NFL Playoff Picture 2021: Scenarios, Standings and Predictions Before Week 17

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIDecember 30, 2021

NFL Playoff Picture 2021: Scenarios, Standings and Predictions Before Week 17

0 of 3

    Darryl Webb/Associated Press

    Week 17 has long marked the end of the NFL regular season. That isn't the case in 2021.

    This year, every NFL team is playing 17 games over an 18-week schedule. And it's guaranteed to take until Week 18 for all of the playoff berths to be clinched.

    But some races could be decided in Week 17, during which nearly every game will be played Sunday. The only matchup that won't occur that day is Monday's AFC North showdown between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Heading into Week 17, here's a look at the latest clinching scenarios, per, and predictions for what will happen during the penultimate weekend of the regular season.

Current NFL Playoff Picture

1 of 3

    Matt Patterson/Associated Press


    Bye: No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)

    No. 2 Tennessee Titans (10-5) vs. No. 7 Miami Dolphins (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)

    In the hunt: Los Angeles Chargers (8-7), Las Vegas Raiders (8-7), Baltimore Ravens (8-7), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1), Cleveland Browns (7-8), Denver Broncos (7-8)



    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)

    In the hunt: Minnesota Vikings (7-8), Atlanta Falcons (7-8), New Orleans Saints (7-8), Washington Football Team (6-9)

AFC Clinching Scenarios, Predictions

2 of 3

    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs have an opportunity to clinch the No. 1 seed Sunday, which would give them the AFC's lone first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. In order for that to happen, they will need to beat the Cincinnati Bengals and have the Tennessee Titans lose to the Miami Dolphins.

    There's another reason it will be important for Tennessee to avoid defeat: It can clinch the AFC South title with a win over Miami. The Titans would also become division champions if the Indianapolis Colts lose to the Las Vegas Raiders.

    Even though Indianapolis could get eliminated from the AFC South title race in Week 17, it could still clinch a playoff berth. The Colts just need to beat the Raiders in order to ensure that they will be one of the three wild cards in the AFC.

    The AFC North could also be clinched this week. The Bengals will become the division champions if they beat the Chiefs. There are other scenarios in which Cincinnati could secure the title, but those would require a tie to happen in another matchup, which is unlikely.

    The Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins are all still alive in the AFC East title race, so that division championship can't be clinched in Week 17. However, Buffalo and New England will both have opportunities to clinch playoff berths.

    The Bills will secure their spot in the postseason with a win over the Atlanta Falcons and a Baltimore Ravens loss to the Los Angeles Rams or losses by both the Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Denver Broncos) and Raiders (at Colts). The Pats can clinch with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and a loss by either the Dolphins (at Titans) or Raiders (at Colts).



    Don't expect either the AFC North or AFC South titles to be clinched in Week 17. However, the Chiefs will end up securing the No. 1 seed in the conference, which will give them an opportunity to rest their starters in Week 18.

    Kansas City will stay hot by beating Cincinnati for its ninth consecutive victory, while Tennessee will lose to Miami, which will record its eighth straight win. But the Titans will still be in a good position to capture the AFC South crown in Week 18, when they face the Houston Texans on the road.

    The Colts will clinch a playoff berth with a win, while the Bills and Patriots will also secure spots by notching victories and getting the necessary help.

NFC Clinching Scenarios, Predictions

3 of 3

    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Five of the seven playoff berths in the NFC have already been clinched, as well as three of the four division titles. So there's not a lot up for grabs in the conference over the next two weeks.

    The Green Bay Packers have a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed Sunday, but they will need to beat the Minnesota Vikings and have the Dallas Cowboys lose to the Arizona Cardinals. Otherwise, Green Bay will have to wait until Week 18 to try to earn a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the conference playoffs.

    The NFC West is the only division still up for grabs, but that could change Sunday. The Rams can win the title with a victory over the Ravens and a Cardinals loss to the Cowboys. Both Los Angeles and Arizona have already clinched playoff berths.

    The San Francisco 49ers can clinch a spot in the postseason with a win over the Texans and a New Orleans Saints loss to the Carolina Panthers. Otherwise, San Francisco will still be in danger of falling out of the playoffs heading into Week 18.

    The Philadelphia Eagles also have an opportunity to clinch a wild-card berth this week. They will need to beat the Washington Football Team and have the Vikings (at Packers) and either the Saints (vs. Panthers) or Texans (at 49ers) lose.



    The Rams should become the NFC West champions Sunday. They will go on the road and defeat the Ravens, while the Cardinals' recent struggles will continue, as they will fall to the Cowboys in a challenging away matchup.

    That will be the only thing clinched in Week 17, as the 49ers and Eagles will both win but won't get the necessary help to secure wild-card berths. San Francisco and Philadelphia will still be in strong positions entering Week 18, though, so don't be surprised if both end up in the postseason.

    The Packers will also fail to clinch the No. 1 seed because the Cowboys will beat the Cardinals to stay in the running.