The whole playoff picture

WITH TWO WEEKS TO GO, NOBODY'S YET GOING TO PLAYOFFS IN AFC; THREE TEAMS FIGHT IT OUT FOR FINAL TWO NFC BERTHS

Will this thing ever get solved?

Maybe this week.  Maybe not.

With two weeks to go in the season, the NFL's American Football Conference is as competitive as it has been in 15 years, with not one team yet qualifying for the playoffs.  That scenario has not occurred since 1987.

In fact, throw in the National Conference, which last week could have wrapped up all six playoff spots but now has been inflected with a bit of "AFC-itis" with a sudden scramble for its two Wild Card spots, and there are 21 teams still in Super Bowl contention.  That total with two weeks to go is one behind the record of 1994 since the 16-game schedule was instituted in 1978.

But it's the AFC that is just plain out of control.

Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise.  Only six times since 1978 (1979, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1987 and 2002) has a conference not had any teams qualify for the playoffs with two weeks to go.  All six times, it's been the AFC.

And, believe it or not, there is the outside possibility that the AFC could go into the final week of the season without a team qualified for the playoffs  

 "We're still alive!" yelled Baltimore linebacker PETER BOULWARE after the Ravens topped Houston last Sunday.

Hey, Peter, in your conference, almost everybody – 14 out of 16 teams – is alive. 

One of them – the Miami Dolphins – will start the week off early on Saturday, one of their favorite days (see chart at end of release).  With a win or a tie against Minnesota, the Dolphins can cross off the first part of their playoff scenario for the week. 

The game is one of three Saturday holiday specials in the NFL this weekend, all on national television.

At 12:30 PM ET on CBS, the Dolphins visit the Minnesota Vikings.  At 4:00 PM ET on FOX, the San Francisco 49ers play at the Arizona Cardinals.

And on Saturday night on ESPN at 8:30 PM ET, the Philadelphia Eagles visit the division-rival Dallas Cowboys.

Saturday starts it all up.  Are you ready for some – mind-bending – tiebreakers?

·         AFC EAST:  Miami Dolphins (9-5) can clinch their second division title in the past three years with:

1.  MIA win + NE loss or tie, OR

2.  MIA tie + NE loss.

The Dolphins capture a playoff spot with:

1.  MIA win + IND loss, OR

2.  MIA win + DEN loss or tie + SD loss or tie.

New England (8-6), Buffalo (7-7) and the New York Jets (7-7) are still in playoff contention.

·         AFC NORTH:  Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) can win their second division title in as many years with:

1.  PIT win or tie, OR

2.  BAL-CLE game ends in a tie.

            Baltimore (7-7) and Cleveland (7-7) are still in playoff contention.  Cincinnati has been eliminated.

·         AFC SOUTH:  Here is where things get really tricky.  The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans are tied (9-5) for the division lead.

The Titans can clinch their second division title in the past three years with:

TEN win + IND loss.

They can earn homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with:

TEN win + IND loss + MIA loss + NE loss or tie + PIT loss + OAK loss, AND it is determined that TEN will own the strength of victory tiebreaker over both MIA and OAK at the end of the season.  NOTE:  "Strength of victory" is the season-ending winning percentage of all the opponents a team has defeated. 

The Titans can clinch a playoff berth with:

1.  TEN win, OR

2.  MIA win or tie + NE loss +DEN loss + CLE-BAL game ends in a tie. 

Note:  There are other scenarios in which Tennessee can clinch a playoff berth this week if it is determined that after this week's games they will own the strength of victory tiebreaker over the teams they are tied with.

The Colts can take their third playoff berth in the past four years with:

1.  IND win + MIA loss or tie, OR

2.  IND win + NE loss or tie, OR

3.  IND win + DEN loss or tie, OR

4.  MIA win or tie + NE loss + DEN loss, OR

5.  MIA win or tie + NE loss + SD loss + OAK loss, OR

6.  MIA win or tie + SD loss + DEN loss + BAL loss or tie.

Note:  There are other scenarios in which Indianapolis can clinch a playoff berth this week if it is determined that after this week's games they will own the strength of victory tiebreaker over the teams they are tied with.

            Jacksonville (6-8) is still in playoff contention.  Houston has been eliminated.

·         AFC WEST:  Oakland Raiders (9-5) can clinch their third division title in a row with:

1.  OAK win + SD loss or tie, OR

2.  OAK tie + SD loss.

            The Raiders can earn a first-round bye with:

OAK win + SD loss or tie + MIA loss + PIT loss + TEN loss + IND loss, AND it is determined that either OAK or MIA will own the strength of victory tiebreaker over TEN at the end of the season.

            The Raiders can capture a playoff berth with:

1.  OAK win + MIA loss or tie, OR

2.  OAK win + NE loss or tie, OR

3.  OAK win + TEN loss, OR

4.  OAK win + IND loss.

Denver (8-6), San Diego (8-6) and Kansas City (7-7) are still in playoff contention.

And in the NFC, things were going along smoothly until Week 15. Then Atlanta lost in overtime to Seattle on a SHAUN ALEXANDER 27-yard breakaway…New Orleans was topped on a DAUNTE CULPEPPER two-point conversion by Minnesota…and the team – the New York Giants -- that had to lose for Atlanta and New Orleans to make the playoffs defeated Dallas and now sits at 8-6 with a shot at the postseason. 

"Right when you think you're out and everybody is saying you're out, you keep believing, and things can work out," says Giants linebacker MIKE BARROW

How things can work out this week in the NFC:

·         NFC EAST:  Philadelphia Eagles (11-3) have captured their second consecutive division title and can help themselves to homefield advantage throughout the playoffs Saturday night with:

PHI win + GB loss + TB loss.

            The Eagles clinch a first-round bye with:

1.  PHI win + GB loss, OR

2.  PHI win + TB loss.

New York Giants (8-6) are still in playoff contention, but cannot earn a berth this week.  Dallas and Washington have been eliminated.

·         NFC NORTH:  Green Bay Packers (11-3) have won their first division title since 1997, the year they went to Super Bowl XXXII.  Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota have been eliminated from playoff contention.

·         NFC SOUTH:  The three top teams can make playoff moves this week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-3) have earned a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive season (and tied a 1999 team record for wins) and can win their first division title since 1999 with:

1.  TB win or tie, OR

2.  NO loss or tie. 

The Buccaneers can earn a first-round bye with:

TB win + GB loss.

New Orleans Saints (9-5) can capture a playoff berth with:

1.  NO win + NYG loss or tie, OR

2.  NO win + ATL loss, OR

3.  NO tie + NYG loss.

Atlanta Falcons (8-5) will enter the playoffs for the first time since their Super Bowl XXXIII year in 1998 with:

1.  ATL win + NYG loss or tie, OR

2.  ATL win + NYG loss.

Carolina has been eliminated from playoff contention.

·         NFC WEST:  San Francisco 49ers (9-5) have won their first division title since 1997.  Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle have been eliminated from playoff contention.


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