NFL Playoff Projections: Eagles get NFC's top seed without Wentz; Chiefs sneak in

Although the Eagles are going to have to play the rest of the season without Carson Wentz, we still like their chances to earn the top spot in the NFC. 

In our latest NFL playoff projection, we have Nick Foles leading the Eagles to a 3-0 record down the stretch, which will allow Philadelphia to clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC. The other big winner this week is the Chiefs, who have somehow snuck back into the playoff picture after suffering a midseason meltdown where they lost six of seven games before Sunday's win over the Raiders

We're projecting the Chiefs into the playoffs this week even though we don't even expect them to beat the Chargers on Sunday. 

How is that going to happen?

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

One more thing: If your team has already been eliminated from playoff contention and you don't want to read about the playoffs because reading about playoffs makes you sad, here's a link to a mock draft that you can read instead. This past week was a rough one for several teams, with the Buccaneers, Texans, Colts, Broncos and Redskins all getting officially eliminated from playoff contention. Those five teams join the Browns, 49ers, Bears and Giants, who all managed to get eliminated earlier in the season. 

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 15.

AFC Playoff Projection

(Team, projected record after 16 games, strength of schedule listed if in top-five easiest or hardest)

1. Patriots (13-3), AFC East champion: Although we're projecting the Patriots to take the top seed in the AFC, they shouldn't get too confident yet because they could actually still miss the playoffs. Sure, there's about a zero percent chance of that happening, but after the way the Patriots got dismantled by the Dolphins on Monday, pretty much anything is possible. If the Pats did miss the postseason, it would be because the Bills won the AFC East, because they're the only ones still mathematically alive. Start praying now, Buffalo. 

Remaining schedule: At Pittsburgh, Buffalo, at N.Y. Jets (23-16 combined record)

2. Steelers (13-3), AFC North champion: We have some good news and we have some bad news for the Steelers. Although we're projecting them to lose to the Patriots on Sunday, which is the bad news, they can still clinch a first-round bye if they win their final two games. That's the good news because over the past 10 years, the Steelers have made it to the Super Bowl every time they've had a first-round bye.  

Remaining schedule: New England, at Houston, Cleveland (14-25 combined record)

3. Jaguars (12-4), AFC South champion: The fact that the Jaguars have one of the easiest schedules over the final three weeks of the season isn't actually going to help them because getting a first-round bye is completely out of their control at this point. Even if the Jags win out, they'll need the Steelers (11-2) to drop two games or the Patriots to lose at least one more (10-3). The Patriots losing one more seems kind of plausible until you consider the fact that they haven't lost multiple December games since 2002 and they've already lost one thanks to Monday's setback to the Dolphins. 

Remaining schedule: Houston, at San Francisco, at Tennessee (15-24 combined record, tied for fifth-easiest remaining schedule)

4. Chargers (10-6), AFC West champion: The Chargers will make NFL history if they can somehow manage to win the AFC West. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, no team has started 0-4 and then gone on to win its division. As a matter of fact, only one team has ever recovered from an 0-4 start to even make the postseason, and fittingly, that was also the Chargers, when they pulled off the feat in 1992. That team closed the season with a seven-game winning streak, which is what this year's Chargers will also do if they can win out. 

Remaining schedule: At Kansas City, at N.Y. Jets, Oakland (18-21 combined record).

5. Ravens (10-6), wild card: Although the computer doesn't view the Ravens as a lock to make the playoffs, we do, and that's mainly because they have the easiest strength of schedule of any NFL team down the stretch. Yes, the Ravens have been bad at certain points this season, but it would still be an absolute shock if they were to lose any one of their final three games. As a matter of fact, if the Ravens don't make the playoffs, Joe Flacco should have his elite card taken away.  

Remaining schedule: At Cleveland, Indianapolis, Cincinnati (8-31 combined record, easiest remaining schedule).

