LOS ANGELES, December 23, 2013 — NFL 2013 has played 16 weeks of football, and next week brings the regular season finales. Every single game in Week 17 is a division game. The AFC playoff picture is still an unsettled mess, just the way the late NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and all NFL fans before and since have wanted it.
All four divisions are clinched, but there is plenty of room for shuffling among the top four seeds. Almost everybody has to play their starters in Week 17, which is exactly how current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants it.
The only team that can rest its starters are the Kansas City Chiefs, but since they have lost four of their last six games, Walrus Lite Andy Reid may play his starters anyway rather than have them stumble into the playoffs.
The top wildcard is settled but the bottom wildcard is a scrum.
The NFC picture is even crazier. For now, let’s look at the AFC Playoff picture in English instead of jargon.
Denver Broncos (12-3) — Denver has clinched the AFC West and a first round bye. If Denver wins, it can lock up the top seed and home field throughout the playoffs. The Broncos can lose and retain the top seed if New England also loses. If Denver loses and New England wins, Denver falls to the two seed. They cannot fall lower than that.
New England would hold the tie-breaker over Denver since the Patriots beat them 34-31 in a double overtime game Denver led 24-0 at halftime and lost.
New England Patriots (11-4) — New England has clinched the AFC East and is currently the two seed. If they win and Denver loses, New England vaults to the top seed and home field throughout the playoffs. Conversely, if they lose and Cincinnati wins, New England falls to the three seed. If New England loses and both Cincinnati and Indianapolis win, New England falls to the four seed.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-5) — Cincinnati has clinched the AFC North and are currently the three seed. If they win and New England loses, Cincinnati vaults to the two seed and gets the first round bye. If Cincinnati loses and Indianapolis wins, Cincinnati falls to the four seed. The difference between the three and four seed is almost always meaningless.
Indianapolis Colts (10-5) — Indianapolis has clinched the AFC South and is currently the four seed. If they win and Cincinnati loses, Indianapolis rises to the three seed. Again, this jump from four to three almost never matters. However, if Indianapolis wins and Cincinnati and New England both lose, Indianapolis would rise to the two seed and get the first round bye.
Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker over Indianapolis since they beat them this year. Both Cincinnati and Indianapolis would win a tie-breaker with New England. Cincinnati would win a three-way tie-breaker.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) — The Chiefs are the only certainty, locked in as the five seed and the top wildcard.
The six seed is up for grabs between four teams: Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, all 8-7, and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8). In a bizarre turn of events, none of them control their own destiny.
Miami is in. If they lose, Baltimore is in. Miami wins a three-way tie-breaker, but not a two-way tie-breaker with Baltimore only.
Miami needs to win and have either Baltimore lose or San Diego win.
Baltimore needs to win and have either Miami or San Diego lose.
San Diego is in a tougher spot. They need to win and have both Baltimore and Miami lose. San Diego loses any tie-breaker.
Baltimore is the only team that can lose and still make the playoffs if everyone else loses.
Pittsburgh needs the miracle scenario. If they win and everyone else loses, four teams are 8-8 and Pittsburgh wins the tie-breaker.
The New York Jets are also 7-8, but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs since they lose all tie-breakers due to earlier losses to Miami, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
After starting 2-0, 13 straight losses have allowed the Houston Texans to lock up the worst record in the NFL. The day after the Super Bowl in New York, Houston will be on the clock for another New York event, the 2014 NFL Draft.
The relevant Week 17 AFC Games are as follows:
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
Predictions: The only surprise will be Baltimore going into Cincinnati and getting a win. However, Baltimore are the defending champions and will not go down without a fight. Cincinnati has won few games against quality opponents. Miami and San Diego will both win, giving Miami the tie-breaker.
1) 13-3 Denver Broncos
2) 12-4 New England Patriots
3) 11-5 Indianapolis Colts
4) 10-6 Cincinnati Bengals
5) 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs
6) 9-7 Miami Dolphins
The bottom four seeds are all pretenders. New England and Denver are on a collision course as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning set up another epic AFC title game matchup.
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