NFL Playoffs 2018: Known AFC, NFC Schedule and Updated Bracket Scenarios

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2017

Cam Newton and the Panthers clinched a playoff spot in Week 15.
Cam Newton and the Panthers clinched a playoff spot in Week 15.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Three playoff berths are at stake in NFL Week 17, but standings could undergo a considerable shuffle during the final regular-season week.

While the Philadelphia Eagles clinched home field in the NFC thanks to their recent win over the Oakland Raiders, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers will be vying for that coveted advantage in the AFC this Sunday.

And in addition to the No. 1 seed, wild-card spots are on the line. Both positions are available in the AFC, and the NFC has one.

Since the afternoon slate includes nine 4:25 p.m. ET kickoffs, Week 17 will be loaded with playoff-affecting action down to the final minute.

Following a look at the postseason schedule, we'll dive into the scenarios that will determine the final 12-team field.

     

Playoff Schedule

Wild Card Round: Jan. 6-7

Divisional Round: Jan. 13-14

Conference Championships: Jan. 21

Super Bowl LII: Feb. 4

       

AFC Standings

The last two times the Patriots earned home field, Tom Brady and Co. lifted the Lombardi Trophy.
The last two times the Patriots earned home field, Tom Brady and Co. lifted the Lombardi Trophy.Charles Krupa/Associated Press/Associated Press

1. New England Patriots (12-3); clinched first-round bye
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3); clinched first-round bye
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5); clinched AFC South
4. Kansas City Chiefs (9-6); clinched AFC West
5. Baltimore Ravens (9-6)
6. Tennessee Titans (8-7)

In the hunt

7. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)
8. Buffalo Bills (8-7)

       

The Patriots and Steelers are guaranteed to watch the Wild Card Round from the comfort of their own home. However, the franchises are looking for the right to host a potential rematch.

By virtue of New England's head-to-head victoryregardless of debate surrounding the finishthe Patriots have the simplest route to the No. 1 seed. It'll happen if they defeat the New York Jets or Pittsburgh falls to the Cleveland Browns. The latter isn't likely, but the former is doable.

Should the Pats lose at home to New York, the Steelers could rise to No. 1 with a victory over the 0-15 Browns. They'll both take the field at 1 p.m. ET.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars and Chiefs are locked into their positions. Jacksonville will host the No. 6 seed, and the No. 5 squad will travel to Kansas City. The unknown is which combination of the Ravens, Titans, Chargers and Bills that will solidify those spots during the 4:25 p.m. ET window.

Baltimore will secure the No. 5 slot if it dispatches the Cincinnati Bengals. Though not optimal for the Ravens, they could sneak in as the last AFC team if either the Titans or Bills lose.

Tennessee holds the next tiebreaker, so it's possible for the AFC South club to drop its fourth consecutive game and reach the playoffs. That would require a Buffalo loss to the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles loss to the Oakland Raiders.

Defeating Jacksonville will be a major challenge, but it's the Titans' most efficient path to a postseason berth. Otherwise, the once 0-4 Chargers will have an opportunity to complete a remarkable turnaround. They'll hop to No. 6 with a win, Ravens win and Titans lossor a win, Titans loss and Bills loss.

Should Baltimore and Tennessee lose, Buffalo could ascend to No. 5 with a victory, dropping the Ravens to No. 6 and eliminating Los Angeles. If Baltimore wins, the Bills would need Titans and Chargers losses to slide into the final playoff position.

     

NFC Standings

Carson Wentz's injury means Nick Foles will lead Philadelphia into the playoffs.
Carson Wentz's injury means Nick Foles will lead Philadelphia into the playoffs.Chris Szagola/Associated Press

1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-2); clinched home field
2. Minnesota Vikings (12-3); clinched NFC North
3. Los Angeles Rams (11-4); clinched NFC West
4. New Orleans Saints (11-4); clinched playoff berth
5. Carolina Panthers (11-4); clinched playoff berth
6. Atlanta Falcons (9-6)

In the hunt

7. Seattle Seahawks (9-6)

      

In the NFC, the road to Minneapolis runs through Philadelphia. The Eagles will be without one-time MVP candidate Carson Wentz, but they can lean on a stout defense and raucous crowd along the way.

Minnesota technically hasn't grabbed a first-round bye, but the scenarios are favorable. The Vikings must defeat the Bears. Or, the Saints must topple the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Or, the Rams must knock off the San Francisco 49ers. Or, the Panthers must lose to the Falcons.

The too long, didn't read version? Minnesota will be No. 2, barring a Panthers win, Saints loss and Rams loss.

Although Los Angeles cannot earn a first-round bye, the Rams will finish no worse than No. 4 because they've clinched the NFC West. With a win, they'll enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. If the Niners knock off Los Angeles, it'll end at No. 4 unless both the Saints and Panthers lose.

The Rams are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
The Rams are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Of the two NFC South franchises, though, only Carolina could rise to No. 2. However, it would involve a victory against Atlanta, Vikings loss to Chicago, Rams loss to San Francisco and New Orleans loss at Tampa.

Yet the Saints own the head-to-head advantage over the Panthers. An NFC South crown awaits New Orleans if Drew Brees and Co. navigate the 4-11 Bucs, who've lost five straight games. The 12-4 Saints would be No. 3 if the Rams lose or No. 4 if they win.

Both the Panthers and Saints are two games clear of the Falcons and Seahawks, so the non-division champion will be No. 5.

But as complicated as the above scenarios may seem, the No. 6 seed is wonderfully simple. If the Falcons winor Seattle losesthey're in. If Atlanta loses and the Seahawks win, they're in.

We'll find out every NFC answer during the 4:25 p.m. ET window.

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