6. Chiefs (9-7): The Chiefs might want to send a fruit basket to the Cardinals because their upset win over Tennessee on Sunday is what allowed the Chiefs to sneak back into the postseason. Even if the Chiefs lose to the Chargers this week, which is what we're projecting to happen, we still see them getting into the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Although we have the Chargers winning the AFC West, the computer actually likes the Chiefs slightly better. According to SportsLine, the Chiefs have a 54.3 percent chance of winning the division while the Chargers have a 44.7 percent chance (That only equals 99 percent and that's because that one missing percentage point belongs to the Raiders, who are still technically alive). 

Remaining schedule: L.A. Chargers, Miami, at Denver (17-22 combined record, tied for fifth-easiest remaining schedule).

Tiebreakers: In our projection, the Chiefs win the tiebreaker over the Titans based on best win percentage in common games. One thing to keep in mind here: Although we're projecting the Chiefs to lose to the Chargers this week, if that doesn't happen, it would actually help the Titans. If the Chargers finish tied at 9-7 with Tennessee, the Titans would get the sixth seed based on best winning percentage in conference games. 

The Patriots win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed based on a head-to-head win over the Steelers. 

Just missed

Titans (9-7): Although we have the Titans out of the playoffs, the computer refuses to jump off of Tennessee's bandwagon. Sure, computers don't really jump on or off bandwagons, but just roll with us here. According to the current projection from SportsLine, the Titans actually have the best shot of landing a wild-card spot out of the group that includes them, the Ravens, the Chiefs and the Chargers. The Titans have an 82.1 percent chance of getting to the postseason, while the Chiefs (62.3 percent) Ravens (61.4 percent) and Chargers (51.4 percent) are all much lower. 

Remaining schedule: At San Francisco, L.A. Rams, Jacksonville (21-18 combined record).

NFC Playoff Projection

(Team, projected record after 16 games)

1. Eagles (14-2), NFC East champion: Now that the Eagles have already clinched the NFC East, all Nick Foles has to do over the final three weeks of the season is not mess things up. In this case, messing things up would be going 0-3 down the stretch and letting the Eagles drop to the fourth-seed in the NFC. Of course, we don't think that's actually going to happen because not even Foles should be able to mess things up at this point. In their final three games, the Eagles get a struggling Giants team, a Raiders team that has to travel across the country and might have already given up on the season and a Cowboys team that likely won't be playing for anything in Week 17. 

Remaining schedule: At N.Y. Giants, Oakland, Dallas (15-24 combined record)

2. Vikings (13-3), NFC North champion: The biggest benefactor of Carson Wentz's injury could end up being the Vikings and that's because it opens the door for Minnesota to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Of course, even with Wentz out, that won't be easy. Based on how the tiebreakers set up, the Vikings are likely going to have to finish one game ahead of the Eagles to get the top spot, meaning Minnesota would have to go 3-0 or 2-1 down the stretch and the Eagles would have to go 1-2 or 0-3. Right now the Eagles own the first tiebreaker (best winning percentage in NFC games) and if that doesn't fix things, the Eagles will definitely win the second tiebreaker (best win percentage in common games), which is why Minnesota needs to finish one game ahead of them. Trying to figure out NFL tiebreakers for a living can't be an easy job. 

Remaining schedule: Cincinnati, at Green Bay, Chicago (16-23 combined record)

3. Saints (12-4), NFC South champion: Although the Saints and Panthers currently have the same record, we like New Orleans to win the division for one big reason: They hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Carolina thanks to a season sweep. Even though the Saints haven't technically qualified for the playoffs yet, the computer sees them as a virtual lock. According to SportsLine, the Saints have a 94.8 percent chance of making the playoffs. That's also the chance we're giving them to beat the Jets this week in a game where Bryce Petty will be starting for New York. 

Remaining schedule: N.Y. Jets, Atlanta, at Tampa Bay (17-22 combined record)

4. Seahawks (11-5), NFC West champion: Since the Seahawks won't be facing any suspensions from the melee that took place in Jacksonville on Sunday, Pete Carroll should probably have his team completely forget about it because it doesn't matter at this point. The only thing that matters for the Seahawks is this week's game against the Rams, which will likely decide the NFC West. With a win, the Seahawks would complete the season-sweep and move into first place. By the way, even though we love the Seahawks to win the NFC West, the computer must still be mad about what happened in Jacksonville because it doesn't feel the same way. According to SportsLine, the Seahawks only have a 36.3 percent chance of winning the division, which is a pretty low number when you compare it to the Rams' odds at 63.7 percent.  

