Analysts are increasing talking about NFL playoff scenarios as the regular season heads to a conclusion. There are now just three weeks of games left, and although a number of teams have already guaranteed their places in the postseason calendar, there are still many fighting it out for the final spots.
In the AFC the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos have already booked their tickets for the playoffs by winning their divisions early, and the Houston Texans are also guaranteed to be in the postseason, although they still need to do more to secure their divisional title.
Meanwhile, the NFC is still very open, with only the Atlanta Falcons already securing their place by claiming the NFC South division title.
Five more divisions are still up for grabs as well as four wild card spots.
The Houston Texans have a record of 11-2 and if they beat the Colts this weekend then they will secure the divisional title. Meanwhile, they will be hoping that both the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots lose this weekend, as they would guarantee the Texans a first round bye in the playoffs.
The 10-3 Patriots have already beaten the Broncos and the Texans, and they will come up against the San Francisco 49ers this weekend. If they can win this weekend, they have two games remaining that most pundits would say are gimmes against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Miami Dolphins. If they can sweep their final three games, and the Texans trip up one more time, then the Patriots would take the first round bye thanks to their win against Houston.
The Broncos are 10-3 but are at a significant disadvantage to the Texans and Patriots, as they have fallen to both of them. They would need something to go seriously wrong with both those teams to think about stealing one of the top two seedings.
Meanwhile the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts are both on 9-4. However, the Ravens have a tough run in against the Broncos and the New York Giants, prior to a final week game against Cincinnati. The Colts have to play the Texans this weekend as well as in Week 17. They will be looking to beat the Texans this weekend to clinch a playoff spot.
Other teams in the reckoning still are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals – both on 7-6, and amazingly the New York Jets are still hanging on with a 6-7 record.
The Jets can still make the playoffs but will need to win everything remaining and need both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to drop games. Their progression is made even more unlikely considering they lost to the Steelers way back in Week 3 meaning Pittsburch would go through in a tiebreaker.
In the NFC the Atlanta Falcons are flying with 11-2 but come up against the New York Giants in a huge game for Week 15. If the Falcons can navigate a win out of that they should be able to see out the season, with games against the 4-9 Detroit and 6-7 Tampa upcoming.
The San Francisco 49ers are 9-3-1, however, they face a battle with the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC West title. The 49ers will be looking to win this weekend, and if the Seahawks can slip up at the same time the divisional title will be going to San Francisco.
The Green Bay Packers are 9-4, and have done well following a string of injuries in both offense and defense. The Packers can complete their comeback this season by beating the Chicago Bears – if they do they win the divisional title. Best case scenario is that the 49ers will crash, opening the way for the Packers to sweep the final three weeks and steal the number 2 seed position.
There is then a clump of teams on 8-5 including the New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears. The Giants' recent slump could come back to haunt them, as they now come up against Atlanta and Baltimore over the next two weeks before clashing with Philadelphia. Any slip ups could allow either the Dallas Cowboys or Washington Redskins to pull them back into a tie situation for the NFC East title.
The Seahawks have the Buffalo Bills this weekend before facing off against the 49ers and the Rams. Seattle will be hoping to win out to maintain their push. Meanwhile the Bears have hit a slump at the wrong time and have lost three of their last four games. They are now just fighting to stay in the divisional title race, and will be hyped up to try and defeat the Packers this weekend.
The Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings are all on 7-6 and are fighting it out to keep their postseason hopes alive. Robert Griffin III has been injured at a terrible time in the season, and the Redskins will need to draw on everything they have to win out against the Cleveland Browns, Eagles and Cowboys.
However, the Cowboys might be a better bet, as they finish with a two game homestand against the Steelers and Saints before heading to Washington. With their 3-2 divisional record the Cowboys at the moment will win in any tiebreaker situation. The Vikings will simply need to win out as well as hoping the Cowboys and Redskins slip up in order to steal a wild card position.