By the time we hit Week 17 in the NFL, the playoff picture had started to take solid shape in both conferences.
The picture in the NFC was a pretty sure thing by the time the Week 17 games kicked off. The sole exception was the matchup between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys where the winner would get the fourth seed and the loser would sit out the playoffs.
The AFC, on the other hand, was a much more complicated scenario. There were teams who could lose and still make it—but only if other teams lost as well. There were teams who could win, but still sit out the playoffs depending on what happened around the rest of the conference.
For the casual NFL fan, the convoluted what-if scenarios can be a little bit too much to keep up with. That’s why we’re here to do the legwork for you, and to let you know who’s in, who’s out and why.
Before we get into who’s in now, let’s quickly review who was already in when we headed into the Week 17 games. Here are the teams who had already locked in playoff berths by the end of Week 16:
Now that we know who was guaranteed to be in, it’s time to take a look at the rest of the pack.
The Dallas Cowboys needed to get a win on Sunday Night Football to be playoff-bound. They faced off against division-rival New York Giants in a game that would prove once and for all who deserved to host the No. 5-seeded Atlanta Falcons in the Wild Card Round.
The Cowboys faltered, losing to the Giants 31-14. Their season is officially over.
After coming away with their first winning season since 2008, the Tennessee Titans have a lot of positive momentum to take forward into the offseason.
Of course, the key word is offseason.
Despite winning their final game of the season against the playoff-bound Houston Texans, the Titans were knocked out of playoff contention on a tiebreaker hours later when Kansas City beat the Denver Broncos.
Even though they’ll miss the postseason, the Titans go into the offseason on a hugely positive note. They managed to put together their first winning season in several years.
In order to make the playoffs, the New York Jets needed to beat the lackluster Miami Dolphins on Sunday. With a win and a little bit of help from around the AFC, the Jets were in. If they lost to the Dolphins, their season was over no matter what.
They lost to the Dolphins, 19-17.
With that, the Jets joined the other teams who will watch the postseason from the comfort of their homes. As a side note, the Jets players are reportedly not handling the loss well at all, which doesn’t do much to generate pity from around the rest of the NFL.
The Oakland Raiders had the AFC West gift-wrapped for them by the Kansas City Chiefs. All they had to do was beat the San Diego Chargers to make it into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
At the end of the day, the Chargers came away with a 38-26 win in a game where their only incentive was to play spoiler.
Truly, the Raiders didn’t play the game like a team with a potential playoff berth on the line. They were sloppy and unmotivated, looking at times as though they had nothing at all to play for.
The road to the playoffs couldn’t have been easier for the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17: win and you’re in.
With losses by the New York Jets, the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos, however, the Bengals received an unexpected late Christmas gift: the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.
They will travel to Houston to take on the No. 3-seeded Texans Saturday.
Like the Cincinnati Bengals, the Denver Broncos had full control of their playoff fate. They also lost their final, crucial game of the season.
Thanks to a loss by the Oakland Raiders, they made it into the playoffs anyway. Tim Tebow will have the opportunity to see if he can work some magic against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon.
Despite being plagued by injury this season, the New York Giants proved quite decisively that they were the better team against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, charging to a 31-14 victory.
They were rewarded for that prowess with the No. 4 seed in the NFC and a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
The Giants will square off against the Atlanta Falcons during the early game on Sunday.