Each week, SiriusXM NFL Radio’s hosts vote on the top six teams in both the NFC and AFC. This week’s voters include James Lofton, Bruce Murray, Alex Marvez, Bill Polian, Maurice Jones-Drew, Gil Brandt, Jim Miller, Pat Kirwan, The Opening Drive, other NFL Radio hosts, Brian Lauvray and Bobby Bonett.
All channel listings subject to change.
1. Arizona Cardinals (13-2)
Week 17 opponent: vs Seattle Seahawks, Sunday 4:25 pm ET (XM channel 229, Sirius channel 81, Internet channel 800)
Here are the point differentials for the NFC’s top two teams:
Team A point differential: +206
Team B point differential: +164
You might be surprised to know that Team B is Carolina and not Arizona. Thanks to the “unbeaten” narrative wave that Carolina had been riding this season, ‘Zona had been a second banana in the NFC through no fault of their own. That time has come and gone. The Cardinals, after weeks of painfully pressing against the glass dome (designed to contain the beast within), broke free and absolutely demolished a none too shabby Green Bay team in their national quinceañera. While the Packers have problems (no wide receivers, no running backs, a defense that’s somehow gotten worse this season) they had largely kept things afloat due to Aaron Rodgers. That was until they ran into that red beast in the desert. With an overall No. 1 seed at stake thanks to Carolina’s loss to Atlanta, look for the Cardinals to come out swinging at home against Seattle on Sunday.
2. Carolina Panthers (14-1)
Week 17 opponent: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday 4:25 pm ET (XM channel 231, Sirius channel 119, Internet channel 804)
One loss doesn’t make or break Carolina’s season. The Panthers, like the group of professionals that they are, need to revisit the problems they encountered moving the ball after their impressive 11-play opening drive, and fix those issues. It bears repeating that if weren’t for the untimely Cam fumble in the waning moments of the game, this could have easily been another Panther victory. In any case, Cam should still win MVP, Josh Norman should still win Defensive Player of the Year and if Carolina takes care of business against Tampa, the NFC crown will be going through Charlotte regardless of whether Arizona beats Seattle on Sunday.
3. Minnesota Vikings (10-5)
Week 17 opponent: @ Green Bay Packers, Sunday 8:25 pm ET (XM channel 225, Sirius channel 83, Internet channel 817)
In what was arguably their most complete game of the season, Minnesota scored touchdowns through the air, on the ground and also got one from their defense in their annihilation of the Giants on Sunday. Toss in five field goals from Blair Walsh and yeah, the Vikings look like a legit threat to Green Bay’s stranglehold on the NFC North. Sunday night’s for all the marbles in Lambeau, and with a win they’ll be facing Seattle at home. If they lose, they’ll be right back in Green Bay, Wisc., the following weekend, and everyone will be talking about the time Joe Webb played against Green Bay in the playoffs in the 2012-13 season.
4. Seattle Seahawks (9-6)
Week 17 opponent: @ Arizona Cardinals, Sunday 4:25 pm ET (SiriusXM channel 82, Internet channel 826)
With their home loss to the seemingly “always rugged against Seattle” St. Louis Rams, the ‘Hawks can only get the fifth seed if they beat Arizona and if Minnesota loses to Green Bay. In that scenario, Seattle travels across the country to Washington in the wild-card round. In any other scenario, the Seahawks will travel to either Green Bay or the Twin Cities as the sixth seed. SB Nation’s Field Gulls has the possibilities broken down in a handy chart.
5. Washington (8-7)
Week 17 opponent: @ Dallas Cowboys, Sunday 1 pm ET (XM channel 227, Sirius channel 146, Internet channel 831)
Washington’s divisional title and subsequent home playoff game is reminiscent of the aforementioned Seahawks’ “Beast Quake” win against the New Orleans Saints five years ago. However, this Washington team is not the 2010-11 Seahawks, and they more or less won one of the worst divisions in NFL history by default. Still, in a single-game elimination playoff, weirder things have happened, and Kirk Cousins is currently playing at an unreal level. Cousins has put together a remarkable season by any measure, and with a home game in D.C., not a single team that Washington will face should take this team (or quarterback) lightly.
