Even though they’ve had a playoff berth clinched for two weeks, no team goes into the final week of the regular season with more uncertainty than the Seattle Seahawks with three potential opponents for the opening weekend.
That’s fine by them. They already know what lies ahead in the postseason.
“I don’t really care. Regardless, it’s going to be somewhere cold and it’s going to be on the road,” Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril said.
Seattle’s status is one of the few unknowns going into the final day. Home-field advantage has yet to be clinched in both conferences. The NFC North is up for grabs with Green Bay hosting Minnesota. Rex Ryan and Buffalo could knock the New York Jets out of the playoffs, a result the Steelers are hoping for to sneak in.
And the AFC South could go the way of Indianapolis. All the Colts need is a win with a fourth-string quarterback, a Houston loss and just eight other results to go their way.
Here’s a look at the breakdowns in each conference:
New England is already assured of having the first weekend off. The Patriots can wrap up home-field advantage with a win over Miami or a Denver loss to San Diego. Denver needs just a win over the Chargers to get a bye, while Cincinnati needs a win over the Ravens and a Broncos loss to earn a No. 2 seed.
Wild wild card
Pittsburgh’s flop in Week 16 losing to Baltimore left the Steelers needing some help. The Jets are in with a win in Buffalo, but a loss and the Steelers can swoop in and claim the No. 6 seed with a victory over the Browns.
Don’t forget us
Anyone talking at all about Kansas City? The Chiefs have won nine straight and still have an outside shot of winning the AFC West. Kansas City must beat Oakland and have the Broncos lose to the Chargers. While that would get Kansas City the division title, it won’t get them a first-round bye.
South by default
OK. Can the Texans simply just win? That is the cleanest, easiest route to figuring out the AFC South champion. Houston wins and it hosts the No. 5 seed in the wild card round. But if the Texans lose and Indianapolis can beat Tennessee then it gets really messy. The Colts would then need Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Denver and Miami to win, and Oakland and Pittsburgh to win or tie – but both not tie – to edge out the Texans on strength of schedule tiebreaker.
Carolina and Arizona have already earned byes. But the Panthers loss last week against Atlanta left open the chance of Arizona earning home-field advantage. The Cardinals need to beat Seattle and have the Panthers lose to Tampa Bay and the path to the Super Bowl would go through Glendale.
The NFC North will be decided late on Sunday night when the temperatures in Green Bay are expected to dip into the teens for the Packers and Vikings. The winner gets the No. 3 seed in the conference. The loser will be a wild card and face a road-heavy slate to get through the postseason.
After starting 6-0 the Packers are 4-5 down the stretch, including last week’s 38-8 drubbing by Arizona. But Green Bay was on a three-game losing streak when it routed the Vikings 30-13 in Minnesota in Week 11.
Filing a flight plan
Seattle has the most uncertainty of where it’s headed going into the final day with the chance of ending up in Minnesota, Green Bay or Washington. The Seahawks were in line for the No. 5 seed before stumbling last week at home against St. Louis. Beating Arizona won’t guarantee Seattle the No. 5 seed because if Minnesota beats Green Bay, the Packers have the tiebreaker over the Seahawks. No matter the Seahawks’ outcome in Arizona, they’ll likely be back in Seattle late Sunday night before knowing where they’re headed to open the playoffs.
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