NFL playoff projections: Broncos, Redskins nab final spots in AFC, NFC

The Denver Broncos did everything they could to shoot themselves in the foot in Week 12, but it looks like that foot's going to heal and they're going to make it to the playoffs.

At least according to our newest playoff projection.

As we mentioned last week, with the NFL season heading down the stretch, we'll be publishing playoff projections every Wednesday so that we can argue with you about who's going to make the playoffs and who's not.

On the sad end of the spectrum, we have some bad news for 49ers fans: Your team was officially eliminated from postseason play Sunday. The Cleveland Browns and 49ers are the only two teams that have been mathematically eliminated. If only that Jim Harbaugh coaching trade had gone through after the 2013 season.

Anyway, the good news for the rest of you is that you won't have to hear about those two teams in this section for the rest of the season.

I have more good news, but only if you're a Broncos fan: Despite Denver's brutal 30-27 overtime loss Sunday, we're still projecting them to make the playoffs.

How's that possible?

Let's get to this week's playoff projection and find out. As always, included in these projections will be data from number-cruncher Stephen Oh of SportsLine.com.

Note: Remember, this is a projection based on how we think the regular season will play out. If you want to see the current playoff standings, click here to see Will Brinson's thorough breakdown of what the playoff race looks like as we head into Week 13.

AFC Playoff Projection

1. New England Patriots (13-3) AFC East champions: The Patriots are in the driver's seat for the the No. 1 seed in the AFC. All they have to do is not make any major slipups over the final five weeks of the season. Losing to the Los Angeles Rams this week would definitely qualify as a major slipup, but we don't think that will happen.

Remaining schedule: Los Angeles, Baltimore, at Denver, N.Y. New York Jets , at Miami (27-28 combined record, 13th-easiest remaining schedule)

2. Oakland Raiders (12-4) AFC West champions: With three of their final five games on the road, the Raiders are in the most tenuous spot this week. That rough stretch starts Sunday when the Raiders will try to beat the Buffalo Bills with a banged-up Derek Carr . Four days later, Oakland will be in Kansas City for a Thursday night showdown. We don't think they'll go 0-2 in this stretch, but if they do -- you know what, let's not even talk about what might happen if they go 0-2 because Raiders fans are on a huge high this week and I don't want to ruin it. After all, the Raiders did just clinch their first winning season since 2002.

Remaining schedule: Buffalo, at Kansas City, at San Diego, Indianapolis, at Denver (31-24, seventh-hardest)

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) AFC North champions: The only way the Baltimore Ravens are going to take this division from the Steelers is if they pull off a Week 16 upset in Pittsburgh. Otherwise, it kind of feels like the Steelers have a cakewalk to the division title. Two of the Steelers' final three games are against the Browns and Cincinnati Bengals , two teams that combined to win ZERO games in November. On the other hand, the Ravens still have to play the Miami Dolphins , Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles before that Week 16 game against Steelers.

Remaining schedule: N.Y. New York Giants , at Buffalo, at Cincinnati, Baltimore, Cleveland (28-26-1 combined record, sixth-easiest)

4. Houston Texans (9-7) AFC South champions: Even Brock Osweiler 's horrible play might not be enough to cost the Texans the division title here. If Houston gets to 9-7, it will pretty much be a lock to win the division, and getting there shouldn't be as difficult as it sounds because the Texans have the second-easiest schedule in the NFL over the final five weeks. Also, they currently hold the division record tiebreaker (3-0) over Indianapolis (2-2) and Tennessee (1-3). For the Indianapolis Colts to get to 9-7, they'll have to go 4-1 against a schedule that includes Minnesota and Oakland. For the Tennessee Titans (6-6) to get to 9-7, they'll have to beat either Kansas City or Denver. If they lose to both the Kansas City Chiefs and Broncos, they can only get to 8-8 at best.

The SportsLine computer likes the Texans, giving them a 61 percent chance of winning the division. The Titans will be facing long odds to win the division (20 percent), while the Colts have almost been left for dead by the computer (18 percent chance to win the division).

Remaining schedule: at Green Bay, at Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, at Tennessee (21-34-1 combined record, second-easiest)

5. Chiefs (11-5), wild card: Although we projected the Raiders to win the AFC West, don't count out the Chiefs. If Kansas City wins out, it will end the season as division champion. However, that won't be easy because the Chiefs finish with third-hardest schedule in the NFL. In this crazy year, it's almost fitting that the crazy field goal that beat the Broncos 30-27 on Sunday night could be a key reason why Kansas City makes the playoffs and possibly wins the division. The SportsLine computer actually likes the Chiefs' chances of winning the division over the Raiders: Kansas City has a 50 percent chance of winning the AFC West while Oakland's chances are listed at 47 percent.

Remaining schedule: at Atlanta, Oakland, Tennessee, Denver, at San Diego (34-22, tied with Denver for third-hardest)

6. Broncos (10-6), wild card: Yes, we're putting the Broncos in this final spot, but it's going to be close. We have both Denver and Miami finishing at 10-6 overall and 7-5 in the AFC, which means we had to project out to the third tiebreaker: Best winning percentage in common games. By the end of the season, both teams will have played the Patriots, Bengals, Titans and San Diego Chargers . So far, the Broncos hold a sizable advantage, going 2-1 vs. the Dolphins' 1-3 record. The number crunchers at SportsLine like the Broncos' odds way more than the Dolphins. Through 12 weeks, the Broncos have a 47 percent chance of earning a wild-card berth while the Dolphins' odds are just 28 percent.

