NFL Playoff Picture Week 16: Reviewing Latest Bracket Scenarios for AFC, NFC

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2019

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Brian Blanco/Associated Press

The NFL's playoff race isn't just heating up, it's blazing. Two weeks remain, four playoff spots are still up for grabs and a total of nine teams not already owning a playoff shot are mathematically eligible. Five of the eight divisions are still undecided, as are all four first-round byes.

To say that there is a lot at stake over these final two weeks would be a major understatement.

Here, we'll examine the playoff picture, the possible Week 16 clinching scenarios and some of the ways in which the playoff bracket could be upended before the end of the regular season.


NFL Playoff Picture


Baltimore Ravens (Z) 12-2

New England Patriots (X) 11-3

Kansas City Chiefs (Z) 10-4

Houston Texans 9-5

Buffalo Bills (X)  10-4

Pittsburgh Steelers 8-6

Tennessee Titans 8-6

Cleveland Browns 6-8

Oakland Raiders 6-8


Seattle Seahawks (X) 11-3

Green Bay Packers (X) 11-3

New Orleans Saints (Z) 11-3

Dallas Cowboys 7-7

San Francisco 49ers (X) 11-3

Minnesota Vikings 10-4

Los Angeles Rams 8-6

Philadelphia Eagles 7-7

* X indicates a playoff berth, Z indicates division champion.


Week 16 Clinching Scenarios

Gail Burton/Associated Press

Most of the clinching scenarios for Week 16 are fairly straightforward. The New England Patriots will seal the AFC East with a win over the Buffalo Bills on Saturday. The Dallas Cowboys can do the same in the NFC East with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

The Houston Texans will take the AFC South with a win or with a Tennessee Titans loss. The Texans can secure a playoff berth with a win or a loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Green Bay Packers can clinch the NFC North with a win over the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings, meanwhile, can clinch a playoff berth with a win, a tie, or a loss by the Los Angeles Rams.

The Patriots will clinch a first-round bye with a win and a loss by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Baltimore Ravens will clinch the AFC's No. 1 seed with a win. A win by either Tennessee or Pittsburgh will eliminate both the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders from the wild-card race. Both teams will also be eliminated with a loss.

A Vikings win would officially eliminate the Los Angeles Rams.


What Can't be Decided

With the Seahawks, Packers, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers all sitting at 11-3, it's impossible to sort out which teams will secure first-round byes before the final week. The same is also true in the NFC West, where the Seahawks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the 49ers.

The 49ers and Seahawks face off in the season finale. Even if San Francisco takes a one-game lead in the division this week, the Seahawks can retake the top spot by winning in Week 17.

Even if most playoff spots are clinched before the Week 17, there will be some drama left atop the NFC for the final Sunday.


How the Bracket Can Be Shaken

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

While the playoff picture appears relatively clear right now, it can be jumbled quite a bit by Week 16's outcomes. For example, an Eagles win on Sunday will give Philadelphia a legitimate crack at the NFC East. The Eagles would have a one-game lead and only need to defeat the New York Giants in their finale.

A Bills win, meanwhile, would give Buffalo a shot at the AFC East while putting the Patriots in danger of losing out on a first-round bye. The Bills would still need to win and see a New England loss in Week 17 to take the division, but forcing the Patriots to play on Wild Card Weekend would be satisfying.

A Patriots loss would hand the Chiefs the AFC's No. 2 seed, provided they win out. Naturally, New England isn't taking Saturday's game lightly.

"It's one of those things where if you're not urgent and you gotta be told to be urgent you're in the wrong job," wide receiver Julian Edelman said, per the Patriots' official website.

A Seahawks' loss could potentially drop them from the NFC's No. 1 seed to the fifth seed, where the rival 49ers sit. A Packers loss could drop them from the No. 2 seed and open the door for the Vikings in the NFC North—they would still need a win and a Packers loss in Week 17.

While the Saints can finish no lower than the No. 3 seed, they could rise to one or two by the end of the week, depending on how the conference's other 11-3 teams fare.

New Orleans owns a head-to-head win over Seattle but cedes the head-to-head tiebreaker to San Francisco. Therefore, the NFC West race could go a long way toward determining the Saints' chances of getting a first-round bye.