With 18 games to go, NFL playoff scenarios coming into focus

AP

Eighteen games remain in the 2011 NFL season: Bears-Packers tonight, Falcons-Saints tomorrow and 16 games on New Year’s Day. Here’s a rundown of how each team still in contention can have its playoff position affected by the results of those 18 games:

Patriots: Clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by beating Buffalo or by having both the Ravens and Steelers lose.

Ravens: Clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye with a win or a Steelers loss. Clinch home-field advantage with a win and a Patriots loss.

Steelers: Clinch the AFC North with a win and a Ravens loss. Clinch home-field advantage with a win, a Ravens loss and a Patriots loss.

Texans: Locked into the AFC No. 3 seed. Week 17 is meaningless to Houston, and the Texans may rest many of their key players.

Broncos: Clinch the AFC West and the No. 4 seed by beating the Chiefs, or a Raiders loss.

Raiders: Clinch the AFC West and the No. 4 seed by beating the Chargers and a Broncos loss. If the Broncos win, the Raiders can still get a wild card if they win and the Bengals lose, plus either the Titans lose or the Jets win.

Bengals: Clinch a playoff spot and the No. 6 seed if they win, or if the Jets lose and either the Raiders or Broncos lose.

Jets: Get the No. 6 seed if they win and the Bengals and Titans and either the Raiders or Broncos lose.

Titans: Get the No. 6 seed if they win and the Bengals lose, plus either the Jets win and the Broncos or Raiders lose, or the Jets lose and the Broncos and Raiders both win.

Packers: Clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs if they beat either the Bears tonight or the Lions next week, or if the 49ers lose next week.

49ers: Clinch a first-round bye with a win next week or the Saints losing either on Monday night or next week. The 49ers can still get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they win and the Packers lose to both the Bears and the Lions.

Saints: Clinch the NFC South if they win either of their two remaining games, and they could even clinch the NFC South if they lose both of their remaining games, if the Falcons lose in Week 17. The Saints can’t get home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, but they can get a first-round bye if they win both their remaining games and the 49ers lose next week.

Cowboys/Giants: Next Sunday night’s game is essentially a playoff game: The Cowboys-Giants winner wins the NFC East and is the No. 4 seed, while the loser’s season is over. If the game ends in a tie, the Giants win the division.

Falcons: The Falcons can clinch a playoff spot tonight by the Packers beating the Bears. They need just one more win or one more Chicago loss to get to the playoffs. They could still win the NFC South, but only if they beat the Saints Monday night and win next week, plus the Saints lose next week.

Lions: Detroit is an NFC wild card. Whether they’re the No. 5 or No. 6 seed depends on the results of their own game with the Packers and the Falcons’ remaining games.

Bears: Chicago can still make the playoffs, but only if they win both their remaining games and the Falcons lose both their remaining games.