Five NFL franchises need a competing squad to wrap them a Christmas present to prevent a wrap on their 2013 campaign.
In the spirit of season, Miami, Baltimore, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Arizona all need gifts to continue to play. Numerous scenarios exist to alter playoff seedings, and, in all four NFC divisions, determine first-place finishers, too. For San Diego to grab the AFC’s sixth seed, the Chargers can’t lose and the Dolphins and Ravens can’t win. Baltimore gets in with a tough road win over Cincinnati coupled with a Miami or San Diego loss or tie. Miami’s path may be the easiest. A Dolphins home win over the Jets, coupled with either a San Diego win or a Baltimore loss, extends their season. Pittsburgh, entering the final regular season game with a losing record, needs a Christmas miracle to return to the playoffs. In addition to besting the Browns, Ben Roethlisberger’s wish list includes defeats for the three other AFC wildcard aspirants.
In the NFC, the picture appears far simpler. Just one still-alive team does not control its own destiny. The surging Arizona Cardinals need a win and help from New Orleans to make the playoffs. Given that oddsmakers list the Cards as home-dogs to the San Francisco 49ers, and the Saints host the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an Arizona berth may be as an unlikely scenario, save for the Steelers finding their way in at 8-8, as exists for the 2013 season.
Christmas came early for fans in Denver, New England, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, San Francisco, the Carolinas, and Seattle. Their NFL teams enter week 17 with a playoff berth already under the tree. Fourteen other teams, who have been mathematically eliminated from contention, have found coal in their stockings. The remaining ten teams fight it out for four vacant playoff spots.
Five teams don’t need charity. Green Bay at Chicago and Philadelphia at Dallas both play as you-win-you’re in/loser-go-home games. New Orleans also controls its own destiny.
Should Arizona and San Diego find themselves in the postseason, fans would see two divisions–the NFC West and AFC West–sending three representatives to the postseason. Save for the 2007 season, when the AFC South and NFC East sent three teams to the playoffs, the NFL has not experienced more than two teams from a single division make the playoffs since embracing four-division conferences in 2002.