NFL playoffs: Here's how the Patriots, Raiders, Seahawks can clinch playoff berths
The Patriots, Raiders and Seahawks can lock up spots in the playoffs this week but will need some help
There is but one team currently locked into the playoffs: the Dallas Cowboys, who clinched a playoff berth with their win over the Vikings last Thursday coupled with a Redskins loss to the Cardinals on Sunday.
Let's look at scenarios for each team.
New England Patriots
New England has an opportunity to win its 14th AFC East title under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady (they have won it in 2001, 2003-07, 2009-15). New England's immediate path to the playoffs would come in the form of another division title.
To procure that, the Patriots need:
1. Patriots win AND Dolphins loss OR tie
2. Patriots tie AND Dolphins loss
The Dolphins host the Cardinals this week, while the Patriots play the Ravens on Monday night. New England will know in advance whether or not it can clinch. The Patriots can also secure one of the top two seeds in the AFC and a first-round bye this week.
For that to happen they need:
1. Patriots win AND Dolphins loss/tie AND Steelers loss/tie
The Steelers travel to play the Bills this week, meaning Rex Ryan can do his pals Bill and Tom a solid by stealing a win against a hot Pittsburgh team.
Oakland's path is a little more convoluted, because the AFC West is different than the AFC East, in that it is not horrible. New England will guarantee itself a top-four seed with a division win, while Oakland can just lock down a playoff spot.
There are a few more paths for the Raiders to take in securing that berth, though, starting with a win (or tie) over the Chiefs on Thursday night. Oakland's currently the owner of the second-longest playoff drought in the NFL (behind only the Bills), so there would be cause to celebrate Sunday.
Here's what the Raiders need to happen:
1. Raiders win AND Dolphins loss
2. Raiders win AND Broncos loss
3. Raiders tie AND Dolphins loss AND Ravens loss/tie
4. Raiders tie AND Broncos loss AND Steelers loss/tie
Assuming the tie isn't really in play -- although that's not really safe to assume this year -- the Raiders need to take care of business in Kansas City (they are currently 3.5-point underdogs to the Chiefs) and then become fans of the Cardinals (just like the Pats) and Titans (hosting the Broncos).
Seattle is traveling to Green Bay for a game against the Packers that, if history is any indication, will probably end in pretty crazy fashion. Fail Mary much?
The Seahawks won big against the Panthers on Sunday night, but they also took a huge hit when they lost Earl Thomas for the season. The Cardinals looked strong against the Redskins in Week 13 and, as good as Seattle has been, they don't want to bring into play a situation where Arizona can steal the division. (It's plausible, but it involves Seattle losing three of its final four games, presumably beating the 49ers, while Arizona would need to win out.)
So Seattle would be a fan of locking down a top-four seed by clinching the division this week.
Here's what the Seahawks need to happen:
1. Seahawks win AND Cardinals loss/tie
2. Seahawks tie AND Cardinals loss
There have been, quite clearly, four teams that have dominated the NFL so far this season. There is a chance, and not a terrible one either, that all four end up clinching playoff berths by the time Week 14 ends.
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