Water Cooler Quarterbacks: Sussing Out the Playoffs -- Part Deux

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

With one week left to play the Water Cooler Quarterbacks predict "Who's In?" and "Who's Out?"

This has been an incredible week of football. While the AFC has qualified all but one of its playoff participants -- though most of the seedings remain up for grabs -- the NFC has given the NFL exactly what it was looking for when it started scheduling divisional games late in the season: a final weekend wherein no-one has won their division, only three teams have secured playoff spots and two games where the winner advances and the loser goes home.

So, without further ado, here is the Water Cooler Quarterbacks' view of the playoff bound teams:

AFC

FIRST ROUND BYE

Denver Broncos AFC West Title Last game - @Oakland Raiders

The Broncos secured the AFCW title and a 1st round bye with their 37-13 drubbing of the hapless Houston Texans. Now they travel to Oakland -- a team that they defeated 37-21 in their first meeting of the season -- with the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs on the line. Denver is 5-2 on the road while the Raiders are 3-4 at home. Add in Denver's 38.1 points per game scoring average going up against an Oakland team that has been surrendering 27.9 points per game and this has the makings of a blowout. The simple fact is, Denver wins, they get the #1 seed that they desperately want.

Prediction: The Broncos make a statement in this game by destroying the Raiders to grab home field advantage, then take time to heal before the playoffs.

DIVISION CHAMPS

New England Patriots AFC East Title Last game - Buffalo Bills

The Patriots have clinched the AFC East title and have a shot at clinching either the #1 or #2 seeds. If they win, they have the #2 seed in hand. They could also clinch the #2 seed with a loss, if Cincinnati were to lose to Baltimore and Indianapolis were to lose to Jacksonville. They could steal the #1 seed with a win if the Broncos fall to Oakland. New England is 7-0 at home while the Bills are 2-5 on the road. Need more be said?

Prediction: New England handles the Bills easily to lock up the #2 seed.

Cincinnati Bengals AFC North Title Last game - Baltimore Ravens

The Bengals have an outside shot at the #2 seed and a 1st round bye, though that would require New England to lose to Buffalo (see above). More to the point, since Cincinnati and New England will be playing at the same time, the Bengals will have to approach this game as though they have a legitimate shot. Add in that the Bengals are 7-0 at home while the Ravens are 2-5 on the road, the fact that Cincinnati will be looking to avenge an earlier 20-17 loss to Baltimore, that a win would most likely knock the Ravens out of the playoffs and this game looks like another statement game in the making.

Prediction: Cincinnati will win a hard-fought battle against the Ravens to secure the #3 seed.

Indianapolis Colts AFC South Title Last game - Jacksonville Jaguars

The Colts currently hold the #4 seed. They could move up with a win, if Cincinnati were to lose to the Ravens. They could even steal the #2 seed if they win and both Cincinnati and New England were to lose. This game should be a no-brainer. Indianapolis will be playing to move up, the Colts are 5-2 at home while the Jaguars are 3-4 on the road and Indianapolis won the first meeting with Jacksonville 37-3.

Prediction: Indianapolis wins and lands in the #4 seed.

PLAYOFF BERTH

Kansas City Chiefs #5 seed Last game - @San Diego Chargers

At 11-4, the Chiefs are tied for the 2nd-best record in the AFC and are currently holding the #5 seed. That said, Kansas City has little to play for other than pride in this game. They are in the playoffs. If they lose, they won't fall lower in the seedings. If they win, the won't move higher. What should be of concern to Chiefs fans is that Kansas City has followed a 9-0 start by going 2-4 and while the offense had come to life to help out a struggling defense, both units hit a wall against the Colts in Week 16. Add in the fact that they will be facing a San Diego team that knows it needs a win to advance, a team which beat the Chiefs in Week 12 and will be going up against a quarterback who has gone 11-4 against the Chiefs in his career . . . this could be an upset in the making.

Prediction: The Chiefs will drop a meaningless game since they will remain in the #5 seed regardless.