Remaining schedule: L.A. Rams, at Dallas, Arizona (22-17 combined record)

5. Rams (11-5), wild card: Rams fans, we totally understand if you hate this week's projection. Not only do we have you losing to the Seahawks on Sunday, but we also see that loss having a dramatic ripple effect that leads to a Rams-Seahawks rematch on wild-card weekend in Seattle, and trust me, Seattle is the last place you want to play on wild-card weekend. 

Remaining schedule: At Seattle, at Tennessee, San Francisco (19-20 combined record)

6. Panthers (11-5), wild card: For the past four weeks, the computer has been the Panthers biggest cheerleader and we're finally buying into the machine's optimism by projecting the Panthers into the playoffs. Sure, computers can't technically lead cheers, but the Panthers have been one team that computer has loved. With their win over the Vikings on Sunday, the Panthers playoff chances jumped from 59.1 percent to 72.3, according to SportsLine.   

Remaining schedule: Green Bay, Tampa Bay, at Atlanta (19-20 combined record)

Tiebreaker: The Seahawks win the NFC West over the Rams based on a head-to-head sweep, while the Rams win the fifth seed over the Panthers based on best win percentage in common games. 

Just missed

Falcons (10-6), wild card: The Falcons made the most surprising move this week and that's because they actually got bumped out of the playoffs despite pulling off an upset win over the Saints in Week 14. The problem for the Falcons is that the Panthers also pulled off an upset -- of the Vikings -- which puts Carolina in the driver's seat for a wild card spot. According to SportsLine, the Falcons' playoff chances are at 66.6 percent, which is slightly worse than Carolina's chances of 72.3 percent. One big thing to note here: If the Falcons manage to win out, which would include wins over Carolina and New Orleans, nearly every tiebreaker would allow them to take home the NFC South title in a three-way tie at 11-5. If that were to happen, the Panthers would likely be the odd man out of the playoffs. 

Of course, don't get too attached to the idea Falcons fans because the computer doesn't see that happening. According to SportsLine, the Falcons have a 12.1 percent chance of winning the division, which is far lower than both the Saints (66.6 percent) and Panthers (21.2 percent). 

Remaining schedule: At Tampa Bay, at New Orleans, Carolina (22-17 combined record)

The Aaron Rodgers factor: According to the computer, Green Bay's chances of reaching the playoffs are sitting at just 11.3 percent, which means the expected return of Aaron Rodgers this week -- he's now been medically cleared -- might not be enough to get the Packers to the playoffs.

Of course, Rodgers has pulled off miracles before, like last season when the 4-6 Packers won six straight games to make the playoffs. This year, the Packers best route to the postseason would be to finish 10-6 in a four-way tie with the Seahawks, Panthers and Falcons, which would give Green Bay the FIFTH SEED. 

Here's what would need to happen: 

  1. Packers win out
  2. Panthers go 1-2 with their only win coming against Atlanta in Week 17
  3. The Seahawks go 2-1 over final three weeks. 
  4. The Falcons finish 2-1 or worse, but with at least one loss to Carolina

In this scenario, the 10-6 Packers would get the fifth seed over Carolina and Seattle due to head-to-head wins. If the Panthers beat the Falcons in Week 17, that would give them the season-sweep over Atlanta and eliminate the Falcons in any wild card tie-breaking scenario, which would be good news for the Packers, who lost to the Falcons in Week 2. The Packers would also get in with a four-way tie that includes the Rams instead of the Seahawks (since one of those two teams has to win the NFC West. 

 Remaining schedule: At Carolina, Minnesota, at Detroit (26-13 combined record)

Wild-card round 

(Based on this week's projections)

AFC

(5) Baltimore at (4) L.A. Chargers

(6) Kansas City at (3) Jacksonville

Byes: New England, Pittsburgh

NFC 

(5) L.A. Rams at (4) Seattle

(6) Carolina at (3) New Orleans

Byes: Philadelphia, Minnesota

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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