NFL Playoff Scenarios 2020: Reviewing Post-Week 16 AFC, NFC Picture, Bracket

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2019

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
Michael Perez/Associated Press

Much of the NFL audience watched the Dallas Cowboys lose to the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday's late-afternoon window, and the result may prove critical in the playoff race.

Dallas entered Week 16 as the NFC East leader, but the Eagles climbed atop the division with the victory. Philadelphia, which would've been eliminated had it lost, now has a straightforward path to the franchise's third straight postseason berth.

On the other side of the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans flipped spots in the wild-card standings despite both losing Sunday. That AFC battle will be determined in Week 17, and the Oakland Raiders might even have a say.

Monday's clash between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings is important, but Saturday's and Sunday's results have provided a clear outlook for Week 17.


AFC Standings and Playoff Scenarios

1. Baltimore Ravens (13-2, clinched home-field advantage)
2. New England Patriots (12-3, clinched AFC East)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4, clinched AFC West)
4. Houston Texans (10-5, clinched AFC South)
5. Buffalo Bills (10-5)
6. Tennessee Titans (8-7)
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7)
8. Oakland Raiders (7-8)

Lamar Jackson and the Ravens secured home-field advantage in the AFC with a 31-15 win over the Cleveland Browns.

The only other AFC seed all locked up is No. 5, which belongs to the Bills. They could've had a chance at winning the AFC East but lost to the New England Patriots in Week 16.

Otherwise, it's mostly about positioning.

While the Patriots currently own the No. 2 slot, they previously fell to the Chiefs. New England can secure a first-round bye with a Week 17 victory, but a loss combined with a Kansas City win means the Chiefs will steal the coveted bye. New England cannot fall lower than the No. 3 seed.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 21: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots directs his teammates during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 21, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

If New England defeats the Miami Dolphins, the Chiefs and Texans will be battling for No. 3. Kansas City holds a one-game edge in the standings, but Houston won the regular-season matchup.

If Kansas City has a better record than Houston, the Chiefs are third. If the records are equal, Houston is third. The fourth-seeded team will host Buffalo in the divisional round.

The second wild-card berth presents the real intrigue.

Tennessee can secure a playoff spot with a win over the Texans. If the Titans lose, they'd still reach the postseason if Pittsburgh falls to the Ravensbut only if the Raiders lose to the Denver Broncos or Indianapolis Colts lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Indianapolis is eliminated, but the Raiders can steal a wild card if they and the Colts win, while both Tennessee and Pittsburgh lose. Oakland cannot advance to the playoffs if Indianapolis doesn't finish 8-8 and create a four-way tie.

Pittsburgh actually has the simplest scenario, needing a win together with a Tennessee loss.


NFC Standings and Playoff Scenarios

1. San Francisco 49ers (12-3, NFC West leader)
2. New Orleans Saints (12-3, clinched NFC South)
3. Green Bay Packers (11-3, NFC North leader)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7, NFC East leader)
5. Seattle Seahawks (11-4)
6. Minnesota Vikings (10-4)
In NFC East race: Dallas Cowboys (7-8)

The NFC East champion will be fourth. That's all we know.

Heading into Week 17, the pivotal game is San Francisco's trip to Seattle. The winner will celebrate an NFC West title, and that will also have a significant effect on the conference's seeding.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Since the 49ers defeated both New Orleans and Green Bay, they possess the coveted path to the No. 1 seed: Just win, baby. But if Seattle defends home field, it will remain in contention for either or both home-field advantage or a first-round bye.

The rest of the scenarios hinge on Monday night's result between the Packers and Vikings in Minneapolis.

Again, the simple explanation of a complicated situation: Green Bay can clinch the NFC North with a win, and a victory guarantees Green Bay is seeded ahead of New Orleans with even records. Should the Packers win Monday, they'd only surrender a first-round bye with a loss and New Orleans win in Week 17.

The Saints, like the Patriots, will be no worse than No. 3. New Orleans' easiest path to a first-round bye involve a victory plus a Seattle win, or a victory plus a Green Bay loss. The Saints would only snatch home-field advantage if both Seattle topples the Niners and Green Bay loses to the Detroit Lions.

Whichever of the 49ers and Seahawks lose will be a wild-card team.

While the Niners cannot fall below No. 5, Seattle could dip to No. 6 depending on how the Vikings finish. The Seahawks hold the head-to-head advantage, though, so Minnesota must end with a better record to be ahead of Seattle.

The NFC's top wild-card qualifier will travel to the NFC East champion, which will be Philadelphia if it wins or Dallas loses. The Cowboys need a victory plus an Eagles loss to swipe the division after losing to their rival 17-9 Sunday afternoon.


Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.