STILL FIGHTING

Miami Dolphins Shot at #6 seed Last game - New York Jets

The Dolphins have been dancing in and out of a playoff spot since Week 15. They got in with an upset of New England only to fall back out by losing to Buffalo, only to sneak back in when Baltimore lost to New England. Miami's options are simple: win and have either Baltimore lose or San Diego win and the Dolphins are in. They could sneak in with a tie, if Baltimore loses and San Diego loses or ties, or both of those teams tie. Given that Baltimore is facing Cincinnati in Cincinnati and San Diego will be playing a Kansas City team with nothing to win or lose and Miami could very easily get the help they need. The sticking point is "Can Miami win?" Though the Dolphins look better on paper (having won 3 of their last 4 while the Jets have lost 4 of their last 6), they will be facing a divisional opponent that is only one game behind them and looking at a chance to play the spoiler. Remember, Jets' head coach Rex Ryan told his team that he expects to be fired after the season and they responded by downing the Cleveland Browns 24-13.

Prediction: Miami's season of inconsistency continues, they lose to the Jets and miss the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens Shot at #6 seed Last game - @Cincinnati Bengals

The Ravens are between a rock and hard place thanks to their loss to the Patriots in Week 16. To get into the playoffs, Baltimore first has to beat Cincinnati in Cincinnati and then get some help from other teams. They would need to have either Miami or San Diego lose. They could sneak in with a tie if Miami loses and San Diego either loses or ties. Finally they could get in, regardless, if Miami, San Diego and Pittsburgh all lose. The big problem for Baltimore is Cincinnati. The Ravens are 2-5 on the road while the Bengals are 7-0 at home. Add in that Cincinnati will be fighting for a shot at the #2 seed, fighting to avenge an earlier loss to the Ravens, and things do not look promising for Baltimore.

Prediction: Baltimore drops this game and the defending Super Bowl champs do not even make the playoffs.

San Diego Chargers Shot at #6 seed Last game - Kansas City Chiefs

When the Chargers stumbled to 4-3 start then lost three straight to drop to 4-6, few people gave them much of a chance to make the playoffs. Now, San Diego can earn a playoff spot with a win, if Miami loses or ties and Baltimore loses or ties. They could also make it in with a tie if both Miami and Baltimore lose. San Diego will be hosting a Kansas City team which should be the superior team and one that boasts a 6-1 road record. That said, the Chiefs have nothing to lose or gain from this game -- they can neither move up nor fall lower in the seedings. San Diego, on the other hand, is in a must-win situation, has the confidence of having beaten both the Chiefs and the Broncos in the last five weeks, have Philip Rivers who has gone 11-4 versus Kansas City in his career (7-2 in the last five seasons) and who is 6-1 versus the Chiefs when playing in San Diego (he has also won the last five meetings in San Diego).

Prediction: San Diego upsets the Chiefs and when Miami and Baltimore both lose, sneaks into the playoffs as the #6 seed.

Pittsburgh Steelers Shot at #6 seed Last game - Cleveland

In the words of Willy Wonka to Charlie Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: "You're just lucky to be here." So, while technically, the Steelers are still in the playoff hunt, realistically, their chances are very, very slim. Pittsburgh can get into the playoffs if they defeat the Browns and Miami, Baltimore and San Diego all lose (see above). While it is true that Pittsburgh has won two straight and 5 of their last 7, it will prove to be a case of too little too late.

Prediction: Pittsburgh will defeat Cleveland only to miss out on the playoffs when one of the other three teams wins -- most likely, San Diego.

NFC

As mentioned above, the NFC is the poster child for what the NFL wanted when they shifted important divisional games to the last two or three weeks of the season -- games that would garner great interest because they would directly impact the playoff picture

FIRST ROUND BYE
None secured yet

DIVISION CHAMPS
None secured yet

PLAYOFF BERTHS

Seattle Seahawks Shot at NFC West Title & #1 seed Last game - St. Louis Rams

The Seahawks have clinched a playoff berth.They have looked nigh-on invincible this entire season but have shown some signs of being just another very good team in recent weeks. They have yet to clinch their division, despite boasting the best record in the NFL. They can clinch the NFC West, the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the layoffs with a a win or tie against the Rams. They could also clinch if the 49ers lose to Arizona. However, the Seahawks could lose the division if they were to lose to St. Louis and San Francisco were to defeat Arizona, since their records would be the same, they split the head-to-head competition (tiebreaker #1) and the 49ers have the better record within the division (tiebreaker #2). That being said, Seattle is 6-1 at home while the Rams are 2-5 on the road.

