LOS ANGELES, December 29, 2015 — The NFL regular season now has 16 weeks in the books. The 17th and final week of the regular season is approaching. Phrases not uttered for 358 days are pulled put of the closet and dusted off. We learn who controls their own destiny and who needs help. This year there has been the least amount of competitive balance in a long time. Some years it seems almost everybody has a shot at the playoffs. This year most of the issues involve seedings.
In a purely technical sense, All eight AFC Week 17 games have playoff implications. In reality, six of the eight games will affect the playoffs.
The NFC playoff picture came in to focus one day earlier.
Here is the AFC playoff picture with one week to go, complete with permutations, combinations and predictions.
Permutations and Combinations:
1.) The New England Patriots (12-3) have clinched the AFC East and right now are the top seed, but they have not locked it up. They have clinched a first round bye and are at worst the two seed. If they win next week or if Denver loses, the Patriots have home field throughout the playoffs. If the Patriots lose and the Broncos win, the Patriots fall to the two seed.
2.) The Denver Broncos (11-4) have the strangest situation. The only thing certain is that they have clinched a playoff spot. They can end up being any seed except the four seed. At this moment they are the two seed with a first round bye. They lead the AFC West by one game but have not clinched their division. A ton of things can happen to them. If they win next week and New England loses, the Broncos win the tie-breaker and get the top seed with home field throughout the playoffs. If they lose next week, they can still keep the two seed if the Bengals and Chiefs also lose. If the Broncos and Chiefs both lose but the Bengals win, the Broncos fall to the three seed. They would host a Wild Card game. If the Broncos lose and the Chiefs win, the Broncos would tumble all the way to the five seed Wild Card and have to play all of their games on the road. If the Broncos lose and the Chiefs and Jets both win, the Broncos would actually fall completely down to the six seed.
3.) The Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) have clinched the AFC North, but their loss on Monday night has dropped them to the three seed. They would have to host a Wild Card game. They have very little movement. They cannot fall below the three seed. If they win next week and the Broncos lose, the Bengals would move up to the two seed with the first round bye. If the Bengals and Broncos both lose, the Bengals can still move up to the two seed if the Chiefs win. The top seed is out of reach for the Bengals.
4.) The Houston Texans (8-7) have for all intents and purposes clinched the AFC South. They are locked into the four seed and are the only AFC team that can rest their players next week. For those who insist on being technical, it is only 99.97% certain they are the four seed. If they lose and ten other games all break a certain way, the Texans are out of the playoffs. For those who live in the real world, they are the four seed and hosting a Wild Card playoff game.
5.) The Kansas City Chiefs (10-5) at this moment are the five seed. They have clinched a playoff spot, but as of now have to play all their playoff games on the road. If the Chiefs lose next week and the Jets win, the Chiefs fall to the six seed. If the Chiefs win and the Broncos lose, the Chiefs would then win the AFC West and move up to the three seed. A first round bye is out of reach.
6.) The New York Jets (10-5) have not clinched a playoff spot. If they win or if the Pittsburgh Steelers lose, the Jets are in the playoffs as the six seed. The Jets move up to the five seed if they win and either the Chiefs or Broncos lose but not both of them. If the Chiefs and Broncos both lose the Jets stay at the six seed. The Jets cannot go higher than the five seed. If the Jets lose and the Steelers win, the Jets are out of the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) right now are out of the playoffs. If they win next week and the Jets lose, the Steelers are in the playoffs as the six seed Wild Card.
The Indianapolis Colts (7-8) have a .03%…Not 3%, 3/100 of 1%…chance of winning the AFC South and the four seed if they win and ten other teams including the Texans lose. In the real world, this means the Colts are eliminated. They cannot make it as a Wild Card.
New York Jets (10-5) at Buffalo Bills (7-8)
New England Patriots (12-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-10)
Baltimore Ravens (5-10) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-12)
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) at Houston Texans (8-7)
Tennessee Titans (3-12) at Indianapolis Colts (7-8)
Oakland Raiders (7-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)
San Diego Chargers (4-11) at Denver Broncos (11-4)
In a very rare situation, absolutely none. Not one early game will produce a result that will allow any teams playing in the late games to rest their players. This is exactly how the NFL wants it. Nothing is settled. Everything is up for grabs. The closest thing resembling a variable would be if Bill O’Brien rests his Houston Texans starters. He wants nine wins, and will play the starters.
Regular season predictions:
1.) New England Patriots (13-3) — Tom Brady even during his Super Bowl years has played some of his worst football games against the Dolphins. In 2004 the 12-1 Patriots lost at the 2-11 Dolphins. This game is in Miami. Now for the reality check. The Dolphins have no chance. The Patriots are angry and the Dolphins have quit.
2.) Denver Broncos (12-4) — The Broncos have not played well down the stretch, but San Diego is a mess. The defense will beat up San Diego’s receivers and get the win at home.
3.) Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) — The Bengals have also not played well, but they also have the luxury of finishing at home against a terrible Baltimore team. Yes, Baltimore beat Pittsburgh last week. That was in Baltimore. In Cincinnati, the Bengals will win at home.
4.) Houston Texans (9-7) — Theoretically they could play their backups, but the starters will play. Blake Bortles is playing well, but J.J. Watt is playing better. At home, the defense will get the job done.
5.) Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) — In 1999, the 7-8 Oakland Raiders went into Kansas City and knocked the 9-6 Chiefs out of the playoffs. This is not 1999. This year the Chiefs beat the Raiders in Oakland. Neither team has an offense, but the Chiefs defense will get the job done at home.
6.) New York Jets (10-6) — The Jets will be gift-wrapped a chance to make the playoffs and they will mess it up. Rex Ryan badly wants to eliminate his former team and also to get to 8-8. The Bills beat the Jets in New York and will beat them again at home in Buffalo. Yet even though the Jets will blow their opportunity, they will get in anyway because…
Out: Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) — The Steelers will get a gift of the Jets losing, but it will not matter. The Steelers will lose to the 3-12 Cleveland Browns. Johnny Manziel will play the game of his life. The Dawg Pound will be rocking. The Browns will play the game of their lives. Mike Pettine may even save his job. Cleveland is not going to the playoffs, but they would like nothing better than ruining Pittsburgh’s season. The Browns by losing have a shot at the top pick in the 2016 Draft. The Browns would benefit by losing this game. So to mess that up, the one time they are supposed to lose, they will win.
AFC Playoff Predictions:
Wild Cards: 6.) Jets at 3.) Bengals, 5.) Chiefs at 4.) Texans
Divisionals: 6.) Jets at 1.) Patriots, 5.) Chiefs at 2.) Broncos
NFC Title Game: 6.) Jets at 2.) Broncos
AFC Champion: The Jets will stun everybody because they have a defense. They will beat up the Bengals and Patriots. However, whenever the Jets get to the AFC Title Game, they lose. They lost to Denver in 1998 and will again. The Broncos are not that special but they get to the AFC Title Game by winning at home against a team led by Alex Smith. The Denver defense will punish him and survive the exhausted Jets. The Broncos will hold up the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
They will not hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Forget the entire AFC. The Arizona Cardinals will win Super Bowl 50.