NFL Playoff Picture Week 17: AFC, NFC Scenarios Ahead of Sunday's Games

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2022

NFL Playoff Picture Week 17: AFC, NFC Scenarios Ahead of Sunday's Games

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Rarely is a playoff picture so uncertain as it is entering the penultimate week in the NFL season.

    In the AFC, 12 teams remain in the hunt for postseason bids. In the NFC, two spots remain up for grabs, with six teams competing for them. The sheer number of teams still competing for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy makes Sunday's slate of games that much more meaningful.

    Which teams have already secured their spot in the postseason, who is still battling for their playoff lives and which clinching scenarios, per NFL.com, exist in this week's schedule that may clear things up a bit?

    Find out with this preview of Week 17 in the NFL.

Week 17 Schedule

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    1 p.m. Lineup

    Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team

    Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets

    Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans

    Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots

    Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts

    Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals

    New York Giants at Chicago Bears

    Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills

                 

    4:05 p.m. Lineup

    Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers

    Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers

                           

    4:25 p.m. Lineup

    Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints

    Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks

    Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys

             

    Sunday Night Football (8:20 p.m.)

    Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers

         

    Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m.)

    Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC Playoff Picture

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    AFC Playoff Picture

    Clinched

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

            

    In the Hunt

    2. Tennessee Titans (10-5, first in AFC South)

    3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6, first in AFC North)

    4. Buffalo Bills (9-6, first in AFC East)

    5. Indianapolis Colts (9-6, second in AFC South)

    6. New England Patriots (9-6, second in AFC East)

    7. Miami Dolphins (8-7, third in AFC East)

             

    On the Bubble

    8. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7, second in AFC West)

    9. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7, third in AFC West)

    10. Baltimore Ravens (8-7, second in AFC North)

    11. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1, third in AFC North)

    12. Cleveland Browns (7-8, fourth in AFC North)

    13. Denver Broncos (7-8, fourth in AFC West)

                         

    There is no better indicator of the parity in the NFL this season than the AFC playoff picture. As the league enters Week 17, there is only one team whose participation in the postseason is a lock at this point: the defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs.

    Sure, the picture is becoming clearer, but the fact that no one else has managed to join them in the playoffs is indicative of just how competitive things are in the conference. It also highlights just how superior Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and the rest of the KC squad is to the competition.

    The Chiefs could well get some company Sunday, though.

    Runners up in the AFC last year, the Buffalo Bills, can cash their ticket to the postseason with a win over the Atlanta Falcons and a Baltimore Ravens loss. Considering the injuries that have plagued the Ravens this season, and the high-powered Los Angeles Rams offense coming to town, a win will be tough to come by. Conversely, Buffalo's tough defense and quarterback Josh Allen should be able to put away a gutsy Falcons team still playing for their own playoff lives.

    The Cincinnati Bengals can win the AFC North with a victory over the Chiefs. A loss will keep that division in play heading into Week 18.

    A win for the Indianapolis Colts over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday will return them to the postseason, where their lethal combination of defense and rushing attack will prove problematic for the opposition. AFC South foes the Tennessee Titans can wrap up the division with a win over the Miami Dolphins. However, the Dolphins are riding a seven-game win streak and are anything but an easy out as they look to keep their postseason aspirations alive.

    Finally, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots can make their return to the playoffs with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and a loss by the Dolphins.

    The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers remain in the conversation, but they need to win and for a few other scenarios to go their way if they hope to play past Week 18. With emotions running high for what could be Ben Roethlisberger's final game at Heinz Field, that game against the Browns suddenly takes on greater meaning.

NFC Playoff Picture

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    NFC Playoff Picture

    Clinched

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

    2. Dallas Cowboys (11-4, clinched NFC East)

    3. Los Angeles Rams (11-4, first in NFC West)

    4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4, clinched NFC South)

    5. Arizona Cardinals (10-5, second in NFC West)

              

    In the Hunt

    6. San Francisco 49ers (8-7, third in NFC West)

    7. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7, second in NFC East)

                     

    On the Bubble

    8. Minnesota Vikings (7-8, second in NFC North)

    9. Atlanta Falcons (7-8, second in NFC South)

    10. New Orleans Saints (7-8, third in NFC South)

    11. Washington Football Team (6-9, third in NFC East)

                    

    Things are a little clearer over in the NFC, where the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have all secured their postseason berths. The Packers, Cowboys and Buccaneers have all won their divisions, while the Rams and Cardinals continue to battle for NFC West supremacy.

    That division can be wrapped up by L.A. on Sunday with a win over Baltimore and a loss by the Cardinals, who are on the road against the Dallas Cowboys. Arizona has looked like anything but the world-beating team that started 7-0. Injuries in key positions, as well as sudden struggles on both sides of the ball, have cost them an opportunity to clinch the division and guarantee a home playoff game.

    As both of those NFC West squads are aware of, the 49ers are a tough matchup for anyone in the conference and can clinch a spot in the postseason with a victory over the Houston Texans and a New Orleans Saints loss.

    The Philadelphia Eagles can boost their chances of making a postseason appearance with a win over the struggling Washington Football Team, but they need help elsewhere in the form of a Minnesota Vikings loss to Green Bay. A New Orleans loss or tie, Atlanta loss or tie and a 49ers win help them out in a variety of scenarios, meaning it is possible the Eagles and their passionate fanbase will not know the team's playoff fate until Week 18.

    The Vikings, Saints and Falcons all need to win to maintain any hopes of getting into the playoffs.

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