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NFL Playoff Picture 2018: Scenarios, Standings and Predictions

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorDecember 28, 2017

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 24:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons in action agains the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 24, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

All 16 of the NFL's Week 17 games will take place on Sunday, December 31, with kickoffs taking place between 1 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.

It will be a chaotic race to the finish, with six teams still fighting for three playoff spots and other squads fighting for better playoff position.

Here's a look at the current AFC and NFC playoff pictures in addition to some predictions for how everything will shake out.

         

AFC Standings

Division Leaders

1. New England Patriots: 12-3

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: 12-3

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: 10-5

4. Kansas City Chiefs: 9-6

          

Wild Card

5. Baltimore Ravens: 9-6

6. Tennessee Titans: 8-7

           

In the Hunt

7. Los Angeles Chargers: 8-7

8. Buffalo Bills: 8-7

              

AFC Scenarios and Predictions

All of the AFC postseason intrigue lies within the wild-card race. Yes, the No. 1 seed is still technically up for grabs, but you'll likely be disappointed if you're hoping that the New England Patriots (15.5-point favorites, per OddsShark) lose to the five-win New York Jets at home.

The Pats just need a victory to clinch the No. 1 seed, which would confirm the Pittsburgh Steelers' spot at No. 2.

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs have clinched the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds, so the focus is on the wild-card race.

The 9-6 Baltimore Ravens are in with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals at home. They can also make it if either the Tennessee Titans or Buffalo Bills lose. Per OddsShark, the Ravens are 9.5-point favorites against the six-win Bengals and beat them 20-0 in Week 1. The safe bet is Baltimore get the W, which would mean a date at the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card round.

Should the Ravens hold serve, either the Titans, Bills or Chargers will fill the sixth seed, which means a road matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A Titans win means they are in, but they are facing a Jacksonville Jaguars team that is playing its starters and likely very angry after allowing 44 points to the San Francisco 49ers. That will be no easy task.

The Buffalo Bills have a date with the Miami Dolphins, who they just beat 24-16 earlier this month. With Buffalo playing for its season and Miami playing out the string, the guess here is that Buffalo gets it done. However, a victory alone won't get the Bills into the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Chargers have a home date with the six-win Oakland Raiders. The Bolts beat the Silver and Black in Oakland earlier this season, and they are favored by eight points, per OddsShark.

Therefore, the pick is for the Bolts to move on and make the playoffs as a No. 6 seed after starting the season 0-4.

      

NFC Standings

Division Leaders

1. Philadelphia Eagles: 13-2

2. Minnesota Vikings: 12-3

3. Los Angeles Rams: 11-4

4. New Orleans Saints: 11-4

          

Wild Card

5. Carolina Panthers: 11-4

6. Atlanta Falcons: 9-6

           

In the Hunt

7. Seattle Seahawks: 9-6

         

NFC Scenarios and Predictions

This conference is far more straightforward.

The Philadelphia Eagles have already clinched the No. 1 seed, and the Minnesota Vikings will sow up No. 2 with a victory over the four-win Chicago Bears at home. It's hard seeing a scenario in which Chicago takes this game, so look for Minnesota to claim the second seed and a wild-card bye.

The Los Angeles Rams, who have clinched a home game in the wild-card round and can't obtain a bye even with a win, will rest some starters, per head coach Sean McVay. They will face a suddenly hot San Francisco 49ers team on Sunday, so look for San Francisco to beat L.A., which would put the Rams at No. 4.

The New Orleans Saints travel to face the four-win Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints beat the Bucs 30-10 earlier this season in a game that seemed even more one-sided than the score indicated (New Orleans was up 30-3 after three quarters). OddsShark lists the Saints, who have won 11 of their last 13 games, as seven-point favorites. They'll hold serve, win and grab the No. 3 seed.

If the Saints win, the Carolina Panthers are guaranteed the fifth seed regardless of whether they beat the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Falcons need a win (or a Seattle Seahawks loss to the Arizona Cardinals) to make the postseason.

Seattle should take care of business at home against an Arizona team that is struggling on offense due to a litany of injuries. However, the pick here is that Atlanta takes down Carolina thanks to the efforts of star wideout Julio Jones, who has dominated the Panthers on multiple occasions.

Under these scenarios, the Panthers would be the fifth seed and travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams, while the sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons would play a rubber match with the Saints.

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