NFL Playoff Picture Week 15: AFC and NFC Standings, Updated Predictions

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 13, 2021

NFL Playoff Picture Week 15: AFC and NFC Standings, Updated Predictions

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    The 2021 NFL playoffs are so close you can taste them.

    Or they would be if postseason football actually had a taste.

    Either way, the regular-season schedule is moving closer to the finish line, and clubs jostling for playoff seeds and spots have little time left to make their moves.

    Before the standings budge again after Monday night's collision between NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams, let's update them and then make predictions about how the final playoff bracket will take shape.

AFC Standings

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    1. New England Patriots: 9-4

    2. Tennessee Titans: 9-4

    3. Kansas City Chiefs: 9-4

    4. Baltimore Ravens: 8-5

    5. Los Angeles Chargers: 8-5

    6. Indianapolis Colts: 7-6

    7. Buffalo Bills: 7-6

    8. Cleveland Browns: 7-6

    9. Cincinnati Bengals: 7-6

    10. Denver Broncos: 7-6

    11. Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-6-1

    12. Las Vegas Raiders: 6-7

    13. Miami Dolphins: 6-7

    14. e-New York Jets: 3-10

    15. e-Houston Texans: 2-11

    16. e-Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-11

    *e-eliminated from playoff contention


    Moving Up: The Colts had an incredible weekend and didn't play a second of football.

    How? Thanks to losses by the Steelers, Bills and Bengals, Indy climbed all the way to No. 6 in the conference standings. The Colts have two difficult draws coming next at home against the Patriots and then on the road at the Arizona Cardinals, but if they can survive those, they're set for a soft landing with their final two matchups coming against the Raiders and Jaguars.

    Moving Down: The finish line can't come fast enough for the Bills, who seemed like AFC elites during their 4-1 start but have since fallen into a 3-5 tailspin. That includes three losses in their last four games, plus an ominous defeat at the hands of the lowly Jaguars back in early November.

    Think it can't get worse? Think again. Quarterback Josh Allen came into Sunday's postgame news conference with a walking boot on his left leg and is set for further testing Monday.

NFC Standings

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    1. Arizona Cardinals: 10-2

    2. Green Bay Packers: 10-3

    3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10-3

    4. Dallas Cowboys: 9-4

    5. Los Angeles Rams: 8-4

    6. San Francisco 49ers: 7-6

    7. Washington Football Team: 6-7

    8. Minnesota Vikings: 6-7

    9. Philadelphia Eagles: 6-7

    10. Atlanta Falcons: 6-7

    11. New Orleans Saints: 6-7

    12. Carolina Panthers: 5-8

    13. Seattle Seahawks: 5-8

    14. New York Giants: 4-9

    15. Chicago Bears: 4-9

    16. e-Detroit Lions: 1-11-1

    *e-eliminated from playoff contention


    Moving Up: The Buccaneers briefly wobbled around their Week 9 bye, sandwiching it with consecutive losses to the Saints and Washington. But Tampa hasn't tasted defeat since, stretching its NFC-best winning streak to four games by surviving Sunday's shootout with Buffalo in a 33-27 overtime win.

    The Buccaneers could have something to celebrate in Week 15. A home win over New Orleans would give Tampa both a playoff berth and the NFC South crown. Even if the Bucs lose, they could still secure their playoff spot with losses by the Vikings and 49ers.

    Moving Down: The Panthers seemed smart to gamble on Sam Darnold when they stormed out of the gate with three straight wins to open the season, but it's been rough sailing ever since. Carolina is just 2-8 since that opening stretch, having lost Darnold to a shoulder injury, giving P.J. Walker a look, bringing Cam Newton back to town and then benching Newton for Walker late in Sunday's loss to the Falcons.

    Never saying never is usually wise in the NFL, but feel free to stick a fork in these cats. Carolina isn't mathematically eliminated yet, but that day is coming soon.

Playoff Bracket Predictions

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    AFC 1st-Round Bracket

    No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs: Bye

    No. 7 Indianapolis Colts at No. 2 New England Patriots

    No. 6 Buffalo Bills at No. 3 Tennessee Titans

    No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers at No. 4 Baltimore Ravens

    As crowded as the AFC playoff race is, our crystal ball sees the current top seven comprising the top seven that counts when the curtain drops on this campaign.

    The Chiefs, Patriots and Titans are locks. The Ravens and Chargers are maybe a half-tier behind that group. Assuming Allen is fine, the Bills should find enough to punch their playoff ticket. And the Colts could be in decent shape even if they drop their next two tricky games, and they'll be in great shape if they can pick off one of the juggernauts.


    NFC 1st-Round Bracket

    No. 1 Green Bay Packers: Bye

    No. 7 Washington Football Team at No. 2 Arizona Cardinals

    No. 6 Los Angeles Rams at No. 3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    No. 5 San Francisco 49ers at No. 4 Dallas Cowboys

    Maybe the crystal ball needs the boldness slider turned up, but it's the same story in the NFC. All seven teams with playoff spots now will hold them the rest of the way.

    With 10 touchdowns and zero picks in his last three games, Aaron Rodgers looks ready to lead the Packers to the NFC's top spot. The Cardinals and Bucs could slot in right behind, and the Cowboys have too much cushion to cough up the NFC East.

    The 49ers and Rams could settle the fifth and sixth seeds during their Week 18 meeting, but San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan keeps pushing the right buttons against L.A.'s Sean McVay. Washington will get seriously pushed for the seventh spot—especially by Philadelphia, which plays the Football Team twice in the next three weeks—but the momentum from its recent 4-1 stretch should be just enough to hang on to it.