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NFL Playoff Picture: Road To Dallas Goes Through Foxboro, Atlanta

The Patriots and Falcons hold the inside track for homefield advantage in the playoffs.

ARLINGTON TX - DECEMBER 19:  A general view as the sun sets over Cowboys Stadium on December 19 2010 in Arlington Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON TX - DECEMBER 19: A general view as the sun sets over Cowboys Stadium on December 19 2010 in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Week 15 is officially in the books and the playoff picture is beginning to clarify in both the AFC and NFC. So far, only four teams have clinched playoff spots officially: the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons and the Chicago Bears. The Bears are the only team to have officially clinched their division - but the Patriots will be right along with them shortly. 

Tom Brady and the Patriots will clinch not only the AFC East but the No. 1 seed and home-field in the AFC with their next win. New England heads to Buffalo this Sunday and the Patriots should put things away then. 

Elsewhere in the AFC, the Steelers are currently in line to hold the No. 2 seed - and hold their own destiny. They're tied with the Ravens at 10-4, but based on a better division record, the Steelers hold the inside edge to the AFC North title and first round bye. Pittsburgh hosts an anemic Carolina team on Sunday before wrapping up the season in Cleveland - so things are looking good for the Steelers to wrap up the second seed. 

The surprising Kansas City Chiefs hold the third seed - sitting atop the AFC West with a 9-5 record. The Chiefs are only one game up on the Chargers - so Kansas City needs to make sure they take care of business. They host the Titans and Raiders to close out the season. Conversely, the Chargers will be on the road for their last two games - in Cincinnati against the Bengals and in Denver against Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

The Colts, as expected, took the reins of the AFC South on Sunday with their win over the Jaguars. The Colts currently hold the four seed - and control their own destiny. Indy heads out to Oakland before hosting the Titans in Week 17 to wrap up the season. Jacksonville will need the Colts to falter - the Colts hold the better-record-against-common-opponents tiebreaker over them. The Jags will host Washington before headed to Houston to wrap up the season.

The Ravens and Jets both hold the wild card spots in the AFC - and both are likely going to the playoffs, barring an epic collapse. Baltimore can still overtake the Steelers for the AFC North crown - but they'd need the Steelers to falter against Carolina or Cleveland. The Ravens will head to Cleveland themselves in Week 16 before hosting the Bengals in Week 17. 

Rex Ryan's guts Jets will head to Chicago to take on the NFC North champion Bears before headed back to the New Meadowlands Stadium to host the Bills in Week 17. The Jets are likely going to be the 6th seed - unless the Ravens falter. They both sit at 10-4, but the Ravens defeated the Jets in Week 1 on Monday Night Football by a 10-9 score. 

While things are pretty clear in AFC - the NFC is another matter.

The Atlanta Falcons are currently sitting pretty at 12-2, first place in the NFC South and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Falcons will host the Saints next Monday night - and even if they lose, they'd just have to beat the Panthers in Week 17 to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. 

This is where things start to get a bit murky. The Bears have clinched a playoff spot - and both Chicago and Philadelphia have a 10-4 record. The Bears (somehow) beat the Eagles this year, so Chicago holds the tiebreaker over the Eagles and thus have the inside track on the bye week. The Bears, however, have a much more difficult schedule remaining. Jay Cutler and the Bears will play host to the Jets in Week 16 before headed to Green Bay in Week 17 to take on a possibly desperate Packers team. The Eagles, meanwhile, host the Vikings and Cowboys to wrap up their regular season.

The fourth seed in the NFC, of course, will be coming from the red-headed step child division of the entire NFL. The 6-8 St. Louis Rams are currently on track to host a playoff game - as they lead the NFC West by virtue of a head-to-head win over the Seahawks earlier this year. The Rams will host a 5-9 49ers team that still has a chance to make the playoffs in Week 16 before headed to Seattle in Week 17. Seattle, meanwhile, will head to Tampa Bay in Week 16 before hosting the Rams in Week 17. 

The Saints are almost certainly going to be the fifth seed in the NFC - they're a game up on the New York Football Giants for the fifth seed - and, well, they're better than the G-men. The Saints, however, do have a difficult schedule remaining. Drew Brees and co. will head to Atlanta in Week 16 before hosting the Buccaneers in Week 17. The Saints just need to win one of those games to lock up a Wild Card berth.

The final spot in the NFC is up for grabs. The Giants currently hold it with a 9-5 record, but the Packers and Bucs are sitting right behind them at 8-6. Tom Coughlin will take his Giants to Lambeau Field on Sunday to take on the 8-6 Packers. If Green Bay wins, they'll immediately overtake the Giants for the sixth seed: they'll both be 9-6, but Green Bay will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Big Blue. If the Giants win, Green Bay is eliminated from playoff contention. The Giants will head to Washington in Week 17 while the Packers host the Bears.

Tampa Bay may have cost themselves a spot in the playoffs with their home loss to the Lions on Sunday. They host the Seahawks before headed to New Orleans to take on the Saints in Week 17. The Packers hold the tiebreaker over the Bucs thanks to strength of victory. 

If the season ended today, the playoffs would look like this:

AFC - Jets @ Chiefs, Ravens @ Colts - Byes: Patriots, Steelers
NFC - Giants @ Eagles, Saints @ Rams - Byes: Falcons, Bears

As I mentioned earlier, it's very unlikely that the Bears will retain the two seed when Week 17 is said and done. I expect to see the following when we're kicking off Wild Card Weekend:

AFC - Jets @ Chiefs, Ravens @ Colts - Byes: Patriots, Steelers
NFC: - Packers @ Bears, Saints @ Rams - Byes: Falcons, Eagles

Following their implosion to the Eagles, I don't think the Giants are a good bet to head into Green Bay and take out the Packers - and I simply don't think the Bears will win out to hold onto the two seed.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.