Prediction: Seattle makes this one look easy as they destroy the Rams to win both the division and the #1 seed.

Carolina Panthers Shot at NFC South Title & #1 seed Last game - @Atlanta Falcons

The Panthers have clinched a playoff berth.They are in a position to secure either the #1 or #2 seed. If they win or tie their last game, they will clinch the NFC South and a 1st round bye. They could also earn those with a loss, if New Orleans loses to or ties Tampa Bay. Carolina could win the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs if they win and Seattle loses and San Francisco wins. Although the Panthers have been just above .500 (4-3) on the road, Atlanta has not been particularly good at home going 3-4.

Prediction: Carolina wins this one handily to wrap up the NFC South and the #2 seed.

San Francisco 49ers Shot at NFC West Title & #1 seed Last game - @Arizona Cardinals

The 49ers have clinched a playoff berth. They can secure the NFC West and a 1st round bye with a win and a Seattle loss. They could even steal the #1 seed and home field advantage with a win if Seattle loses and Carolina either loses or ties. This game will see San Francisco pit their 5-2 road record against Arizona's 6-1 home record.

Prediction: The 49ers win this one but end up in the #5 seed and send the Cardinals home for the playoffs.

STILL FIGHTING

Philadelphia Eagles Shot at NFC East Title & #3 seed Last game - @Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys Shot at NFC East Title & #3 seed Last game - @Philadelphia Eagles

These two teams are lumped together for a very simple reason: the winner takes the NFC East and moves into the playoffs, the loser goes home. Philadelphia has one advantage -- they would advance if the game ends in a tie. The winner will hold the #3 seed. This should be a hard-fought game. Dallas is 5-2 on the road while Philadelphia is 5-2 at home. The Eagles has won 6 of their last 7 games while the Cowboys have gone 4-3 in that same span.

Prediction: The Eagles take this one to win the #3 seed.

Chicago Bears Shot at NFC North Title & #4 seed Last game - Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers Shot at NFC North Title & #4 seed Last game - @Chicago Bears

Like the Dallas-Philadelphia match, this one is also a winner-takes-all. The winner gets the NFC North and the #4 seed. The loser gets to watch the playoffs on television. Green Bay has only gone 3-4 on the road while Chicago has gone 5-2 at home, so the advantage would appear to rest with the Bears. However, Chicago has lost 3 of their last 5 games, the most recent being a 54-11 pasting in Week 16. The Packers have gone 2-2-1 during that same stretch.

Prediction: The return of Aaron Rodgers will give the Pack the lift they need to down the Bears and seize the NFC North and the #4 seed.

Arizona Cardinals Shot at #5 seed Last game - San Francisco 49ers

The Cardinals have a shot, if they defeat the 49ers and New Orleans either loses or ties its last game. Arizona could squeak in with a tie, if New Orleans loses. This should be a tough game for both teams. Arizona is 6-1 at home, has won three straight and 7 of their last 8 games. San Francisco is 5-2 on the road, has won five straight and 6 of their last 8 games.

Prediction: The Cardinals will lose a close one to the 49ers and miss out on the playoffs.

New Orleans Saints Shot at NFC South Title & a 1st round bye Last game - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Saints have a number of options for getting into the playoffs. The easiest would be to simply beat Tampa Bay in Week 17. New Orleans could also get in with a tie -- since that would require either San Francisco or Arizona to lose or tie, which will happen since those two teams play each other in Week 17. They could get in with a loss if Arizona also loses. Strangely enough, the Saints could clinch the NFC South and a 1st round bye if they win and Carolina drops their last game. That said, the Saints are 7-0 at home while the Buccaneers are 1-6 on the road.

Prediction: This one should be a no-brainer with New Orleans winning easily to take the final NFC playoff spot.

The Water Cooler Quarterbacks wish you a great week of football.

Go Broncos!!!

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