6. Green Bay Packers (10-5)
Week 17 opponent: vs Minnesota Vikings, Sunday 8:25 pm ET (XM channel 226, Sirius channel 93, Internet channel 811)
What do you do if you have brick-handed receivers who can’t create space, running backs that are stuck in quicksand and a defense that’s regressing? Aaron Rodgers could weep openly at the smoldering despair that’s engulfed this team and yet he’s endured. However far this team goes in the playoffs, it’ll be carried there by Rodgers.
1. New England Patriots (12-3)
Week 17 opponent: @ Miami Dolphins, Sunday 1:00 pm ET (XM channel 231, Sirius channel 132, Internet channel 818)
Still the one-seed in the AFC, the Patriots can clinch by beating Miami on Sunday, or if Denver somehow slips up against the Chargers. If New England loses and the Broncos win, Denver takes the No. 1 seed. Either way, New England can fall no lower than the second seed, and will have a bye no matter what.
2. Denver Broncos (11-4)
Week 17 opponent: vs San Diego Chargers, Sunday 4:25 pm ET (XM channel 226, Sirius channel 93, Internet channel 809)
If Denver wins and Kansas City wins, Denver takes the AFC West. If Denver loses and KC wins, the Chiefs will win the West. Again, if the Broncos win and New England loses, Denver takes the overall No. 1 seed. In spite of the non-Peyton Peyton Manning earlier this season and Brock Osweiler going through some growing pains recently, Denver’s defense has kept them in nearly every game this season – and that won’t change in the playoffs no matter where Broncos end up.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)
Week 15 opponent: vs Oakland Raiders, Sunday 4:25 pm ET (XM channel 228, Sirius channel 145, Internet channel 802)
Winners now of nine (!!!) games in a row, the Chiefs will likely wind up with the five-seed and play Houston in the wild-card round. If the Chiefs beat Oakland and Denver falls to the Chargers, things will get a little silly. No matter what, Chiefs fans have to be very happy to be rooting for a team that’s healthy at the right time, that’s peaking at the right time and with Alex Smith becoming ever more comfortable with both Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)
Week 17 opponent: vs Baltimore Ravens, Sunday 1:00 pm ET (XM channel 230, Sirius channel 113, Internet channel 806)
Wasting a golden opportunity against Denver on Monday night has to leave the Bengals with an awful aftertaste. Winning or losing to Baltimore does nothing to the Bengals seeding, as they’re the AFC North champs and can’t fall below any of the teams under them. Andy Dalton won’t be back for the wild card, so, have AJ McCarron air it out and get some more reps?
5. New York Jets (10-5)
Week 17 opponent: at Buffalo Bills, Sunday 1:00 pm ET (XM channel 82, Sirius channel 108, Internet channel 803)
Slowing down New England’s vaunted offense for most of the game was impressive enough, but attacking New England’s very good defense with Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall was even more impressive in my opinion. The overtime “whoops” on the part of Belichick is a non-issue – the Jets have strung together more and more complete performances as the season has progressed and, again, Todd Bowles needs to be considered a Coach of the Year candidate in his first full season.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6)
Week 17 opponent: @ Cleveland Browns Sunday 1:00 pm ET (XM channel 228, Sirius channel 137, Internet channel 824)
Currently looking in from the outside at the playoffs, Pittsburgh has to feel even worse about losing to Baltimore than the Bengals do about dropping one to Denver. The Steelers were in the catbird seat for a wild-card berth for so much of the season, and to lose it in a listless effort to a listless team must sting. Redemption is right around the corner for the Steelers, though! Beat the Browns and hope for a Jets loss, Iron City fans.