The Houston Texans are gearing up to host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday in the final week of the 2011 NFL regular season. They'll head into that game knowing that their position in the postseason seeding is set and secure, whether they win or lose in Week 17.
The Texans hold a 10-5 record and although the Pittsburgh Steelers have 11 wins, Houston has already clinched the AFC South. The division champions automatically clinch the top four seeds, in order of wins, so the Steelers will have to settle for the No. 5 seed due to missing out on their division title.
The only real question remaining for the Texans is who they will be facing in the opening round of the AFC playoffs. Right now, the Cincinnati Bengals hold a 9-6 record, which currently has them holding the No. 6 seed slot, but there are four other teams holding 8-7 records and very much in the hunt for a postseason berth. A Bengals win would result in a clinch of the No. 6 seed, which would have them facing the Texans in the opening round. Of course, a Bengals win may be easier said than done, as they'll be facing a tough Baltimore Ravens team. (The Ravens, by the way, are the No. 2 seed and the AFC North champs.)
A Bengals loss in Week 17 paired with any amount of wins by the other teams in the hunt is where the situation gets more interesting. Currently, the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders are both 8-7 and are duking it out for the AFC West and inherent No. 4 seed. The Raiders need a win in conjunction with a Broncos loss to take the West. The Texans will have an opportunity to play a spoiler of sorts, as the Tennessee Titans have an 8-7 record and hold tiebreak advantage over the 8-7 New York Jets. Long story short, the Texans could possibly face one of five different teams in the opening round of playoffs. Here are the different possibilities.
The Texans will play the Bengals in the opening round if the Bengals defeat the Ravens; if the Jets, Raiders and Broncos lose; if the Jets and Raiders lose; if the Jets and Broncos lose and Oakland defeats the San Diego Chargers.
The Texans will play the New York Jets if the Bengals, Raiders, Broncos and Titans all lose in Week 17; if the Bengals, Titans and Raiders lose (the Jets hold tiebreak advantage over Cincinnati based on conference win percentage); if the Bengals, Titans and Broncos lose and Oakland gets a win. All of these scenarios require a Jets victory over Miami.
The Titans hold a tiebreak over the Jets, so they will also need a win over Houston on Sunday for any of the following scenarios to be applicable. The Texans will play the Titans in the opening round of playoffs if the Bengals, Raiders, Jets and Broncos lose; if the Bengals and Raiders lose and the Jets win; if the Bengals and Broncos lose and the Jets win; if the Bengals and Jets lose and the Raiders and Broncos both win
The Texans will play the Raiders if the Raiders win and the Bengals and Titans both lose, or if the Raiders win, the Jets win and the Bengals lose. The Raiders hold tiebreak over both the Bengals and the Titans.
As you can see, it's an exciting chase into the final week, as any combination of wins and losses has significant playoff ramifications.
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