NFL Playoff Scenarios And Tiebreaks, So You Can Be Sure You're Ignoring The Right GamesS

Week 17 is always an odd melange of completely unwatchable misery between mathematically eliminated teams, stop and start contests between teams that can't remember if they're playing for something, and impossibly intense games between teams that are fighting to see another day. Here are the likely playoff scenarios and the games that will affect seeding, so you know when to avert your eyes, and which games actually matter.

Note: There are many "win or tie" or "lose or tie" scenarios, but we didn't want to gum up the works talking about scenarios that happen every five years. If there's a tie, you can yell at us in the comments until we come back and update.

AFC

If the Texans...

beat the Colts, they're the #1 seed. (The Colts are not playing for anything.)

If the Broncos...

beat the Chiefs, and the Texans lose, they're the #1 seed. (The Chiefs are not playing for anything.) If the Broncos beat the Chiefs and the Texans win, the Broncos are the #2 seed.

If the Patriots...

beat the Dolphins and both the Texans and Broncos lose, they're the #1 seed. (The Dolphins are not playing for anything.) If the Patriots, Broncos and Texans all win, the Patriots will be the #3 seed.

If the Ravens...

beat the Bengals, and the Patriots lose, they're the #3 seed, because they hold a tiebreaker over the Patriots. (The Bengals aren't playing for anything). If they lose, or the Patriots win, they're in at #4 regardless.

The Colts...

will be the #5 seed no matter what.

The Bengals...

will be the #6 seed no matter what.

Most likely scenario: Maybe the Bengals will lay down against the Ravens because they'd prefer to play them in the first round instead of the Patriots, but the last time they played either—Week 1—the Ravens pasted them, and the Patriots will probably beat the Dolphins anyway. The most likely scenario is that every team which has something at stake wins—they're almost invariably playing teams that don't—and thus the playoff order is exactly what you see above.

NFC

The Falcons...

will be the #1 seed no matter what.

If the Packers...

beat the Vikings, they're the #2 seed. (The Vikings are hanging on to the NFC's final playoff spot, and control their own destiny.) The Packers are also guaranteed the #2 seed in the event of a 49ers loss.

If the 49ers...

beat the Cardinals, and the Packers lose to the Vikings, they're the #2 seed. (The Cardinals are not playing for anything.) If they beat the Cardinals and the Packers beat the Vikings, they're the NFC West champions and thus the #3 seed.

If the Redskins...

beat the Cowboys, they're the #4 seed. (The Cowboys are playing for the NFC East and a playoff berth.) If they lose to the Cowboys, they lose the NFC East, but could still make the playoffs if the Vikings lose to the Packers and the Bears lose to the Lions.

If the Seahawks...

beat the Rams, the 49ers lose to the Cardinals, and the Packers lose to the Vikings, they're the #2 seed. (The Rams are not playing for anything.) If the Seahawks, 49ers and Packers all win, the Seahawks are the #5 seed. If the Seahawks and Packers win, but the 49ers lose, the Seahawks ae the #3 seed.

If the Vikings...

beat the Packers, they're the #6 seed. (The Packers are playing for their first-round bye.) Alternatively, they can lose and still make the playoffs, if the Bears, Giants and Cowboys also lose.

If the Cowboys...

beat the Redskins, they get the #4 seed, along with NFC East title. (The Redskins are playing for the same thing.) If they lose, they're out of the playoffs.

If the Bears...

beat the Lions, and the Packers beat the Vikings, they're the #6 seed. (The Lions are not playing for anything.)

If the Giants...

beat the Eagles, and the Cowboys beat lose to the Redskins, and the Lions beat the Bears, and the Packers beat the Vikings, they're the #6 seed. (The Eagles are not playing for anything.)

Most likely scenario: The first six above, but swap out the Vikings for the Bears, who merely have to beat a Lions team that's playing out the string and wait for the Packers to beat the Vikings. The Vikings own the tiebreak now, but NFC North records won't matter when the Bears have the better season record. Of course, the Bears are perfectly capable of losing to the Lions (Bears won 13-7 at home in October) even when the Lions don't care, and the Vikings played the Packers tough away earlier this month, so who knows. Vegas will tell you that Redskins are favored, but that game seems like a near toss-up as well.

Games to watch: In the AFC, any of the top three getting upset would shake up a lot—Houston at Indianapolis (1 p.m.) might be the one to watch there, and Baltimore at Cincinnati could be interesting depending on what the Bengals decide is in their best interest. But basically, stay away from the AFC. In the NFC: Dallas at Washington (the night game) is essentially do or die for both teams, while Minnesota upsetting Green Bay (4:25) would have a considerable ripple effect.

Team outlooks and tiebreaks via SB Nation and CBS Sports (1, 2), pic via Joe Zeff Design