The NFL's craziest playoff scenarios


We've broken down both the NFC and AFC playoff pictures.

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The NFL has provided all of the clinching scenarios this week, and we have the NFL standings memorized. 

Now let's shake up the whole picture again. 

This is my favorite time of year. There are so many permutations of how the next two weeks could go, but it never materializes how we expect it to. Thus far, only four teams have punched their ticket into the playoffs. Here are some of the craziest scenarios that could still happen over the next two weeks:

AFC North's No. 2 or nothing scenario

If Baltimore and Cincinnati both win Sunday, the AFC North title will be on the line during their Week 17 showdown. There's a real chance that the winner of Ravens-Bengals in Week 17 could be the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and the loser of the game would fall right out of the playoffs.

There are a lot of X-factors in this scenario, but it would create perhaps the most important Week 17 game of all time. Not only would it be a play-in game, the winner would essentially win two games, skipping right past Wild Card Weekend. Imagine Bengals fans knowing they could host a divisional round game or be headed home for the offseason.

Arizona wins out and it doesn't matter

The Cardinals could win in Seattle, and then defeat San Francisco in Week 17 to get to 11-5. The Cardinals would be one of the hottest teams in the league, and it probably wouldn't matter. Here's how: The 49ers will clinch a playoff spot with a win over Atlanta Monday night, a likely result. The Cardinals would also lose any tiebreaker with New Orleans if the Saints finish at 11-5 and second place in the NFC South.

In short: The Cardinals need to root for the Saints to win in Carolina on Sunday. Because the Cardinals hold the tiebreaker over the Panthers, Arizona has to hope Carolina doesn't win the NFC South. Speaking of which ...

Arizona loses in Seattle, makes the playoffs anyhow

This is probably the Cardinals' most realistic route to the playoffs. Arizona could lose in Seattle, but the Cardinals would still make the playoffs if they beat San Francisco in Week 17 and Carolina lost their final two games.

The Panthers face the Saints this week and then head to Atlanta for the season finale. It would be a surprise if Carolina lost both of those games, but crazier things have happened.

Such as ...

Pittsburgh to the playoffs

At 6-8, the Steelers haven't been eliminated yet. They need to win their final two games to have a chance, and then it gets really tricky. Baltimore and Miami would both have to lose their final two games, and San Diego would have to lose at least once. Pittsburgh also needs the New York Jets to win the last two weeks for a chance.

(It's complicated to explain why, but essentially the Steelers need the Jets to knock out Miami with their division record if everyone was 8-8.)

So, yes: The Browns-Jets game has playoff implications Sunday. Browns fans like Marc Sessler could watch their team eliminate the Steelers from contention. It's not a playoff win, but it's not bad.

It would be fun if the Steelers just got to Week 17 with this scenario alive.

Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis in wild-card round

The Denver Broncos are in good shape to win the AFC West, but it's not a sure bet yet. If the Broncos were upset in Houston this week, Kansas City could push Denver all the way down to the AFC's No. 5 seed if the Chiefs won out.

As the No. 5 seed, the Broncos would head on the road in the wild-card round. Their most likely opponent there: the Colts. It would be too cruel for Manning to have another one-and-done playoff experience in Indianapolis.

The Patriots don't make the playoffs

There's been an assumption all season that New England would be a big part of the playoffs. They still are in good position to get a playoff bye, but nothing is guaranteed yet. New England could fall right out of the playoffs, with the Miami Dolphins winning the AFC East. The Patriots would need to lose at home against Buffalo in Week 17 for this to happen, which sounds rather unlikely. (Then again, they barely beat Houston and Cleveland.) Another Miami loss also would clinch the AFC East for the Patriots.

Carolina could be the No. 1 seed or fall out of the playoffs

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The Panthers have to worry about the scenario mentioned above where Arizona finishes with 11 wins to knock out the Panthers. Then again, the winner of New Orleans-Carolina still has a chance to get home-field advantage for the playoffs.

For that to happen, Seattle would need to lose their final two games. San Francisco would need to win their final two games, which would give the 49ers the NFC West. Carolina and New Orleans both beat San Franciso, so both teams would win any tiebreaker at 12-4.

We previewed every Week 16 game in the latest "Around The League Podcast."