tie + Baltimore loss + Denver loss. The Houston win would be over New England, giving the Texans head to head wins over Baltimore, Denver and New England, thus winning any tiebreakers among the only teams that could catch them at 12-4.
  • Houston can also clinch a first round playoff bye (Seeds No. 1 or No. 2) with a WIN + Indianapolis loss/tie + EITHER Baltimore loss OR Denver loss. Simple math -- just get rid of one more team from the homefield clinching scenario. But they have to win the division first.
  • Baltimore can clinch the AFC North division title with a WIN + Pittsburgh loss + Cincinnati loss. Baltimore would get to 10-6 at worst and has the tiebreaker advantage over both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. With losses by both the Steelers and Bengals, only one of those two teams could get to 10-6 as they play each other in Week 16 and Baltimore's tiebreaker advantages would win out.
  • Baltimore can clinch a playoff berth with EITHER a WIN + either a Pittsburgh loss or Cincinnati loss OR a TIE + Pittsburgh loss + Cincinnati loss. In this situation, Baltimore is getting to 10-6 with the win and guaranteed to beat either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati if they lose in any tiebreaker, thus gaining at least the No. 6 seed. In the case of the tie plus losses by both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the Ravens could still lose the division to either team, but that would give the loser of the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game in Week 16 a 7th loss.

In the NFC, here's what we have:

  • Atlanta has won the AFC South and can clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs (No. 1 Seed) with a WIN + Green Bay loss/tie + Chicago loss/tie + San Francisco loss. Atlanta win would get them to 12-4 and 8-4 in the conference at worst. Both Green Bay and Chicago would beat Atlanta in a tiebreaker at 12-4 (only one of them can get there as they play each other) on conference record and San Francisco could beat Atlanta on overall record (12-3-1) or on conference record (8-3-1 to 8-4) in the case of a tie.
  • Atlanta can also clinch a first round playoff bye with a WIN + EITHER Green Bay loss/tie + Chicago loss/tie OR San Francisco loss (or with a TIE + GB and CHI losses).
  • San Francisco can clinch a playoff berth with a WIN + Dallas loss + Minnesota loss + Tampa Bay loss + Washington loss + EITHER a Seattle loss/tie or St. Louis loss/tie. A win over Miami gets San Francisco to 9.5 wins but doesn't add to their conference win total where they can still end up 6-5-1. The losses needed by Dallas, Washington, Minnesota and Tampa Bay get the wild card slots down to one team from the NFC North (either Green Bay or Chicago) and San Francisco needs to eliminate one of Seattle or St. Louis so that no other team can gain a wild card berth. A St. Louis loss or tie gets rid of the Rams and a Seattle loss or tie gets rid of either Seattle if they have another loss or tie or St. Louis if Seattle wins out after this coming week. Loads of fun!

PLAYOFF PICTURE SCENARIOS: WEEK 14

AFC

HOUSTON TEXANS

Houston can clinch the AFC South division with:
1) HOU win + IND loss or tie OR
2) HOU tie + IND loss

Houston can clinch a first-round bye with:
1) HOU win + IND loss or tie + BAL loss or tie OR
2) HOU win + IND loss or tie + DEN loss or tie

Houston can clinch homefield advantage with:
1) HOU win + IND loss or tie + BAL loss + DEN loss

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Baltimore can clinch the AFC North division with:
1) BAL win + PIT loss + CIN loss

Baltimore can clinch a playoff berth with:
1) BAL win + PIT loss or tie OR
2) BAL win + CIN loss or tie OR
3) BAL tie + PIT + CIN loss

NFC

ATLANTA FALCONS

Atlanta can clinch a first-round bye with:
1) ATL win + CHI loss or tie + GB loss or tie OR
2) ATL win + SF loss OR
3) ATL tie + CHI loss + GB loss

Atlanta can clinch homefield advantage with:
1) ATL win + CHI loss or tie + GB loss or tie + SF loss

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

San Francisco can clinch a playoff berth with:
1) SF win + DAL loss + MIN loss + TB loss + WAS loss + STL loss or tie OR
2) SF win + DAL loss + MIN loss + TB loss + WAS loss + SEA loss or tie

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Here are my current predictions for NFL playoff seeds at the end of the 2012 season:

AFC: 1) Houston 2) New England 3) Denver 4) Baltimore 5) Indianapolis 6) Pittsburgh

NFC: 1) Atlanta 2) Green Bay 3) San Francisco 4) NY Giants 5) Chicago 6) Seattle

Enjoy the week!

Follow Joe Ferreira on Twitter: @JoeNFL

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