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NFL playoff picture 2016: Cardinals clinch NFC West, Seahawks clinch playoff berth

The NFL playoff picture is slowly coming together. The San Francisco 49ers won't be going anywhere near the playoffs this season, but it should be an interesting group of teams this year. We'll be keeping track of the playoffs into January, and so here is how things look following most of Week 15. Monday Night Football features the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions, which has no bearing on the playoff race.

NFC West

The Arizona Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football, and that allowed them to clinch the NFC West. They are also closing in on a first round bye. Arizona is 12-2, putting them two games up on the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers. In an amusing twist, the Cardinals actually host the Packers in Week 16.

The Seattle Seahawks beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 15, and losses by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants allowed the Seahawks to clinch a playoff berth. They are currently tied with the Minnesota Vikings at 9-5. The Vikings won, but did not get all the outside losses they needed to clinch a playoff berth. They are two games up on the Atlanta Falcons with two weeks to go. The Vikings host the Giants in Week 16, while the Falcons host the Carolina Panthers.

Panthers remain unbeaten

The Panthers clinched the NFC South and a bye with their win last week. Their win over the Giants clinched a tie for the best record in the NFC, as they are 14-0, while the Cardinals are 12-2, with two weeks remaining. The Panthers were rolling for most of Sunday, but had to withstand a furious Giants comeback. The Giants trailed 35-7, but fought back to tie the game with less than two minutes remaining. The Panthers kicked a field goal to win the game and remain unbeaten. The Panthers can clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a Week 16 win over the Falcons, or Arizona losing to the Packers.

NFC East getting closer to clarity

The NFC East has gone head-to-head with the AFC South for worst division in the NFL. Washington gained a step on everybody else in Week 15 with a big win over the Buffalo Bills. Washington is now 7-7, a game ahead of the 6-8 Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. In Week 16, the Eagles host Washington, while the Giants travel to Minnesota. In Week 17, Washington travels to face the Dallas Cowboys, while the Giants host the Eagles. Washington can clinch the NFC East with a win over Philadelphia in Week 16.

NFC Standings

1. Carolina Panthers, 14-0
2. Arizona Cardinals, 12-2
3. Green Bay Packers, 10-4
4. Washington, 7-7

5. Seattle Seahawks, 9-5
6. Minnesota Vikings, 9-5

7. Atlanta Falcons, 7-7
Everybody else eliminated

AFC wild card sports are in flux

While the NFC wild card spots are going to Seattle, and likely either Minnesota or Green Bay (with the other winning the division), the AFC wild card spots will likely go down to the wire. The Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New York Jets are all tied at 9-5. The Chiefs are currently in the first wild card spot due to a better conference record than the other two. The Steelers then get the second spot due to better record in common games compared to the Jets. Here is how the final two-week schedule looks for these three teams

Week 16: vs. Browns
Week 17: vs. Raiders

Week 16: @ Ravens
Week 17: @ Browns

Week 16: vs. Patriots
Week 17: @ Bills

AFC South is a mess

Much like the NFC East, we are looking at a potential .500 team winning the division. The Houston Texans edged out the Indianapolis Colts 16-10, and took a one-game lead in the division. The Texans can win the division in Week 16 with a win and a Colts loss. The final two weeks look like this for these two teams:

Week 16: @ Titans
Week 17: vs. Jaguars

Week 16: @ Dolphins
Week 17: vs. Titans

Top seed remains up for grabs

While the Panthers seem all but certain to clinch the top seed in the NFC, the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals are dueling for the top seed in the AFC. The Patriots will clinch home field throughout the AFC playoffs with a Week 16 road win over the New York Jets. The Bengals clinch the AFC North and a bye with a Week 16 road win over the Denver Broncos. They clinch the AFC North but no bye with a loss and a Steelers loss.

AFC standings

1. New England Patriots, 12-2
2. Cincinnati Bengals, 11-3
3. Denver Broncos, 10-4
4. Houston Texans, 7-7

5. Kansas City Chiefs, 9-5
6. Pittsburgh Steelers, 9-5

7. New York Jets, 9-5
Everybody else eliminated