These playoff races are oh, so easy to decipher, aren’t they? No ties at the top of divisions and two clear-cut wild-card teams in each conference.
Real easy — except for this: There are two more weeks on the schedule and enough teams on the playoff fringe to create a wild scramble for the remaining berths.
Here’s what we do know: San Diego, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Minnesota and Arizona are division champions. The Colts and Saints have clinched first-round byes, and the Chargers are on the verge of doing so. titans
The Eagles own at last a wild-card spot, and if they beat Denver on Sunday and Dallas loses to Washington, the NFC East is Philadelphia’s.
Cincinnati needs a win Sunday against Kansas City to clinch the AFC North. New England gets the AFC East by beating Jacksonville. Both of those division leaders also can clinch if their nearest pursuers, Baltimore in the North and Miami in the East, fall Sunday.
Through 14 games, the wild-card holders are Dallas and Green Bay in the NFC, with no tiebreakers necessary. In the AFC, it’s Baltimore and Denver, the only 8-6 teams in the conference. There are several scenarios through which the Ravens, Broncos, Cowboys and Packers could grab those wild cards this weekend.
So now let’s muddle things. A lot.
Not in the NFC, where only the New York Giants also remain viable. But in the AFC, there’s potential for all six 7-7 clubs to get in, and one of them — Miami — could still win its division.
“We’re still in this race,” Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. “The best chance we have is we have to win two games. We still have a pulse. We’ll prepare that way.”
Heading into Week 15, Jacksonville owns the No. 7 seed, for whatever that’s worth considering the Jaguars must go to New England. The Patriots need a win to considerably ease their load on the final weekend — and they still could be the second seed in the AFC. The Jaguars finish at Cleveland.
Jacksonville gets that edge, which could be significant at season’s end, because the NFL first uses division tiebreakers to clarify the wild-card competition. The Jaguars have a better head-to-head record with Houston and Tennessee, both also 7-7. Miami swept the Jets and has that division edge.
Then, with Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Miami remaining among the 7-7 teams, the Jags have the best conference mark.
In order, the other rankings for the 7-7 clubs are Miami, New York, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Houston. The Jets and Titans have particularly difficult matchups this weekend: New York is at undefeated Indianapolis on Sunday, while Tennessee hosts San Diego on Christmas night.
“We’re still alive, as crazy as it is to say,” Jets safety Jim Leonhard said. “We’re still in this. We go out and play well, you never know what could happen.”
Of course, everything could get scrambled in a week, particularly if Baltimore loses at Pittsburgh and Denver falls at Philadelphia.
“Still alive,” said Steelers tackle Max Starks. “You can’t kill us until we’re dead.”
Conceivably, the AFC could have seven 8-7 teams competing for the two wild-card slots heading into the final weekend. The Dolphins host the Texans, so someone won’t get to eight wins on Sunday.
“Even though things haven’t gone how we want them to go, we still can control the next two weeks,” Dolphins linebacker Reggie Torbor said. “We can go out and win those games and whatever happens from there we can’t control, so there’s no need in worrying about it.”
AP Sports Writers Dennis Waszak Jr., in Florham Park, N.J.; Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh; and Steven Wine in Davie, Fla., contributed to this story.
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