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NFL Playoff Picture 2020: Updated AFC, NFC Wild Card Bracket Ahead of Week 17

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2019

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill warms up before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

This is it, folks. The final week of the 2019 NFL season has arrived, and the final push for the postseason is at hand. Only one playoff spot remains—the AFC's sixth seed—but much has yet to be decided.

Most notably, the NFC East and NFC West division races have yet to be settled. Three of the four first-round byes are still there for the taking, and three teams remaining alive for that aforementioned wild-card spot.

Here, we'll dig into some of the most important playoff-related storylines for Week 17. First, though, let's take a look at how things stand.

    

Week 17 NFL Playoff Picture

AFC

1. Baltimore Ravens (Z) 13-2

2. New England Patriots (Z) 12-3

3. Kansas City Chiefs (Z) 11-4

4. Houston Texans (Z) 10-5

5. Buffalo Bills (X) 10-5

6. Tennessee Titans 8-7

7. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-7

8. Oakland Raiders 7-8

NFC

1. San Francisco 49ers (X) 12-3

2. Green Bay Packers (Z) 12-3

3. New Orleans Saints (Z) 12-3

4. Philadelphia Eagles 8-7

5. Seattle Seahawks (X) 11-4

6. Minnesota Vikings (X) 10-5

*X indicated clinched playoff spot, Z indicates division champion.

     

Ravens, Bills, Vikings Have Nothing to Play For

Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Before we get into some of the top playoff scenarios, it's worth looking at the teams that have nothing at stake. The Baltimore Ravens are already locked into the AFC's No. 1 seed, while the Buffalo Bills are locked into the fifth seed. The Minnesota Vikings are locked into the NFC's No. 6 slot.

Where the Bills and Vikings are concerned, this has little bearing on the playoff race. However, the Ravens' position could impact the AFC's wild-card race.

The Ravens have already announced that they plan to sit star players like quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Mark Ingram. This means the Pittsburgh Steelers will have an edge in Week 17—and Pittsburgh is one of the three teams with a wild-card chance.

    

The Race for the Sixth Seed

Along with Pittsburgh, the Tennessee Titans and the Oakland Raiders are alive for the AFC's final playoff spot. Tennessee has the most straightforward path to the postseason of the bunch. If the Titans win, they're in the playoffs.

The Steelers need a win and a Titans loss to get in. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, the Houston Texans don't appear willing to rest their starters like the Ravens are.

"We're playing to win," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said, per CBS Sports' Jeff Kerr.

Unlike the Ravens, the Texans have a slim chance of improving their playoff position. If the Kansas City Chiefs lose in the early afternoon, Houston can move from the fourth seed to the third seed by knocking off Tennessee.

If stars like Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins suit up for the Texans, there's a legitimate chance that the Steelers are able to limp into the postseason.

For the Raiders, the road to January is a bit more circuitous. Oakland needs a win, an Indianapolis Colts win and losses by the Titans and Steelers. This would result in a four-way tie in which the Raiders would hold the tiebreaker.

     

The AFC's Two Seed

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Here's where Houston's plan to play its starters could change. If the Chiefs win in the early afternoon—the Texans will play at 4:25 p.m.—there will be no chance of moving up a spot. The Chiefs are unlikely to go through the motions against the Los Angeles Chargers, as they still have a shot at the AFC's second seed.

"We have to take care of business," head coach Andy Reid said, per Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star

If the Chiefs win and the New England Patriots lose, Kansas City will earn the last remaining AFC bye.

While it seems unlikely that the Patriots will stumble at home against the Miami Dolphins, there are no guaranteed wins. And since the Chiefs and Patriots are playing at the same time, Kansas City has all the reason in the world to play to win.

    

Battles for the NFC East and West

Both the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys are alive for the NFC East title. Whichever team doesn't get it will be at home for the postseason. The Eagles have the edge, only needing a win over the New York Giants to clinch. A win and an Eagles loss will hand the division to Dallas.

The path to the NFC title is even more straightforward, as the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks will face off in Week 17. Whoever wins will take the division. The 49ers have a one-game lead, but Seattle won the earlier head-to-head matchup and will win the tiebreaker if both finish 12-4.

A tie will result in the 49ers taking the division.

However, there is more at stake in the 49ers-Seahawks matchup than just the division. The game could have major implications at the top of the conference.

If the 49ers win, they'll take the No. 1 seed. If the Seahawks win, the Green Bay Packers can take it with a win over the Detroit Lions. Green Bay will take the No. 2 seed with a win and a 49ers win.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints can still take the No. 1 seed if the Seahawks and Lions win on Sunday. If the Seahawks and Packers win, they'll take the No. 2 seed.

Unfortunately for New Orleans and Green Bay—both of whom should be rooting for Seattle—the Seahawks are dealing with some significant injuries. Left tackle Duane Brown, running back Chris Carson and running back C.J. Prosise are all out. At running back, the Seahawks will instead rely on the recently added tandem of Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin.

     

If the Season Ended Today...

If the NFL decided to end the playoff race after 16 weeks, the opening round of the postseason would be as follows:

AFC

Byes: 1. Baltimore Ravens, 2. New England Patriots

6. Tennessee Titans at 3. Kansas City Chiefs

5. Buffalo Bills at 4. Houston Texans

NFC

Byes: 1. San Francisco 49ers, 2. Green Bay Packers

6. Minnesota Vikings at 3. New Orleans Saints

5. Seattle Seahawks at 4. Philadelphia Eagles