NFL: Playoff races simple and complex
Reduced to its simplest, NFL playoff races come down to this: Cincinnati, Denver, Dallas and the New York Giants must win. Then it gets complicated, because the Giants host the Cowboys in prime time, and the loser is out.
Even that, though, is easy to decipher compared to the chase for the final AFC wild card.
Just the way the NFL wants it.
“With this game with the Cowboys, it is a very exciting, very, very historical week for our players and franchise,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “The setting is incredible.”
As it will be at Paul Brown Stadium, which actually is sold out. The Bengals, who get the other AFC wild card with a victory, appealed to their fans to fill the stadium and, by Wednesday, all the tickets were gone.
“Just to have everyone here in Cincinnati wanting to come out for this game, I think that’s something we’ve been wanting and been trying to get for a while,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “I’m just happy everybody responded to it. It’s going to be a fun atmosphere, and we’re excited about it.”
As for the playoff primer, try this:
If Denver wins at home against Kansas City, the AFC West belongs to the Broncos. If the Chiefs win, then the Raiders can grab the division with a home victory against San Diego. Denver gets the spot regardless if the Raiders lose. But Oakland also has a chance for a wild card, while Denver doesn’t.
Baltimore gets the AFC North crown by beating Cincinnati. A Ravens loss opens the door for Pittsburgh to win the division with a win at Cleveland. Both the Steelers and Ravens already own at least a wild card.
NFC West winner San Francisco earns a first-round bye if it wins at lowly St. Louis.
Detroit and Atlanta are the NFC wild cards.
With a victory over Buffalo, AFC East champ New England will get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Baltimore or Pittsburgh still have a shot at that if the Patriots fall.
Houston has won the AFC South.
Now, take a deep breath, and here’s what can happen in the race for the second AFC wild card if the Bengals lose to Baltimore.
Cincinnati still gets it if the Jets and Oakland lose, or the Jets and Denver lose.
Oakland moves in by winning while Denver wins, and having the Titans lose along with the Bengals, or by having the Jets win while Cincinnati loses.
The Jets are in with a win and defeats for the Bengals, Titans and either the Raiders or Broncos.
Tennessee has three scenarios, all involving a victory by the Titans and a loss by the Bengals. They also need a Jets win and a loss by either Denver or Oakland, or a Jets loss and wins by both the Broncos and Raiders.