NFL Playoff Picture 2021: Week 17 Scenarios, Standings and Predictions

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2021

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) looks to pass against the Las Vegas Raiders during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Las Vegas. The Miami Dolphins need a good game Sunday to ensure they get to keep playing, and that's especially true for Tua Tagovailoa. Coach Brian Flores has benched Tagovailoa twice in the fourth quarter, including last week at Las Vegas, when backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick helped Miami overcome a pair of deficits in the final 10 minutes. (AP Photo/David Becker)
David Becker/Associated Press

Week 17 is setting up to be one of the most unique finales to an NFL season in recent memory.

Three wild-card spots and a divisional title are up for grabs in the AFC, while the NFC still has to confirm a division champion and two wild-card teams.

A handful of the matchups with the most playoff implications will be affected by absences related to rest, injuries or COVID-19.

With so much still left to be determined in the playoff races, there are 160 possible combinations of results in both conferences on the final day of the regular season.


NFL Playoff Picture


Division Leaders

1. Kansas City (14-1)

2. Buffalo (12-3)

3. Pittsburgh (12-3)

4. Tennessee (10-5)


Wild-Card Race

5. Miami (10-5)

6. Baltimore (10-5)

7. Cleveland (10-5)

8. Indianapolis (10-5)


Playoff Scenarios

NFL Research @NFLResearch

🚨 Week 17 playoff scenarios 🚨 There are 5 games with AFC playoff seeding implications, which amounts to 32 possible combinations of results (excludes ties) https://t.co/ZVzltqI4Pg



1. Kansas City

2. Buffalo

3. Pittsburgh 

4. Tennessee

5. Baltimore

6. Cleveland

7. Indianapolis

8. Miami


The dynamic of the AFC wild-card race changed because of a few quarterback announcements.

The Pittsburgh Steelers decided to rest Ben Roethlisberger for their clash with the Cleveland Browns, and the Miami Dolphins will be without Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Buffalo Bills because of a positive COVID-19 test.

With Mason Rudolph starting for the Steelers, the Browns' chances of winning to clinch a wild-card berth grew exponentially. Rudolph struggled in his starting gig in 2019 when Roethlisberger was out injured. The Pittsburgh backup had a 62.19 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions—he threw four picks against the Browns last season.

Jarvis Landry and three other wide receivers were activated from the COVID-19/reserve list Thursday, so Cleveland should be in good shape to avoid another let down.

Without Fitzpatrick on the bench to back up Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins could be a sticky situation, even if the Buffalo Bills decide to rest their starters.

Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott told reporters that we would not find out his game plan to rest players until Sunday, per ESPN's Marcel Louis-Jacques. Regardless of the Bills' plans, Dolphins could have a hard time moving the ball down the field with Tagovailoa under center.

The rookie out of Alabama failed to reach the 100-yard passing mark in each of his past two road starts, and his ineffectiveness against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 16 forced Brian Flores to pull him in favor of Fitzpatrick.

If Miami loses, the Indianapolis Colts should be able to qualify through a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. They may not have a shot at the AFC South title since the Tennessee Titans take on the Houston Texans.

The Baltimore Ravens have the easiest path to a playoff berth since they play the Cincinnati Bengals. Although Zac Taylor's team has played well of late, the Ravens have been dominant in their past four games and should earn their 11th victory.



Division Leaders

1. Green Bay (12-3)

2. New Orleans (11-4)

3. Seattle (11-4)

4. Washington (6-9)


Wild-Card Race

5. Tampa Bay (10-5)

6. Los Angeles Rams (9-6)

7. Chicago (8-7)

8. Arizona (8-7)


Playoff Scenarios

NFL Research @NFLResearch

🚨 Week 17 playoff scenarios 🚨 There are 7 games with NFC playoff seeding implications, which amounts to 128 possible combinations of results (excludes ties) #NFL https://t.co/juhJXxmpny



1. Green Bay

2. New Orleans

3. Seattle

4. Washington

5. Tampa Bay

6. Arizona

7. Los Angeles Rams


The NFC playoff race has been ravaged by significant injury news in the past week.

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (thumb) will miss the Week 17 clash with the Arizona Cardinals. Sean McVay's side will rely on John Wolford to guide it into the postseason.

Wolford will be making his first NFL start in a game that the Rams have to win to feel safe in the wild-card picture. However, the Rams can still make the postseason with a loss as long as the Chicago Bears fall to the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers will be without offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, who suffered a season-ending injury in practice Thursday. But Green Bay still has Aaron Rodgers at the helm, and it has something meaningful to play for in the form of the No. 1 overall seed. The Packers own a three-game winning streak over their divisional rival, and if that streak goes to four, the Rams will get in as the No. 7 seed with a loss.

Alex Smith has been under close watch in the past few days, as he would be in line to start for the Washington Football Team with the NFC East on the line Sunday night.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted Thursday that Smith taking first-team snaps was "a very good sign."

Smith could pick apart the injury-ravaged Philadelphia secondary, just like the Dallas Cowboys' Andy Dalton did in Week 16. If that occurs, the result of the Dallas-New York Giants clash would not affect the playoff picture. Washington gets in with a win.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference.