NFL Playoff Scenarios 2021-22: Wildcard Picture, Postseason Bracket Post-Week 16

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2021

Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Ryan Succop celebrates after a field goal during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Rusty Jones)
Rusty Jones/Associated Press

At the conclusion of Sunday's afternoon games, the NFL playoff picture came into clearer focus, as the Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers had clinched their postseason berths, while others, like the Seattle Seahawks, were mathematically eliminated.

The playoff picture we will break down below is current as of the end of Sunday Night Football between the Washington Football Team and Dallas Cowboys. The latter clinched their division and their playoff berth with the San Francisco 49ers' loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday.

With its decisive 56-14 win over Washington, however, Dallas bumped down the Los Angeles Rams to the No. 3 seed in the playoff picture and claimed the No. 2 seed for itself.

Notice anything about all those teams mentioned above? That's right: They all play in just one conference. Heading into Sunday's action, no AFC team had clinched a playoff spot.

The Kansas City Chiefs were the first to do so thanks to their convincing 36-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There are now seven available playoff spots in each conference. Seeding weighting prioritizes the four division champions from best to worst records, followed by the three wild-club teams with the best records. There are multiple tie-breaking procedures in place.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, New York Giants, New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers have all been eliminated from playoff contention.

Let's take a look at how the NFL postseason picture stands heading into Monday, breaking down teams in the hunt and on the bubble for a wild-card berth. The full postseason bracket and dynamic playoff picture can be viewed at NFL.com.


AFC Playoff Picture


1. Kansas City Chiefs, 11-4 (clinched division)


In the Hunt

2. Tennessee Titans, 10-5

3. Cincinnati Bengals, 9-6

4. Buffalo Bills, 9-6

5. Indianapolis Colts, 9-6

6. New England Patriots, 9-6

7. Baltimore Ravens, 8-7


On the Bubble

8. Los Angeles Chargers, 8-7

9. Las Vegas Raiders, 8-7

10. Miami Dolphins, 7-7

11. Pittsburgh Steelers, 7-7-1

12. Cleveland Browns, 7-8

13. Denver Broncos, 7-8


The Houston Texans got the last laugh Sunday, routing the Los Angeles Chargers 41-29 despite being eliminated from postseason contention.

With the Chargers' loss, the Chiefs controlled their own destiny and were able to clinch their playoff ticket with their win over the Steelers. The Chargers, meanwhile, plummeted to No. 8 in the AFC playoff picture, leaving them on the outside looking in and in need of a big win over the Denver Broncos in Week 17, who are hanging on for dear life in the No. 13 bubble spot.

Meanwhile, with their 33-21 win over the New England Patriots, the Buffalo Bills remain in contention for the division crown, holding a tiebreaker over the Patriots and with a gift of a game against the Atlanta Falcons coming up next.


NFC Playoff Picture


1. Green Bay Packers, 12-3 (clinched division)

2. Dallas Cowboys, 11-4 (clinched division)

3. Los Angeles Rams, 11-4 (clinched playoffs)

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 11-4 (clinched division)

5. Arizona Cardinals, 10-5 (clinched playoffs)


In the Hunt

6. San Francisco 49ers, 8-7 

7. Philadelphia Eagles, 8-7


On the Bubble

8. New Orleans Saints, 7-7

9. Minnesota Vikings, 7-8

10. Atlanta Falcons, 7-8

11. Washington Football Team, 6-9


The Rams found themselves with a bittersweet taste in their mouths Sunday, managing to best the Minnesota Vikings 30-23 despite Matthew Stafford's three interceptions, officially clinching their NFC playoff berth but, with the Vikings' defeat, also handing the rival Arizona Cardinals their own playoff lock.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also got in on the clinching action Sunday, punching their dance card with a 32-6 blowout of the Carolina Panthers. It is their first NFC South title since 2007. The Bucs own the No. 3 seed and can finish no lower than No. 4 when all is said and done.

Washington desperately needed a win over NFC East rival Dallas on Sunday night to avoid falling out of the playoff picture. Already in the final bubble spot heading into Sunday Night Football, Washington hasn't been mathematically eliminated with its loss to the Cowboys, but having dropped to 6-9, but the outlook is bleak.

With the win, Dallas moved up from No. 4 in the seedings to No. 2. The Rams, No. 3 as a result of the Cowboys' rise, and Cardinals will be in a close race for the NFC West title over the final two weeks of the regular season.


*Current as of 11:45 p.m. ET on Sunday, Dec. 26