Remaining schedule: at Jacksonville, at Tennessee, New England, at Kansas City, Oakland (34-22, tied with K.C. for third-hardest)

siemian-houston-broncos-chiefs.jpg
The Broncos are still very much in the thick of the AFC playoff race. USATSI

Just missed

Dolphins (10-6): Don't count out the Dolphins. The crazy thing about the No. 6 seed is that the Dolphins play the Patriots in Week 17 and the Broncos play the Raiders. That's crazy because if the top seeds are set by then, both the Patriots and Raiders could be playing backups in those games. On the other hand, if the Patriots have clinched, but the Raiders need to win to clinch the AFC West, that would be a huge advantage for Miami.

Colts (9-7): The Colts already lost to the Texans once, who hold the divisional-record tiebreaker right now, so basically, the Colts are going to need the Texans to collapse down the stretch, which isn't out of the realm of possiblity.

NFC Playoff Projection

1. Dallas Cowboys (13-3), NFC East champion: The Cowboys can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night combined with either a loss by the Bucs or Washington Redskins . If that happens, the Cowboys could also clinch the division as soon as Week 14 with a win over the Giants. That clinching scenario assumes the Giants lose to the Steelers this week. The only reason I'm telling you all that is because there's a good chance Dallas could have everything -- including home-field advantage -- wrapped up by Week 16, which means the Cowboys starters could be spending a lot of time on the bench for the final two games of the season. That's how a 10-1 team ends up 13-3.

Remaining schedule: At Minnesota, at N.Y. Giants, Tampa Bay, Detroit, at Philadelphia (32-23 combined record, sixth-hardest)

2. Seattle Seahawks (11-4-1), NFC West champion: If the Seahawks need some good news after their ugly 14-5 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, all they need to do is look at their schedule. Over the final five weeks, the Seahawks have the easiest schedule in the NFL and they won't be playing a single team that currently has a winning record.

Remaining schedule: Carolina, at Green Bay, Los Angeles, Arizona, at San Francisco (18-36-1 combined record, league's easiest)

3. Atlanta Falcons (11-5), NFC South champion: No one was happier about the Seahawks' loss than the Falcons. Thanks to the loss, Atlanta is just a half game back in the race for the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye. If the Falcons can get by the Chiefs this week, they have an outside shot at going 12-4 thanks to a schedule down that stretch that's almost as easy as Seattle's.

Remaining schedule: Kansas City, at Los Angeles, San Francisco, at Carolina, New Orleans (22-33 combined record, third-easiest)

4. Detroit Lions (9-7), NFC North champion: The Lions have to run out of magic at some point, right? Detriot's win over Minnesota on Thanksgiving was the Lions' seventh fourth-quarter comeback of the season, an NFL record for the first 11 games of the season. If I were a Lions fan, I wouldn't feel completely comfortable with the division lead right now, and that's mainly because Detriot still has to play the New Orleans Saints , Giants, Cowboys and Green Bay Packers . That season finale against Green Bay could be a defacto playoff game.

Remaining schedule: At New Orleans, Chicago, at N.Y. Giants, at Dallas, Green Bay (30-25 combined record, 11th most difficult)

5. Giants (10-6), wild card: If you haven't been keeping track of the Giants this season, now's a good time to start because they're just one Cowboys stumble away from possibly winning the NFC East title. Don't look for that to happen because the Giants have a killer schedule down the stretch. The good news for the Giants is that a 2-3 record over the final five weeks of the season should be good enough to get them in the playoffs.

Remaining schedule: At Pittsburgh, Dallas, Detroit, at Philadelphia, at Washington (34-20-1 combined record, most difficult remaining schedule)

6. Redskins (9-6-1), wild card: If Kirk Cousins wants a gigantic contract after this season, he better not melt down over the final five weeks. The Redskins are currently in a perfect position to nab one of the wild-card spots in the NFC and that should happen unless they completely fall apart.

Remaining schedule: At Arizona, at Philadelphia, Carolina, at Chicago, N.Y. Giants (23-31-1 combined record, tied for sixth easiest)

Just missed

Packers (9-7): As crazy as it sounds, the Packers could have full control of their playoff fate by the end of Week 13. If the Vikings (vs. Cowboys) and Lions (at New Orleans) both lose this week and Green Bay wins, the Packers would just need to win out after that to claim the NFC North. Maybe Aaron Rodgers isn't crazy, maybe Green Bay can run the table and get to the postseason. The number crunchers at SportsLine currently hate the Packers. Green Bay's chances of winning the divsion are just 12 percent, while Detroit's odds are 64 percent (Minnesota has been given a 24 percent chance).

Group of possible 9-7 teams (Vikings, Saints, Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers ): The problem with finishing 9-7 this year is that it's just not going to cut it thanks to the Redskins' tie. The Redskins will get into the playoffs over every 9-7 team if they finish with a 9-6-1 record. Of all the teams listed in this section, SportsLine pegged the Vikings with the highest playoff chances at 43 percent.

Wild-card round

(Based on this week's projections)

AFC

(5) Kansas City at (4) Houston

(6) Denver at (3) Pittsburgh

Byes: New England, Oakland

NFC

(5) N.Y. Giants at (4) Detroit

(6) Washington at (3) Atlanta

Byes: Dallas, Seattle

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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