Breaking down Pats' playoff scenarios

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
8:00
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Brady-ManningStew Milne/US PresswireWill Tom Brady's Patriots or Peyton Manning's Broncos leapfrog the Texans for the AFC's top seed?
Just one game remains for the Patriots in the 2012 regular season, but a variety of playoff possibilities still exists for the team. Depending on how Week 17 shakes out, the Patriots could end up anywhere from the first to the fourth overall seed in the AFC.

Here's an overview of how each of those seeds could come about, as well as when the Patriots would next play and against whom.

First, a look at the current AFC standings and Week 17 opponents for each of the six playoff teams.

Division winners
1. Houston (12-3, clinched AFC South; at Indianapolis, 1 p.m. ET)
2. Denver (12-3, clinched AFC West; vs. Kansas City, 4:25 p.m. ET)
3. New England (11-4, clinched AFC East; vs. Miami, 4:25 p.m. ET)
4. Baltimore (10-5, clinched AFC North; at Cincinnati, 1 p.m. ET)
Wild-card teams
5. Indianapolis (10-5, clinched fifth seed; vs. Houston, 1 p.m. ET)
6. Cincinnati (9-6, clinched sixth seed; vs. Baltimore, 1 p.m. ET)

The Patriots clinch the 1st seed in the AFC with: A win + Houston loss + Denver loss
First playoff game would be: At home during the divisional-round weekend (Jan. 12-13, time TBD)
First playoff opponent would be: The lowest remaining seed among the four teams that play during the wild-card weekend (Baltimore, Indianapolis or Cincinnati)

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The Patriots clinch the 2nd seed with: A win + Houston loss/Denver win OR a win + Denver loss/Houston win
First playoff game would be: At home during the divisional-round weekend (Jan. 12-13, time TBD)
First playoff opponent would be: The highest remaining seed among the four teams that play during the wild-card weekend (either Houston/Denver, Baltimore or Indianapolis)

The Patriots clinch the 3rd seed with: A win + Houston win + Denver win OR a loss + Baltimore loss
First playoff game would be: At home during the wild-card weekend (Jan. 5-6, time TBD)
First playoff opponent would be: Cincinnati

The Patriots clinch the 4th seed with: A loss + Baltimore win
First playoff game would be: At home during the wild-card weekend (Jan. 5-6, time TBD)
First playoff opponent would be: Indianapolis

By the time the Patriots take the field Sunday, part of this equation will be accounted for, as both Houston and Baltimore would have finished their games. If Baltimore loses, the Patriots will kick off knowing that they will be at worst the third overall seed. If Houston loses, the Patriots will kick off knowing that a win will clinch a top-two seed and a first-round bye.

With so many variables in play, Week 17 has shaped up to be an exciting conclusion to the regular season.
Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.

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