NFL Playoff Picture Week 16: AFC, NFC Scenarios Ahead of Sunday's Games

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2021

NFL Playoff Picture Week 16: AFC, NFC Scenarios Ahead of Sunday's Games

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    Although every win and loss counts the same, it doesn't feel that way late in the NFL season. The impact of each outcome is magnified as teams are chasing the playoffs.

    On Thursday, the Tennessee Titans put themselves on the brink of an AFC South crown thanks to a win over the San Francisco 49ers. Then on Saturday, the Cleveland Browns took another step backward with a loss to the Green Bay Packers, while the Indianapolis Colts continued their surge with a victory over the sputtering Arizona Cardinals.

    Best of all, Week 16 is just getting started. Sunday's action has more than a handful of potential clinching scenarios.

    Prior to kickoff, we're reviewing the standings and updating the postseason sequences to know.

AFC Standings

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    AFC East

    New England Patriots: 9-5
    Buffalo Bills: 8-6
    Miami Dolphins: 7-7
    New York Jets: 3-11


    AFC North

    Cincinnati Bengals: 8-6
    Baltimore Ravens: 8-6
    Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-6-1
    Cleveland Browns: 7-8


    AFC South

    Tennessee Titans: 10-5
    Indianapolis Colts: 9-6
    Houston Texans: 3-11
    Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-12


    AFC West

    Kansas City Chiefs: 10-4
    Los Angeles Chargers: 8-6
    Las Vegas Raiders: 7-7
    Denver Broncos: 7-7

NFC Standings

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    NFC East

    Dallas Cowboys: 10-4
    Philadelphia Eagles: 7-7
    Washington: 6-8
    New York Giants: 4-10


    NFC North

    Green Bay Packers: 12-3
    Minnesota Vikings: 7-7
    Chicago Bears: 4-10
    Detroit Lions: 2-11-1


    NFC South

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10-3
    New Orleans Saints: 6-7
    Atlanta Falcons: 6-8
    Carolina Panthers: 5-9


    NFC West

    Los Angeles Rams: 10-4
    Arizona Cardinals: 10-5
    San Francisco 49ers: 8-6
    Seattle Seahawks: 5-9

AFC Scenarios

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The winner of Sunday's game between the New England Patriots host the Buffalo Bills will be the AFC East front-runner. But if New England wins, a Miami Dolphins loss or tie to the New Orleans Saints on Monday night would lock up a division title for the Patriots.

    Even if the division isn't settled in Week 16, New England also has a couple of paths to a playoff berth with a victory. As long as the Patriots win, losses from the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers or the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders will send Bill Belichick's squad to the postseason.

    In the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs need a win over Pittsburgh to clinch a playoff spot. Add in a Chargers loss or tie to the Houston Texans, and Kansas City could secure its sixth straight division crown.

    Because the Indianapolis Colts beat the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday, the Tennessee Titans cannot seal the AFC South in Week 16. Nevertheless, they can lock up a postseason trip if the Bills, Dolphins, Denver Broncos and either the Steelers or Ravens lose. Improbable, sure. But it's possible!

    That's all for AFC scenarios in Week 16. Sunday's results will have a substantial impact on a congested wild-card race.

NFC Scenarios

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    San Francisco's loss Thursday assured the Dallas Cowboys of a trip to the postseason, and there's a decent chance they clinch the NFC East on Sunday too. The easiest scenarios are a Dallas win or tie against the Washington Football Team or a Philadelphia Eagles loss or tie to the New York Giants.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also have a straightforward path to securing the NFC South, needing only a victory or a tie with no other help. If the Bucs fall to the Carolina Panthers, a Vikings loss or tie plus an Eagles win or loss or Cowboys win or tie would take care of it anyway.

    Arizona missed its chance Saturday night, but a loss or tie from any one of the Eagles, Saints or Vikings does it for the Cardinals. Also in the NFC West, the Los Angeles Rams need a victory or tie against Minnesota or losses and/or ties from both the Eagles and Saints to clinch a playoff spot.