The battle for the NFL home-field advantage and a play-off spot isn't just hot. It's red hot.
The Patriots and Broncos are battling it out for No.1 in the AFC; Seattle's hoping not to muck up the No.1 position in the NFC; and aside for a couple of positions already solidified in the AFC, it's all crazy from here.
Alex Ferguson looks at the schedules of the teams competing for home-field advantage in the play-offs, grading the difficulty of their schedule, with 'A' being the most difficult...
The race for home-field advantage
Upcoming: Arizona (h), St Louis (h)
NEW ORLEANS (10-4)
Upcoming: Carolina (a), Tampa Bay (h)
ALEX'S PICK: Seattle haven't lost all season at home, and have only struggled once. They may struggle again with Arizona battling for their life to stay in the NFC play-off hunt. And New Orleans, who have lost three on the road this season, haven't been great on the road, and could well slip up in Charlotte. So we're going for Seattle, with New Orleans managing to keep the second seed, but only just.
DENVER (Current record: 11-3)
Upcoming: Houston (a), Oakland (a)
NEW ENGLAND (10-4)
Upcoming: Baltimore (a), Buffalo (h)
KANSAS CITY (11-3)
Upcoming: Indianapolis (h), San Diego (a)
ALEX'S PICK:Denver have got the easiest schedule, so should clinch home field advantage. New England are going on the road to a Baltimore team that's won four in a row and five in the last six and without superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski, while Kansas City play an upset-minded Indianapolis (who won the AFC South in Week 14) and a San Diego team (who beat Denver on the road last week) that may still be alive for a play-off place come the last day of the season. We think New England get the No.2 seed, giving them home field advantage until the AFC Championship Game with Denver.
The battle for 3-6
Upcoming: Chicago (h), Dallas (a)
Upcoming: Philadelphia (a), Green Bay (h)
Upcoming: New Orleans (h), Atlanta (a)
SAN FRANCISCO (10-4)
Upcoming: Atlanta (h), Arizona (a)
Upcoming: Seattle (a), San Francisco (h)
GREEN BAY (7-6-1)
Upcoming: Pittsburgh (h), Chicago (a) - GRADE: B-
Upcoming: NY Giants (h), Minnesota (a)
Upcoming: Washington (a), Philadelphia (h)
STATE OF PLAY: There are an astonishing 10 teams going for six spots in the NFL play-offs. If you go by degree of difficulty, Philadelphia and Arizona both have horrible run-ins. Dallas' road trip to Washington should be a win, leaving EVERYTHING for the Philly versus Dallas game on the final day of the season. Detroit have a pretty easy-looking run, but their loss on Monday against Baltimore has effectively meant Lions fans are praying for Green Bay and Carolina losses. Carolina's home match against New Orleans and away trip to Atlanta suddenly becomes must-see viewing.
ALEX'S PICK: I reckon Dallas get in by virtue of winning the NFC East, while Philadelphia go home. Carolina qualify second in the AFC East. Chicago will win the NFC East by beating Green Bay at home on the last day of the season, breaking Packers' fans hearts. San Francisco will qualify for the play-offs thanks to an Arizona loss at Seattle (who have already clinched a play-off spot) next week, but also the win over Atlanta will help matters.
AFC (INDIANAPOLIS have already clinched the AFC South title. KANSAS CITY have clinched a play-off berth)
Upcoming: Minnesota (h), Baltimore (h)
Upcoming: New England (h), Cincinnati (a)
Upcoming: Buffalo (a), New York Jets (h)
SAN DIEGO (7-7)
Upcoming: Oakland (h), Kansas City (h)
Upcoming: Green Bay (a), Cleveland (h)
ALEX'S PICK:Pittsburgh will be out of play-off contention when they lose at Green Bay next week, but their major rival Baltimore have got a serious line-up with New England (who'll still be fighting for the home field advantage spot) and Cincinnati on the road (which is tough anyway). That's why we're taking Cincinnati to come through the AFC North after beating Minnesota (eliminated) and Baltimore (in a battle). But Baltimore or Miami? Baltimore beat Miami 26-23 in Week 5, but the Ravens could well go 0-2,while Miami have GOT to be favourites in trips to Buffalo and home to New York. We're taking Miami to qualify as the second-placed team behind the Jets. Sorry, Baltimore. And San Diego? They could well beat Oakland and resting-for-play-offs Kansas City, but they won't get in. Their 20-16 Week 11 loss to the 'Fins will hurt. A lot.
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