NFL Playoff Scenarios 2022: Reviewing Post-Week 16 AFC, NFC Picture, BracketDecember 27, 2021
NFL Playoff Scenarios 2022: Reviewing Post-Week 16 AFC, NFC Picture, Bracket
The NFC playoff picture is coming into focus with the majority of Week 16 action complete. However, there are still plenty of postseason berths up for grabs in the AFC.
Heading into Week 16, the Green Bay Packers (NFC North champions) were the only team in the NFL that had clinched a playoff berth. Now, the Dallas Cowboys (NFC East) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC South) are also division champions, while a pair of NFC West teams (the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals) have punched their postseason tickets as well.
The first AFC playoff berth was clinched Sunday, when the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers to capture their sixth consecutive AFC West title. The other six AFC postseason spots are still undecided, although other teams are getting close to clinching.
Here's the NFL playoff picture with only one Week 16 game still to play (Miami Dolphins vs. New Orleans Saints on Monday night) and a look at clinching scenarios, per ESPN's Kevin Seifert.
Current NFL Playoff Bracket
Bye: No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
No. 2 Tennessee Titans (10-5) vs. No. 7 Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) vs. No. 6 New England Patriots (9-6)
No. 4 Buffalo Bills (9-6) vs. No. 5 Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
Bye: No. 1 Green Bay Packers (12-3)
No. 2 Dallas Cowboys (11-4) vs. No. 7 Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)
No. 3 Los Angeles Rams (11-4) vs. No. 6 San Francisco 49ers (8-7)
No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) vs. No. 5 Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
AFC Playoff Picture, Scenarios
1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4, clinched AFC West)
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)
In the hunt: Los Angeles Chargers (8-7), Las Vegas Raiders (8-7), Miami Dolphins (7-7), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1), Cleveland Browns (7-8), Denver Broncos (7-8)
The Chiefs haven't clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but that could change in Week 17. In order for that to happen, Kansas City will need to beat the Cincinnati Bengals and the Tennessee Titans will need to lose to the Miami Dolphins. Otherwise, the Titans will stay alive in the race for home-field advantage and a first-round bye for another week.
Tennessee is closing in on clinching the AFC South title. It will become the division champion Sunday if it beats Miami or if the Indianapolis Colts lose to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Even if that doesn't happen, the Titans could at least clinch a playoff berth in Week 17. They would secure a spot in the postseason with one of these combinations of losses: Ravens/Chargers, Ravens/Patriots or Chargers/Patriots. There could be more if the Dolphins lose to the Saints on Monday night.
The Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday to maintain their position in first place in the AFC North, and they can clinch the division in Week 17. Cincinnati will need to beat Kansas City, while the Pittsburgh Steelers need to lose to the Cleveland Browns.
The AFC East is the only division in the conference that can't be decided in Week 17. The Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and Dolphins are all still alive in the race for the title, which will go down to the final week of the regular season. Buffalo is the only team that controls its own destiny, as it can win the division by earning victories in its final two regular-season games against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets.
Though the Colts need help to stay in the AFC South race, they can clinch a playoff berth in Week 17 if they beat the Raiders. Indianapolis has won six of its past seven games after beating the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday.
New England lost to Buffalo on Sunday to fall out of first place in the AFC East. However, the Pats can clinch a playoff berth in Week 17 if they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Raiders lose to the Colts or if they win and the Dolphins lose either Monday night or in Week 17.
Although Baltimore lost, it's in the No. 7 spot in the AFC. However, that may not be the case by the end of Week 16 because Miami will move up into that position if it beats the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. The Dolphins are on a six-game winning streak after a 1-7 start.
NFC Playoff Picture, Scenarios
1. Green Bay Packers (12-3, clinched NFC North)
2. Dallas Cowboys (11-4, clinched NFC East)
3. Los Angeles Rams (11-4, clinched playoff berth)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4, clinched NFC South)
5. Arizona Cardinals (10-5, clinched playoff berth)
6. San Francisco 49ers (8-7)
7. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)
In the hunt: New Orleans Saints (7-7), Minnesota Vikings (7-8), Atlanta Falcons (7-8), Washington Football Team (6-9)
The Green Bay Packers could wrap up the race for the No. 1 seed in Week 17. With a win over the Minnesota Vikings and a Dallas Cowboys loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay would clinch home-field advantage and a first-round bye. The Packers are 7-0 at home this season, and they host the Vikings at Lambeau Field on Sunday night.
The Cowboys could still end up as the No. 1 seed, though. That would happen if Dallas wins its final two regular-season games against Arizona and the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay loses to either Minnesota in Week 17 or the Detroit Lions in Week 18.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the NFC South champions for the first time since 2007. They are still alive in the race for the No. 1 seed, but they are a long shot to pass the three teams ahead of them in the NFC standings.
The only division title still up for grabs in the conference is the NFC West, which could be decided in Week 17. The Los Angeles Rams took over first place Sunday, and they will clinch the title if they beat the Baltimore Ravens and the Cardinals lose to the Cowboys on Sunday.
Even though Arizona lost to Indianapolis on Saturday, it still clinched a playoff berth in Week 16. But if the Cardinals are going to win the NFC West, they will need to win out and for the Rams to lose one of their final two regular-season games.
The San Francisco 49ers fell to 8-7 with a loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night, but they can still clinch a playoff berth in Week 17 if the Saints lose to the Dolphins on Monday night. Were that to happen, San Francisco will need to beat the Houston Texans on Sunday and also get some help from elsewhere.
The Eagles have won six of their past eight games to climb the NFC standings, and they are now in the No. 7 spot. They can clinch a playoff berth in Week 17 with a win over the Washington Football Team alongside losses by the Vikings, 49ers and Saints.
New Orleans wouldn't move up in the standings with a victory against Miami on Monday night, but it would then have an 8-7 record like both San Francisco and Philadelphia. If the Saints lose, their path to the playoffs becomes more difficult.