8 a.m. ET: While the NFL has handed out plenty of pretty presents so far this season, it truly saved the best to last.
Tucked away in Week 17 like that extra present hidden under the couch, the NFL’s final set of games may have the most intrigue of any time so far this year. As well as a load of divisional matchups and some games that promise to make the most of impending winter storms, the playoff picture is still very much up in the air for a good number of teams — well, in one conference, at least.
The AFC got its business done early, and its six spots are all sewn up going into the final week, although several battles remain among the heavyweights for playoff seeding.
In the NFC, plenty of fun awaits. Nine teams still qualify for the six playoff spots, and although some of the higher spots are taken care of, the tussle for the final wild card berths will come down to the final game of the evening.
This live blog is the place to be throughout the day to see how the playoff picture is evolving. The scenarios will start to unfold at 1 p.m. when Bears-Lions and Giants-Eagles kick off, but we’ll keep you updated throughout the day as injuries, weather patterns and performances both naughty and nice determine the fate of many an NFL team.
Here’s a primer before we get going. (Also, we have an awesome slideshow, if you prefer pictures with your playoff scenarios.)
The AFC is set as to who is in the playoffs. What matters now is the seeding at the top.
While the Colts are assured the No. 5 seed and the Bengals the No. 6, the Texans, Broncos and Patriots are all vying for the top three spots. The Ravens can also move up to the third seed.
Here’s how it works: If the Texans and Broncos win, they get the top two spots. If they both lose and the Patriots win, the Patriots get the top seed (and home-field advantage). If one loses and the Patriots win, the Patriots get the No. 2 seed, with the other winner getting the No. 1. If the Patriots lose and the Ravens win, Baltimore gets the third seed, and the Patriots are fourth.
The No. 4 team will host the Colts, and the No. 3 will host the Bengals. (Could we see some Bill Belichick trickery to get a favored opponent?)
When to watch:
Houston-Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Baltimore-Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
New England-Miami, 4:25 p.m.
Denver-Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.
We’re going to go team-by-team here, because this is pretty tricky. Let’s leave seeding aside and just talk about who can get into the playoffs. Also, we apologize that we had to include the tie scenarios. They are obnoxious, but some NFC teams have had problems getting it done within regulation and an extra 15 minutes this year, so it could happen again. Side note: Atlanta is already in and has locked up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage.
Giants. They must win, and then they must have their NFC counterparts do some bad losing. Minnesota, Dallas and Chicago all need to fall for New York to slip in (and then get hot and win another Super Bowl?).
When to watch: 1 p.m., against Eagles
Bears. Chicago faces an uphill battle. The Bears need to not only win but also have the Vikings lose or tie. Chicago could also tie and advance with a Minnesota loss.
When to watch: 1 p.m., against Lions
Vikings. This one is complicated. A win does wonders. A tie is still good, if Chicago loses or ties. But if the Vikings lose, they need Dallas to lose or tie, the New York Giants to lose or tie, and Chicago to lose to get into the playoffs. Yeah. Run hard, Adrian Peterson.
When to watch: 4:25 p.m., against Packers
Packers. Green Bay is in the driver’s seat when it comes to getting the No. 2 seed and home-field advantage. If the Packers win, they’ve got it. Otherwise, they have to count on the 49ers to lose. If they tie, they still get the No. 2 seed with a San Francisco loss or tie. If they lose and the 49ers lose, they also need Seattle to lose or tie to get home-field advantage.
When to watch: 4:25 p.m., against Minnesota
49ers. San Francisco needs Green Bay to comply to get the No. 2 seed and home-field advantage. If the 49ers win, a Green Bay loss or tie gets the 49ers in. If they tie, they can get it with a Green Bay loss. They have a playoff spot regardless.
When to watch: 4:25 p.m., against Cardinals
Seahawks. These surprise kids can snag the No. 2 seed if they win and the 49ers and Packers both lose. Otherwise, they have a playoff spot assured.
When to watch: 4:25 p.m., against Rams
Redskins. Their division only gets one spot this year thanks to poor records all-around. So, Washington needs to win or tie for the easy path. If not, it must count on the Bears and Vikings losing to slip in via the wild card.
When to watch: 8:20 p.m., against Cowboys
Cowboys. Their way into the playoffs is simple: Beat the Redskins; win the division.
When to watch: 8:20 p.m., against Redskins
We’ll also be keeping track of the many NFL records up for grabs today, if that strikes your fancy. Check out our record chase live blog for those.