There’s only one week to play in the 2012 season and the playoff picture is remarkably secure, with 10 of 12 teams, including all six in the AFC, already knowing they have a date in the postseason.
We know the entire playoff field in the AFC, but the final picture is still unclear. Anyone of three teams (Denver, Houston, New England) could claim the No. 1 seed.
But the Broncos and Texans control their own destiny, with Denver needing only a win over the lowly Chiefs to sit home on wildcard weekend.
The NFC playoff picture is still quite cloudy. Four teams are in: Atlanta, Green Bay, San Francisco and Seattle. The Vikings, Redskins and Cowboys all get in with a win in Week 17.
Here’s a look at playoff scenarios, as well as seeds and wildcard games if the season ended today.
Four teams fight for two spots in the NFC
Essentially, the big story is that four teams are on the NFC bubble, fighting for the final two playoff spots. The Vikings, Bears, Cowboys and Redskins could all play in January or all sit home and watch.
It’s easy for Minnesota, Dallas or Washington: win and you’re in. Chicago is in with a win over the lowly Lions and a Minnesota loss at home against the Packers.
A Monster Game in D.C.
The Cowboys visit the Redskins Sunday night in the final primetime game of 2012. The winner wraps up the NFC East title and the final NFC playoff spot.
Essentially, the playoffs begin a week early with this do-or-diie game for both teams.
Parity Schmarity in the AFC
The AFC playoff teams are already finalized with a week to play and five of the six teams who made the playoffs last year are back again this year.
Only the perennial AFC power Colts (a year removed from their highly successful “Suck for Luck” season) are new this year, replacing fellow perennial AFC power Steelers.
The fact that the playoff teams are largely the same, and largely the same old faces, and already determined with an entire week to play, are further proof that parity is largely dead in the NFL, and especially in the AFC.
Race for the No. 1 seed
The only thing to be determined in the AFC is final seeds. The Patriots, for example, are currently No. 3 but have a chance to steal the No. 2 spot, or even the No. 1 spot, if either the Broncos or Texans, or both, lose in Week 17.
The Patriots hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Broncos and Texans, but at 11-4 are a game behind in the standings.
Tom Brady-Peyton Manning collision course
In either case, it seems like we're on a Tom Brady-Peyton Manning collision course in the AFC. The two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks already own the title of Greatest QB Rivarly in NFL history.
Now two QBs have consistently met so often in such big games while putting up monster numbers year after year. If they meet in the 2012 playoffs, it would be the fourth such postseason meeting for the two. The winner went on to capture the Lombardi Trophy after the previous three meetings.
A QB mix of young and old
One other interesting note: the 2012 postseason will be a perfect blend of old familiar playoff faces (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan) and new comers, including six likely rookie or second-year quarterbacks.
AFC/NFC seeds and wildcard games
AFC Seeds entering Week 17: (1) Houston (2) Denver (3) New England (4) Baltimore (5) Indianapolis (6) Cincinnati.
NFC Seeds entering Week 17: (1) Atlanta (2) Green Bay (3) San Francisco (4) Washington (5) Seattle (6) Minnesota
AFC wildcard games (if season ended today): Cincinnati at New England; Indianapolis at Baltimore
NFC wildcard games (if season ended today): Minnesota at San Francisco; Seattle at Washington