NFL Playoff Picture Week 15: Full AFC, NFC Outlook and Predictions

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 14, 2018

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 09:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws a pass against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on December 9, 2018 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

VIP passes to the 2019-19 NFL playoffs could be running low after Week 15.

Three were already claimed before this round of regular-season games got started, with the Kansas City Chiefs holding the AFC's only postseason berth and the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams having locked up their division titles in the NFC.

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Chargers joined the party by knocking off their AFC West rival Chiefs after erasing a 14-point deficit and scoring the game-winning two-point conversion with four seconds remaining.

Seven more teams will have a chance to clinch something this weekend, be it a playoff berth, a division title or a first-round bye.

Let's run through the latest standings, lay out the clinching scenarios and spotlight two teams out of the current playoff picture who could play their way in by season's end.

            

AFC

Division Leaders

1. x-Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)

2. New England Patriots (9-4)

3. Houston Texans (9-4)

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1)

x-clinched playoff berth

                  

Wild-Card Race

5. x-Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

6. Baltimore Ravens (7-6)

7. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

8. Miami Dolphins (7-6)

9. Tennessee Titans (7-6)

10. Denver Broncos (6-7)

11. Cleveland Browns (5-7-1)

12. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8)

                  

Officially Eliminated

13. Buffalo Bills (4-9)

14. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)

15. New York Jets (4-9)

16. Oakland Raiders (3-10)

                   

AFC Week 15 Clinching Scenarios

New England Patriots

New England could claim its 10th straight AFC East title with a win and a Miami loss or tie. A Patriots tie coupled with a Dolphins loss would also do the trick.

Winning with the Titans losing or tying would grant the Patriots a playoff berth. So would tying if occurring along with a Ravens loss, Titans loss and Colts loss or tie.

                  

Houston Texans

The Texans have two paths to the AFC South crown this weekend. They can either win while the Colts and Titans both lose or tie, or they could tie as the Colts and Titans both lose.

Houston also has eight different ways of sealing a playoff spot:

  • Texans wins, Steelers lose, Dolphins lose or tie
  • Texans win, Dolphins lose or tie, Ravens lose or tie
  • Texans tie, Ravens lose, Dolphins lose, Colts lose or tie
  • Texans tie, Steelers lose, Ravens lose, Colts lose or tie, Dolphins tie
  • Texans tie, Steelers lose, Dolphins lose, Ravens win, Colts lose or tie
  • Texans tie, Ravens lose, Dolphins lose, Titans lose or tie
  • Texans tie, Steelers lose, Ravens lose, Titans lose or tie, Dolphins tie
  • Texans tie, Steelers lose, Dolphins lose, Ravens win, Titans lose or tie

                 

Sleeper: Tennessee Titans

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 06:  Running back Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans carries the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Nissan Stadium on December 6, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

The Titans seemed left for dead when they headed into their Week 8 bye with a 3-4 record and three-game losing streak.

But they raced out of it with back-to-back wins over the Cowboys and Patriots, starting a 4-2 second-half push that has given them a 34 percent chance of making the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight. The only two losses in this stretch were a game in which Marcus Mariota was injured before halftime and another against a Texans team in the middle of a nine-game winning streak.

Tennessee's offense can come and go, but the defense is borderline elite. The Titans rank fourth in points allowed (19.5 per game) and ninth in yards against (334.3).

Catch them on the right weeks, and their offense has some firepower, too. Mariota has five games with multiple-touchdown passes, two with 300-plus yards passing and a pair of rushing scores. Derrick Henry burst to life last Thursday with an absurd line of 17 carries for 238 yards and four touchdowns. Corey Davis has topped 120 receiving yards twice. Dion Lewis has three games with 100-plus scrimmage yards.

There's enough here to give opponents problems, particularly those left on Tennessee's schedule.

Over the next two weeks, the Titans will draw a five-win Giants team that might be without Odell Beckham Jr. and a slumping Redskins team giving snaps to Josh Johnson and Mark Sanchez. Finally, Tennessee takes home-field advantage and an eye on revenge into its critical Week 17 tilt with Indianapolis.

                   

NFC

Division Leaders

1. z-New Orleans Saints (11-2)

2. z-Los Angeles Rams (11-2)

3. Chicago Bears (9-4)

4. Dallas Cowboys (8-5)

z-clinched division title

                

Wild-Card Race

5. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)

6. Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1)

7. Carolina Panthers (6-7)

8. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

9. Washington Redskins (6-7)

10. Green Bay Packers (5-7-1)

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8)

12. New York Giants (5-8)

13. Detroit Lions (5-8)

14. Atlanta Falcons (4-9)

                   

Officially Eliminated

15. Arizona Cardinals (3-10)

16. San Francisco 49ers (3-10)

                   

NFC Week 15 Clinching Scenarios

New Orleans Saints

The Saints can clinch a first-round bye with a win and a Bears lose or tie. Tying while the Bears lose would also work.

                 

Los Angeles Rams

If Los Angeles can win while Chicago loses or ties, or even if it ties while Chicago loses, it would lock up a first-round bye.

                   

Chicago Bears

The Bears have three options to win the NFC North: win, have the Vikings lose or both teams tie. A playoff berth would head Chicago's way with either a tie or a Washington loss or tie.

                  

Dallas Cowboys

The easiest route for the Cowboys to clinch the NFC East would be winning on Sunday. Otherwise, it will take a tie coupled with both an Eagles loss or tie or a Redskins loss or tie. Or if both Philadelphia and Washington lose, Dallas would have the division handed to it.

                 

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks will be in the playoffs if they win on Sunday. Their other three playoff paths for this weekend are a bit more complicated:

  • Seahawks tie, Vikings lose, Panthers lose or tie
  • Seahawks tie, Vikings lose, Eagles lose or tie, Redskins lose or tie
  • Seahawks tie, Panthers lose or tie, Eagles lose or tie, Redskins lose or tie

                

Sleeper: Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 09:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers throws a pass in the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field on December 09, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It feels strange saying this about a team quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers, but the Packers seem the least bad choice among a bunch of brutal options.

Who else could we even choose?

The Panthers haven't won in over a month, and they still face the Saints twice. The Eagles have dropped three of their last five and just learned their quarterback, Carson Wentz, has a fractured vertebra. The Redskins, losers of four straight, are down their top two quarterbacks and have predictably dropped their last two games by a combined score of 68-29.

Admittedly, the Packers haven't fared any better. Their Week 13 loss to the lowly Cardinals was their fifth in six games and the skid put former head coach Mike McCarthy out of work.

But the coaching change is partly why we're interested. Teams can often rally around a new coach, and Green Bay just so happened to score a season-high 34 points in interim coach Joe Philbin's debut.

Overall, this offense reads light on weapons, but it'd be false to say Rodgers has no help. Fifth-year wideout Davante Adams has enjoyed a full-fledged breakout and already set or matched his career highs in receptions (92), yards (1,196) and touchdowns (12). Second-year running back Aaron Jones has also added some pep to this rushing attack by turning his 129 carries into 720 yards and eight scores.

Is this enough for the Packers to shock the Bears on Sunday? Probably not. But if Green Bay can figure out a way to steal this game, it just might sprint to the playoffs with only the Jets and Lions left after that.

                

Clinching scenarios used courtesy of NFL.com.

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