NFL Playoff Scenarios 2021-22: AFC, NFC Bracket Picture and Pre-Week 15 Odds

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIDecember 19, 2021

NFL Playoff Scenarios 2021-22: AFC, NFC Bracket Picture and Pre-Week 15 Odds

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots have finally cooled off. After winning each of their previous seven games, the Pats couldn't pull out a victory Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts, who are on a bit of a roll themselves.

    The Colts won 27-17, marking their fifth victory over their past six games. They improved to 8-6 and are now the top wild-card team in the AFC. Meanwhile, the Patriots will no longer be the No. 1 team in the AFC at the end of Week 15, as the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night.

    After Sunday, that top spot will belong to either the Chiefs or the Tennessee Titans, who will be looking for a win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, there are three more weeks in the regular season after this, so this standings battle (along with others) could change greatly in the near future.

    Here's the remaining Week 15 schedule, along with odds for each matchup and breakdowns of the playoff pictures in both the AFC and NFC.

Remaining Week 15 Schedule, Odds

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Sunday, Dec. 19

    Arizona Cardinals (-12.5) at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET

    Dallas Cowboys (-11) at New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET

    Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills (-13), 1 p.m. ET

    New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (-9.5), 1 p.m. ET

    Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (-1.5), 1 p.m. ET

    Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (-4.5), 1 p.m. ET

    Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers (-8.5), 4:05 p.m. ET

    Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos (-3), 4:05 p.m. ET

    Green Bay Packers (-7) at Baltimore Ravens, 4:25 p.m. ET

    New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-11), 8:20 p.m. ET


    Monday, Dec. 20

    Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns (-3), 5 p.m. ET

    Minnesota Vikings (-5.5) at Chicago Bears, 8:15 p.m. ET


    Tuesday, Dec. 21

    Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams (-6.5), 7 p.m. ET

    Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles (-6.5), 7 p.m. ET

    Odds via NFL" target="_blank">DraftKings Sportsbook.

AFC Playoff Picture, Scenarios

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Bye: No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

    No. 2 Tennessee Titans (9-4) vs. No. 7 Buffalo Bills (7-6)

    No. 3 New England Patriots (9-5) vs. No. 6 Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)

    No. 4 Baltimore Ravens (8-5) vs. No. 5 Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

    In the hunt: Cleveland Browns (7-6), Cincinnati Bengals (7-6), Denver Broncos (7-6), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1), Las Vegas Raiders (6-7), Miami Dolphins (6-7)


    No team in the AFC has clinched a playoff berth, and that's not going to change in Week 15. Because the Colts beat the Patriots, there are no longer any clinching scenarios in play for the remainder of the gameweek.

    However, there are some important matchups taking place that will have an impact on the playoff picture.

    The Titans need a win to keep pace with the Chiefs. And if they are victorious against the Steelers, they will move into the top spot in the AFC because they own the tiebreaker over Kansas City. Considering Tennessee is still without star running back Derrick Henry, that would be an impressive feat.

    Pittsburgh is trying to stay in the mix in the AFC North and wild-card races, but they are crowded pictures, and the Steelers are going to need to play better down the stretch to reach the postseason.

    The Baltimore Ravens remain in first place in the AFC North despite losing each of their past two games. They have a difficult Week 15 matchup against the Green Bay Packers, so it's possible they will continue to trend in the wrong direction.

    This week's Cincinnati Bengals-Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders-Cleveland Browns matchups will be hugely important to the wild-card race, as all four of those teams are in the mix. Those games could help sort out some of the ties that exist in the standings.

    It's possible none of those teams will move up, though, because the Buffalo Bills have a favorable matchup against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Buffalo has lost two straight games and four of its past six, but this presents a good opportunity for the team to get back on track.

    While the Miami Dolphins have a tough path to the playoffs, their recent surge should continue Sunday. They should extend their five-game winning streak, as they are taking on the 3-10 New York Jets.

NFC Playoff Picture, Scenarios

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Bye: No. 1 Green Bay Packers (10-3)

    No. 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3) vs. No. 7 Washington Football Team (6-7)

    No. 3 Arizona Cardinals (10-3) vs. No. 6 San Francisco 49ers (7-6)

    No. 4 Dallas Cowboys (9-4) vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

    In the hunt: Minnesota Vikings (6-7), Philadelphia Eagles (6-7), Atlanta Falcons (6-7), New Orleans Saints (6-7), Carolina Panthers (5-8), Seattle Seahawks (5-8), New York Giants (4-9), Chicago Bears (4-9)


    Several NFC teams have opportunities to clinch playoff berths in Week 15, per And while it's possible that no team in the NFL will have clinched heading into Week 16, that seems unlikely because one of the teams is likely to get the job done this week.

    Green Bay (at Baltimore), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. New Orleans Saints) and Arizona Cardinals (at Detroit Lions) can all clinch playoff berths with a wins or ties Sunday. The Cardinals are the most likely to do so because they're playing the 1-11-1 Lions.

    Even if Arizona loses, it could still clinch a playoff berth if both New Orleans and the Minnesota Vikings (at Chicago Bears) lose or tie this week. It would also get in if both Minnesota and the San Francisco 49ers (vs. Atlanta Falcons) lose.

    If Green Bay wins, it will clinch the NFC North title. It would also capture the division crown if Minnesota loses. If neither of those things happen, the Packers can still clinch a playoff berth if both the Saints and 49ers lose.

    A Tampa Bay win would see it clinch the NFC South title. But that's the only way the Buccaneers can capture the division crown in Week 15. If they lose, they could still clinch a playoff berth if both the Vikings and 49ers lose.

    The Dallas Cowboys could end the NFC East race Sunday, but it would require them to beat the New York Giants, the Washington Football Team to lose to the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas to secure the strength-of-victory tiebreaker over Philadelphia. The Cowboys could also win the division with a victory and a Washington-Philadelphia tie.

    It's more likely that Dallas just clinches a playoff berth, which would happen if it wins and either New Orleans or San Francisco loses.

    The Los Angeles Rams are still alive in the NFC West race, but they can at least clinch a playoff berth Tuesday. That would happen if they win and the Saints and Vikings both lose or tie. There are some other complex scenarios in which Los Angeles could clinch, but it would require ties to occur, as details.


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