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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Playoff Destiny

With only one week remaining in the regular season, division champions are still undecided. Eight teams are vying for four remaining playoff spots. There is drama and suspense built in to week 17 of the NFL season. Today, the Daily Hat Trick is giving you a team-by-team breakdown of playoff prospects, possibilities and realities.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers (14-1) The Packers have locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Detroit Lions (10-5) A win over the Packers secures the 5th seed and a trip to face the NFC East winner in the first round of the playoffs. Should the Lions finish the season tied at 10-6 with the Atlanta Falcons, the Lions would have the 6th seed as the Falcons hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lions. The Lions would most likely have to face the New Orleans Saints, who throttled the Lions on December 4 on Sunday Night Football.

Chicago Bears (7-8) – Eliminated.

Minnesota Vikings (3-12) – Eliminated.

Ndamukong Suh celebrates the Lions' first playoff appearance in 12 years. 1

NFC South

New Orleans Saints (12-3) Clinched the NFC South. The Saints can secure a first round bye with a win over the Carolina Panthers and a San Francisco loss to the Rams, which is improbable. In all likelihood the Saints will be the 3rd seed in the NFC Playoffs.

Atlanta Falcons (9-6) The Falcons have clinched a wild card berth. The only question, depending on Sunday’s results, is whether the Falcons will have the 5th seed and face the NFC East winner or the 6th seed and (probably) face the archrival Saints, just two weeks after their last visit to the Superdome. There is a remote possibility the Falcons may have to travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers.

Carolina Panthers (6-9) – Eliminated.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11) – Eliminated.

Drew Brees will likely surpass Dan Marino's single season passing record of 5,084 yards, set in 1984. 2

NFC East

New York Giants (8-7) – If they win over (or tie with) the Cowboys, they are in as the 4th seed and NFC East winner.

Dallas Cowboys (8-7) - If they win, they’re in as the 4th seed and NFC East winner.

Philadelphia Eagles (7-8) – Eliminated.

Washington Redskins (5-10) – Eliminated.

Tony Romo, left, and Eli Manning, right. One of them will go on to the playoffs after Sunday and one of them with just go home. 3

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers (12-3) – The 49ers lock up a first round bye with a win over the Rams or a Saints loss to the Panthers.

Seattle Seahawks (7-8) – Eliminated.

Arizona Cardinals (7-8) – Eliminated.

St. Louis Rams (2-13) – Eliminated.

The last time the 49ers earned the top seed in the NFC, these were the quarterbacks in the conference championship game: Steve Young, left, and Brett Favre, right. 4

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (11-4) – A win (or Steelers loss to Cleveland) over the hungry Cincinnati Bengals clinches the division for the Ravens. A win and a Patriots loss to Buffalo locks up the top seed for Baltimore. A loss and a Steelers win would move the Ravens from competing for the top seed to the fifth seed and having to travel to either Denver or Oakland for the first round of the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) – Pittsburgh wins the division if they beat the Browns and the Ravens lose to the Bengals. The Steelers secure the top seed if they win the AFC North and the Patriots lose to the Buffalo Bills. Should the Steelers not win the division, they will enter the AFC Playoffs as a 5th seed Wild Card team.

Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) – Should the Bengals win over the Ravens, they are in the playoffs as the 6th and final seed in the AFC. They are probably out if they lose. The Bengals would lose tiebreakers to the Raiders, Titans, and Jets, who face the Chargers, Texans, and Dolphins, respectively. The Chargers and Dolphins have losing records and the Texans are locked into the 3rd seed in the AFC Playoffs, meaning none of the opponents of the Bengals pursuers have a either a winning record or a playoff related motivation in Week 17.

Cleveland Browns (4-11) – Eliminated.

Like Ben Roethlisberger, right, as a rookie, rookie QB Andy Dalton, left, has his team with playoff aspirations. 5

AFC South

Houston Texans (10-5) – Have clinched the AFC South, the 3rd seed in the AFC Playoffs, its first playoff appearance, ever, and an NFL home playoff game in the City of Houston for the first time in 18 years.

Tennessee Titans (8-7) – They need a win at Houston in and losses by the Bengals and Raiders to reach the playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) – Eliminated.

Indianapolis Colts (2-13) – Eliminated.

Even without Peyton Manning, the Colts were a thorn in the Texans side. Fortunately for the Texans, neither Manning nor the Colts will be in their way in the playoffs. 8

AFC East

New England Patriots (12-3) – Secure the top seed in the AFC Playoffs, for the second consecutive year, with a win over Buffalo or losses by the Ravens and Steelers.

New York Jets (8-7) – Need a LOT of help. First, they need to win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Then they need the Bengals, Raiders, and Titans to lose.

Buffalo Bills (6-9) – Eliminated.

Miami Dolphins (5-10) – Eliminated.

Rex Ryan usually has the last word, but the Giants may be the last New York team to finish their season. 6

AFC West

Denver Broncos (8-7) – Clinch the AFC West with a win over the Chiefs or a Raiders loss to the Chargers.

Oakland Raiders (8-7) – Clinch the AFC West with a win over the Chargers and a Broncos loss to the Chiefs. The Raiders could also clinch the 6th seed as a Wild Card with a win and a Bengals loss to the Ravens.

San Diego Chargers (7-8) – Eliminated.

Kansas City Chiefs (6-9) – Eliminated.

Kyle Orton, left, was benched for Tim Tebow, right, and later waived, claimed by the Chiefs. How ironic is it that Orton will be in position to possibly knock the Broncos out of the playoffs. 7

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