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NFL Playoff Picture: Patriots Control Destiny, Broncos Could Miss Playoffs Entirely

The New England Patriots have some fairly simple rules for clinching playoff scenarios prior to the end of the season.

Division: Beat the Titans; The Patriots would finally reach more wins (12) than the Jets maximum (11). The New York Times gives the Patriots a >99% chance of winning the division.

Bye week: Beat the Titans, AND the Steelers beat the Broncos; If the Broncos lose, they will have two more losses than the Patriots and would have to win out in order to tie the Patriots worst-case record. The Patriots hold the tiebreaker with the Bengals and the Broncos would have to hand the Bengals another loss in order to win out, forcing Cincinnati to (at best) the same record as the Patriots. The New York Times gives the Patriots a 98% chance of earning a bye week.

Homefield: Beat the Titans and the Jets, AND the Steelers beat the Broncos; If the Patriots reach 13 wins, and the Broncos fall to 4 losses, the Patriots will clinch a better record than Denver and hold the tiebreakers with Cincinnati. The New York Times gives the Patriots an 82% chance of homefield advantage.

The craziest scenario is also extremely possible: the Broncos could straight up miss the playoffs and be out of the picture before their week 17 game.

The Kansas City Chiefs have the easiest closing schedule, with games against the Ravens, Browns, and Raiders, for a collective record of 13-26. The Chiefs winning out and reaching 11-5 isn't out of the question.

Denver could lose to the Steelers and no one would be surprised. If the Broncos, who struggled against the Oakland Raiders, also fall to the Andy Dalton-less Bengals, then they will have 5 losses on the season. This means that they would have, at best, matching records.

The Chiefs, of course, hold a 4-1 divisional record and, if they win out, they would beat the Raiders and own a 5-1 record on the season. The Broncos already have two divisional losses, so the Chiefs would hold the tiebreaker.

If all three of the Chiefs, Steelers and Jets win out, then the Broncos would be eliminated from the playoffs. If the Patriots stop the Jets from winning in week 16, then Denver would pick up the 6th seed.

AFC

1. (11-2) New England Patriots - Titans, @Jets, @Dolphins

2. (10-3) Cincinnati Bengals - @49ers, @Broncos, Ravens

3. (10-3) Denver Broncos - @Steelers, Bengals, Chargers

4. (6-7) Indianapolis Colts - Texans, @Dolphins, Titans

5. (8-5) Kansas City Chiefs - @Ravens, Browns, Raiders

6. (8-5) New York Jets - @Cowboys, Patriots, @Bills

Mentions: (8-5) Pittsburgh Steelers, (6-7) Houston Texans, (5-8) Jacksonville Jaguars

The sub-.500 Texans and Jaguars are still a game out of contention in the AFC South, while the Steelers have a fairly likely chance to claim the 6th seed with a final schedule of Broncos, @Ravens, @Browns.

NFC

1. (13-0) Carolina Panthers - @Giants, @Falcons, Buccaneers

2. (11-2) Arizona Cardinals - @Eagles, Packers, Seahawks

3. (9-4) Green Bay Packers - @Raiders, @Cardinals, Vikings

4. (6-7) Washington - Bills, @Eagles, @Cowboys

5. (8-5) Seattle Seahawks - Browns, Rams, @Cardinals

6. (8-5) Minnesota Vikings - Bears, Giants, @Packers

Mentions: (6-7) Philadelphia Eagles, (5-7) New York Giants

The Giants play on Monday Night against the Dolphins, but the whole NFC East is a total disaster in the midst of a fairly solid conference. The teams currently in the playoff positions are probably going to be the teams that are still there after week 17.