NFL Playoff Picture Week 16: AFC, NFC Scenarios, Predictions for 2021 Postseason

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2021

NFL Playoff Picture Week 16: AFC, NFC Scenarios, Predictions for 2021 Postseason

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    There are only three weeks left in the NFL season before the playoff field is set but it's far from finalized. 

    With only three games left on the slate for every team only one team has clinched a berth (Green Bay Packers) and only five teams have officially been eliminated (sorry, Jacksonville, Houston, Detroit, Jets and Chicago). 

    That means there are 26 teams competing down the home stretch for 13 remaining playoff spots, not to mention the particulars of seeding which could play an important role. 

    With Week 16 just ahead here's a look at where all 26 teams still alive in the race stand, a closer look at each conference's race and some predictions for who is getting in. 

Playoff Picture After Week 15

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    Peter Aiken/Associated Press


    1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)
    2. New England Patriots (9-5)
    3. Tennessee Titans (9-5)
    4. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

    5. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)
    6. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)
    7. Buffalo Bills (8-6)
    8. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
    9. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1)
    10. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)
    11. Miami Dolphins (7-7)

    12. Cleveland Browns (7-7)
    13. Denver Broncos (7-7)


    1. Green Bay Packers (11-3)
    2. Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
    3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4)

    4. Arizona Cardinals (10-4)
    5. Los Angeles Rams (10-4)
    6. San Francisco 49ers (8-6)
    7. Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
    8. New Orleans Saints (7-7)
    9. Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

    10. Washington Football Team (6-8)

    11. Atlanta Falcons (6-8)
    12. Carolina Panthers (5-9)
    13. Seattle Seahawks (5-9)

AFC Race and Predictions

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The bar is going to be set high in the AFC as there are currently five teams with 8-6 records tied for the four wildcard spots. The margin for error is going to be thin even for those teams. 

    That margin of error will be even more thin for the Pittsburgh Steelers who are 7-6-1 and the four teams behind them sitting at 7-7. 

    One team to keep an eye out of that 7-7 group is the Miami Dolphins. Tua Tagovailoa is playing the best we've seen him play and they own the league's second-longest current winning streak at six. Granted, three of those six wins have come against teams that have already been eliminated from the playoff race. 

    Any question about the legitimacy of their streak are going to be answered over the final three weeks of the season. They have road games against the Saints (who are making their own playoff push) and Titans before hosting the Patriots in what could be a win-or-go-home season finale. 

    Of the other teams currently on the outside looking in, the Ravens stand out as a potentially dangerous one. The AFC North is still wide open right now. All four teams are within one game of the division title, yet the division could only have one representative in the postseason. 

    The Ravens are currently on a three-game losing streak. However, all three losses were by two points or less and they were without Lamar Jackson for part or all of two of those games. If Jackson can return to the lineup from his ankle injury the Ravens could make a run at the division championship over the final three weeks. 

    All four teams still have a chance to win the division but their chief competition is going to come from the Cincinnati Bengals. They hold the top spot through tiebreakers right now but have a relatively tough slate with the Ravens, Chiefs and Browns on deck. 

    The Chiefs have the inside track on the No. 1 seed and only bye in the conference. Their seven-game winning streak has them a game ahead of everyone in the field with games against the Steelers, Bengals and Broncos left on the docket. 


    1. Kansas City Chiefs

    2. Indianapolis Colts 

    3. Buffalo Bills

    4. Baltimore Ravens

    5. Los Angeles Chargers

    6. New England Patriots

    7. Tennessee Titans

NFC Race and Predictions

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    Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press

    In the NFC, there's a little less competition for some of the divisional crowns but the wild-card race is going to be a photo finish. 

    The NFC North has been easy to figure out for a while now. There's the Packers and then everyone else. They've already clinched the division and have a 79 percent chance to wrap up the top seed in the conference, per FiveThirtyEight's projections. 

    It's a similar story over in the NFC East where the Cowboys have run away with the division. Dominant defensive performances have led the way for a three-game winning streak that has all but clinched the division and left them as the biggest threat to the Packers for the No. 1 seed. 

    If Dak Prescott and the offense can figure things out while the defense continues to cause mayhem, they could be a dangerous team in the postseason. 

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a similar position of dominance in the NFC South. Even with their dud of a game in a 9-0 loss to the Saints they hold a commanding lead in the division. 

    The injuries are starting to mount. Chris Godwin is out for the season, Leonard Fournette could be back before the playoffs and that is all in addition to injuries to Mike Evans and Lavonte David. 

    The good news for them is they finish the season with the Panthers twice and the Jets. That should give them three weeks of winnable games to get healthy and figure out the offense before the postseason. With Tom Brady and Bruce Arians involved, it wouldn't be wise to count them out after one bad game. 

    The conference's lone competitive division is the NFC West. The Arizona Cardinals are in the lead but they are hanging on by a thread. After their stunning loss to the Detroit Lions they are now tied with the Rams for the lead but own the tiebreaker by virtue of their winning percentage in division games. 

    That lead is on shaky ground. They've lost back-to-back games and have the streaking Indianapolis Colts up next. They only have one division game left. They will finish the season with the Seattle Seahawks who have no reason to take as they don't have their first-round draft pick. 

    The Niners are likely not going to win the division but are in a good position to take a wild-card spot. 

    The final wild-card spot will be up for grabs among the five teams with a 7-7 or 6-8 record. The most dangerous among them is the New Orleans Saints. After shutting down the Bucs in a 9-0 win they have a crucial matchup with the Dolphins before finishing with the Panthers and Falcons. 

    The Philadelphia Eagles shouldn't be discounted either. They have a head-to-head win over the Saints and are 4-1 in their last five games. They get the Giants and Washington Football Team before playing the Cowboys in the season finale. 


    1. Green Bay Packers

    2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    3. Dallas Cowboys

    4. Los Angeles Rams

    5. Arizona Cardinals

    6. San Francisco 49ers

    7. New Orleans Saints