NFL Playoff Picture 2021: Updated AFC, NFC Standings After Week 16 SNF

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 26, 2021

Houston Texans cornerback Tavierre Thomas (37) returns an interception for a touchdown as Los Angeles Chargers' Storm Norton tries to tackle him during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Justin Rex)
AP Photo/Justin Rex

The NFL is separating the wheat from the chaff in the race for the playoffs.

Entering Sunday, only two teams were guaranteed a playoff berth. The Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC North in Week 15, while the Dallas Cowboys would at least be a wild-card team thanks to the San Francisco 49ers' loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday.

But there were plenty of playoff permutations that could be fulfilled by Sunday's results.

Here's how things stand following the day's action

AFC Standings

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4); clinched AFC West
  2. Tennessee Titans (10-5)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
  4. Buffalo Bills (9-6)
  5. Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
  6. New England Patriots (9-6)
  7. Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
  8. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)
  9. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7)
  10. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1)
  11. Miami Dolphins (7-7)
  12. Cleveland Browns (7-8)
  13. Denver Broncos (7-8)
  14. New York Jets (4-11); eliminated
  15. Houston Texans (4-11); eliminated
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13); eliminated

NFC Standings

  1. Green Bay Packers (12-3); clinched NFC North
  2. Dallas Cowboys (11-4); clinched NFC East
  3. Los Angeles Rams (11-4); clinched playoff berth
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4); clinched NFC South
  5. Arizona Cardinals (10-5); clinched playoff berth
  6. San Francisco 49ers (8-7)
  7. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)
  8. New Orleans Saints (7-7)
  9. Minnesota Vikings (7-8)
  10. Atlanta Falcons (7-8)
  11. Washington Football Team (6-9)
  12. Carolina Panthers (5-10); eliminated
  13. Chicago Bears (5-10); eliminated
  14. Seattle Seahawks (5-10); eliminated
  15. New York Giants (4-11); eliminated
  16. Detroit Lions (2-12-1); eliminated

With nothing else to play for this season, the Houston Texans fully relished their spoiler role against the Los Angeles Chargers, pulling off a 41-29 upset. Tavierre Thomas put the finishing touches on the win with a pick-six inside the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.


TEXANS PICK-6 🔥 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreTexans?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreTexans</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LACvsHOU?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LACvsHOU</a> on CBS<br>📱: NFL app <a href="https://t.co/L93BH0CCS9">pic.twitter.com/L93BH0CCS9</a>

Los Angeles' defeat, paired with the Kansas City Chiefs' victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, allowed Patrick Mahomes and Co. to secure their sixth straight AFC West title. By ceding ground to the Chiefs and falling behind their wild-card rivals, the Chargers might be the biggest losers from Sunday.

🎄☃️Walking in a Der-Winter Wonderland☃️🎄 @ZoneTracks

In a week where the Chargers faced the 3-11 Texans to help reinforce their standings in the playoff race, they lose by double-digits as the Bills, Colts, and Bengals all win games against other playoff-bound teams.

Elsewhere in the AFC, the Buffalo Bills shut the door on the New England Patriots claiming the AFC East crown in Week 16.

The Pats could've restored order within the division with a victory over the Bills and a loss or tie by the Miami Dolphins on Monday night. Buffalo blocked the first part of that formula from happening.

In doing so, the Bills also jumped into the top spot in the AFC East thanks to their 4-1 record inside the division.

#RingerNFL @ringernfl

The Bills go in to Foxborough and beat the Patriots to retake control of the AFC East! <a href="https://t.co/l49ILBen7Q">pic.twitter.com/l49ILBen7Q</a>

The Arizona Cardinals had something to celebrate one day after a dispiriting 22-16 defeat to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers were both on the losing end in Week 16, which cleared Arizona's path to the postseason.

Arizona Cardinals @AZCardinals

We have clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2015. <a href="https://t.co/114WNetqKO">pic.twitter.com/114WNetqKO</a>

The good news couldn't have come at a better time for the Cardinals, who are on a three-game losing streak. Their recent swoon mirrors their second half in 2020, raising concerns that history is repeating itself.

John Breech @johnbreech

Arizona might want to petition the NFL to get rid of the bye week. <br><br>Since the start of the 2020 season: Cardinals are 14-4 (.778) before the bye, but now just 4-9 (.308) after the bye. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Cardinals?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Cardinals</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Colts?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Colts</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ByeByeBye?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ByeByeBye</a>

Making the playoffs for the first time since 2015 represents progress under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, but this is a franchise with Super Bowl aspirations.

A Wild Card Round exit would be a bitter pill to swallow after a 10-2 start seemed to justify Arizona's status as a title contender.