And yes, the sole purpose of that first sentence is to use the word 'penultimate'.
So today, we get ready for our Saturday night Lions beating, wrap presents or set our fantasy football championship lineups, let's take a look at our likely playoff teams.
The Cast of Playoffs 2012 So Far
The Falcons, Packers, Texans, Broncos and Patriots have all won their division titles and are, of course, locked into a playoff spot.
The 49ers and Ravens are locked into a playoff spot but might lose the division title.
The first round byes are still up for grabs, but could be decided by the end of Sunday if Atlanta and Houston win and either the Broncos or Patriots lose in the AFC or the Niners or Packers lose in the NFC.
More than likely, we'll still have all four bye week spots up for grabs next week.
Homefield will probably go Atlanta but Houston's hold is more tenuous. I can see them winning out, but a slip and Denver can sneak in, while a pratfall could see both Denver and New England jump in.
Over at the NFC again, Washington is in right now and can clinch if they win and the Giants, Vikings and Bears all lose. More than likely this comes down to Week 17 and it's possible that they can miss the playoffs still. The NFC East title will come down to Week 17 as well and with games against Dallas and Philadelphia to finish things out, they have their destiny in their hands.
San Francisco can still miss the playoffs if they lose the next two games. They have a very tough game in Seattle but if they win (or tie, because SF loves ties) and the Packers lose or tie, they clinch the division and a first round bye. If the Niners lose, they need the Packers to lose, but if they tie, a tie or loss by Green Bay will do it
The Packers need to win out to clinch a bye, along with San Fran losing one of the two remaining games because they lost to the 49ers.
Understudies Waiting in the Wings
In the AFC it's pretty simple. As of today, the Colts and Bengals are in. If the Colts win, they're in. They cannot overtake Houston so they will be a wild card assuming they don't completely collapse and lose the next two games. Which slot they get depends on if they win one or two games and what the folks below them do.
The Bengals have a more tenuous grip but they also could win the division. That likely comes down to the final week when they play the Ravens at home in Week 17. They have a very rough game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh this week and losing that game could knock them out of the playoffs, at least for a week.
If Cincy wins though, they are in.
Over at the NFC, things are messier.
Currently the two teams in are Seattle and Minnesota. The Seahawks are in with a win over San Francisco (a very likely scenario actually though no sure thing), which would also keep them alive for the division title.
They can also clinch if *takes deep breath* -
Bears and Vikings lose, plus Dallas loses or ties and Washington ties OR if Seattle ties, the Giants lose, the Bears or tie OR the Seahawks tie, the Giants lose, the Vikings lose or tie OR Seahawks tie, and the Vikings/Bears lose or tie OR the Hawks tie and the Cowboys and Redskins lose and the Bears lose/tie OR the Hawks tie, Cowboys and Redskins lose and the Vikings lose/tie OR if the Bears, Minnesota and Redskins all lose.
And if you think that's nuts, here come the Vikings.
The Vikings can't clinch without a ton of help.
If they win their next two games (against Houston and Green Bay) they still need the Seahawks to lose their next two games (against the Niners and Rams so, 50-50 shot), or the Giants to lose one of it's two final games (against the Ravens and Eagles, a much more likely scenario).
It's not an easy task, with the Texans a tough out at home and the Packers likely playing for a bye.
If both the Hawks and Giants lose, the Bears could slide into the final spot as well (but I'm getting ahead of myself by a section).
If the Vikings win one of the next two games they would need every team below them (Bears, Cowboys, Giants, Rams and Saints) to lose one of their two last games.
What if the Vikings lose both of their last games (entirely possible)?
They can still make it in, believe it or not.
Dallas, Chicago and New York would all have to lose both of their last games, and as Dallas and Washington play in Week 17, the Redskins would have to win. If Dallas wins, they win the east and the Redskins jump into the sixth seed. The Rams would also need to lose one of their last two games.
The key to the Vikings make it in with two losses in a row is for the Giants and Bears to do likewise. The Giants have a slightly more obvious stumble in the Ravens and we can assume that Philly will play them tough. It's hard to imagine the Bears losing to the Cardinals, but the same could be said of Detroit. Of course, the Lions should be an easy win for Chicago as well.
So basically the Vikings need to win one of their next two games or start lighting candles in church and praying.
Stuck in the Chorus
Well, so you can sort a lot of this out from reading the above.
The Steelers are most likely to slip in, as they can beat the Bengals and probably end Cincy's run. The ycould even slip into the division title if the Ravens lose to the Giants and Bengals and the Steelers beat the Bengals this week.
Miami needs to win both it's last games (a tall order with New England in Week 17). They must then have the Bengals lose both their games (Steelers and Ravens, so very possible). After that, they've got to have the Steelers lose to the Browns in Week 17 (not insane, but sketchy).
Here's the fun part: they need the Jets to lose either to San Diego or Buffalo. While the Jets are out of the playoff picture, they can still finish 8-8, and they hold the tiebreaker in common opponents so they would hold the edge over Miami and send them home.
And that's a lot of stuff which could be irrelevant as of Sunday night when some piece of the Jenga puzzle has collapsed.
So that's it for now. This will change, perhaps radically, by Monday morning. That said, Week 17 looks like it will have a ton of critical divisional games being played and should be a terribly exciting week of football.
This week looks just as good though.
I'm sure I've missed something somewhere, so let me know if I did in the comments. It's a lot to track so and the NFL.com and ESPN playoff generators only do so much.
Plus my brain may have melted considering the Seattle scenarios.