NFL Playoff Picture Week 16: Reviewing Latest Bracket Scenarios for AFC, NFC

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIDecember 24, 2021

NFL Playoff Picture Week 16: Reviewing Latest Bracket Scenarios for AFC, NFC

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans are on the cusp of the AFC South title after their 20-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night. But before the Titans clinched their own playoff berth, they helped another team to get their first.

    As a result of the 49ers' loss, the Dallas Cowboys became the second team in the NFL to secure a postseason spot this season. The Cowboys will have an opportunity to clinch the NFC East title Sunday, and they are still in the running for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, only one game back of the Green Bay Packers (who have already clinched the NFC North).

    Meanwhile, the Titans will clinch the AFC South on Saturday if the Indianapolis Colts lose to the Arizona Cardinals. Otherwise, Tennessee will have to wait until at least Week 17. But even if that's the case, the Titans only need one more win or one more Colts loss to capture the division crown.

    With 15 games still to play on the Week 16 schedule, here's a look at the playoff picture and upcoming clinching scenarios, per  

Current NFL Playoff Picture

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press


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

    No. 2 Tennessee Titans (10-5) vs. No. 7 Buffalo Bills (8-6)

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

    No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) vs. No. 5 Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

    In the hunt: Baltimore Ravens (8-6), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1), Las Vegas Raiders (7-7), Miami Dolphins (7-7), Cleveland Browns (7-7), Denver Broncos (7-7)



    Bye: No. 1 Green Bay Packers (11-3)

    No. 2 Dallas Cowboys (10-4) vs. No. 7 Minnesota Vikings (7-7)

    No. 3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4) vs. No. 6 San Francisco 49ers (8-7)

    No. 4 Arizona Cardinals (10-4) vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Rams (10-4)

    In the hunt: Philadelphia Eagles (7-7), New Orleans Saints (7-7), Washington Football Team (6-8), Atlanta Falcons (6-8), Carolina Panthers (5-9), Seattle Seahawks (5-9), New York Giants (4-10)

AFC Clinching Scenarios

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Kansas City has an opportunity to clinch its sixth consecutive AFC West title Sunday. But in order for that to happen, it's going to need a little bit of help.

    The Chiefs can capture the division title if they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Chargers lose to the Houston Texans. But Los Angeles is a heavy favorite over Houston, so it's a long shot to happen this week. However, a Kansas City win is enough for it to clinch a playoff berth.

    Even if the Chiefs clinch a postseason berth and/or the AFC West title, they will still have reason to play their starters down the stretch, as there is no way for them to clinch the No. 1 seed in the conference in Week 16.

    The Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots could also become division champions this week. The Titans have no control over whether they will clinch the AFC South in Week 16, though, as they need the Indianapolis Colts to lose to the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night for that to happen.

    However, Tennessee would clinch a playoff berth if all of the following teams lose: the Miami Dolphins (at the New Orleans Saints), Buffalo Bills (at New England), Denver Broncos (at the Las Vegas Raiders), Cleveland Browns (at the Green Bay Packers) and either Pittsburgh (at Kansas City) or the Baltimore Ravens (at the Cincinnati Bengals).

    As for the Patriots, they can clinch the AFC East with a win over the Bills and a Dolphins loss to the Saints. It's an important matchup between New England and Buffalo regardless, as the winner will be in first place in the division after the game.

    Even if the Dolphins win, the Pats could still earn a playoff berth in Week 16. They need a win and one of the following combinations of losses: Raiders/Chargers, Colts/Bengals, Colts/Ravens/Steelers, Colts/Chargers or Ravens/Browns/Steelers.

    While there are no clinching scenarios for the highly competitive AFC North, first place in the division will be on the line in the Ravens-Bengals matchup. But the Steelers and Browns remain close behind those two teams and would remain that way with wins of their own.

NFC Clinching Scenarios

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    The Packers clinched the NFC North in Week 15, but they will still try to hold on to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Although Green Bay can't clinch that spot this week, it can ensure that it will remain in the lead with a win over Cleveland on Saturday.

    On Thursday, the Dallas Cowboys clinched a playoff berth when the San Francisco 49ers lost to the Tennessee Titans, meaning they will be heading to the postseason for the first time since 2018. However, Dallas is looking to secure more than just that this week.

    If the Cowboys beat the Washington Football Team on Sunday night, they will clinch the NFC East title. But they could also capture the division crown earlier in the day if the Philadelphia Eagles lose to the New York Giants. Philadelphia will be a heavy favorite to win over New York, though, so Dallas may need to take care of business itself.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could also clinch a division title this week. Even though the Bucs are the defending Super Bowl champions, they haven't won the NFC South title since 2007. They will become NFC South champions if they beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday or if the Saints lose to the Dolphins on Monday night.

    The only way New Orleans can win the division is by winning the remainder of its games and having Tampa Bay lose out.

    The Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams are both 10-4, so the NFC West title can't be won in Week 16. But it is possible that Arizona and Los Angeles will both clinch playoff berths.

    The Cardinals will clinch a spot with a win over the Colts or one of the following combinations of losses: Eagles/49ers, Eagles/Vikings, Eagles/Saints, Vikings/49ers, Vikings/Saints or Saints/49ers. San Francisco already lost to Tennessee on Thursday night.

    The Rams will clinch a playoff berth with either a win over the Minnesota Vikings or if the Eagles and Saints both lose.