NFL Playoff Scenarios 2017-18: AFC, NFC Week 15 Picture, Postseason Predictions

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorDecember 11, 2017

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) works against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/Associated Press

The Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers officially became the first two teams to clinch playoff spots this week, while the New England Patriots can do the same with a Monday Night Football victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Should the Pats win, nine positions would still be left up for grabs with just three weeks to go.

Here's a look at the latest playoff picture, in addition to predictions on how the rest of the regular season will shake out.


AFC Playoff Picture

Division Leaders

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 11-2

2. New England Patriots: 10-2

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: 9-4

4. Kansas City Chiefs: 7-6


Wild Card

5. Tennessee Titans: 8-5

6. Buffalo Bills: 7-6


In the Hunt

7. Baltimore Ravens: 7-6

8. Los Angeles Chargers: 7-6

9. Oakland Raiders: 6-7

10. Miami Dolphins: 5-7


AFC Predictions: Final Win-Loss Records and Seeds

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 14-2

2. New England Patriots: 13-3

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: 12-4

4. Los Angeles Chargers: 10-6

5. Baltimore Ravens: 10-6

6. Buffalo Bills: 9-7


NFC Playoff Picture

Division Leaders

1. Philadelphia Eagles: 11-2

2. Minnesota Vikings: 10-3

3. Los Angeles Rams: 9-4

4. New Orleans Saints: 9-4


Wild Card

5. Carolina Panthers: 9-4

6. Atlanta Falcons: 8-5


In the Hunt

7. Seattle Seahawks: 8-5

8. Detroit Lions: 7-6

9. Green Bay Packers: 7-6

10. Dallas Cowboys: 7-6

11. Arizona Cardinals: 6-7


NFC Predictions: Final Win-Loss Records and Seeds

1. Philadelphia Eagles: 14-2

2. Minnesota Vikings: 12-4 

3. New Orleans Saints: 12-4

4. Los Angeles Rams: 11-5 

5. Carolina Panthers: 11-5

6. Atlanta Falcons: 10-6


Top Two AFC Seeds

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be heavy favorites against the winless Cleveland Browns and 4-9 Houston Texans in their last two games, but a date with the New England Patriots looms next Sunday.

Pittsburgh has the benefit of playing that game at home, however. With the return of JuJu Smith-Schuster from suspension, coupled with the MVP-like play of wide receiver Antonio Brown, look for the Steelers to beat the Pats and eventually take the No. 1 seed.

Even if the Patriots lose to the Steelers on Sunday, they'd still have an easy path to a wild-card bye.

New England will face the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. On paper, that should be a comfortable win. After the Steelers game, the Pats will face the Buffalo Bills (who they just beat 23-3) at home before hosting the 5-8 New York Jets.

Barring something unforeseen, it's hard seeing the Pats going worse than 13-3, which would clinch a top-two seed.


The Final AFC Playoff Spot

The guess here is that the Buffalo Bills will make the postseason for the first time since 1999. They'll do so at the expense of the Tennessee Titans, who beat the Bills thanks to the "Music City Miracle" in the AFC wild-card round that season.

Tennessee has not looked good on offense since September, and it may lose out. The Titans also have a tough upcoming schedule against a resurgent San Francisco 49ers team led by new starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, in addition to matchups with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams.

Admittedly, this is a bit of a "prisoner-of-the-moment" take, and I thought Tennessee would be the AFC South champion before last weekend.

However, the Titans scored just seven points against a team with a losing record (the Arizona Cardinals). They have also been outscored by 21 points this year despite winning three more games than they have lost, so regression could be on the way.

The Bills' other main opponent for the wild card could be the Kansas City Chiefs, but if the Bills and Chiefs are tied alone in the conference standings Buffalo will move on thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker.


The NFC South Race

It's the circle of life in the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers twice. The Panthers beat the Atlanta Falcons, who beat the Saints once.

It should be a fun race to the finish, as the three teams are separated by just one game. They all get to face the 4-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers once before the end of the season. The Panthers and Falcons still need to play each other, while Atlanta will also travel to New Orleans. 

The Saints would seem to have the edge down the stretch. They get to play two of their last three games at home, where they have lost just once this year. Furthermore, the Saints have the easiest non-NFC South team on the ledger in the form of the Jets, who are 5-8 and may have lost starting quarterback Josh McCown for the season with a broken left hand.

Meanwhile, the Panthers may be tied in the standings with the Saints, but they aren't in reality due to two defeats to New Orleans earlier this year. They may also see the return of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 15. Therefore, New Orleans should have the edge to take this division.


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