NFL Playoffs 2022: Updated AFC, NFC Scenarios Before Monday Night Football

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2022

NFL Playoffs 2022: Updated AFC, NFC Scenarios Before Monday Night Football

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    With one more game on the Week 17 slate Monday night, the playoff picture in the NFL is much clearer.

    The Green Bay Packers wrapped up the No. 1 overall seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by way of a dominant victory over Minnesota on Sunday, and Tennessee jumped Kansas City to hold the top seed in the AFC.

    For now.

    The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles both clinched playoff appearances, and the Arizona Cardinals remained in the hunt for an NFC West title they once appeared ready to run away with.

    The San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders will all play for their postseason lives in Week 18. 

    Ben Roethlisberger hopes a Monday Night Football victory over the Cleveland Browns will make the last game of the season against Baltimore that much more meaningful. 

    Who controls their own playoff quests ahead of Monday night's game in Pittsburgh, and what clinching scenarios exist entering the final week of the season?

Monday Night Football: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    On Monday night in Pittsburgh, future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger will likely play his final game at Heinz Field. He acknowledged as much while talking to the media last week: "Looking at the bigger picture, I would say all signs are pointing to this could be it—regular season, that is."

    As inconsistent as both his and his team's play has been in 2021, Big Ben has the Steelers still chasing a postseason berth. The two-time world champion can ensure Pittsburgh stays alive for one more week with a win over the familiar Cleveland Browns.

    Roethlisberger is 25-2-1 against the AFC North rivals.

    One of those losses, though, put an end to a magical run by Pittsburgh a season ago. Baker Mayfield and the Browns shellacked the Steelers, eliminating them from the postseason with a 48-37 victory. Does that make Cleveland more dangerous this time around? They have nothing to play for after seeing their hopes of a return to the playoffs dashed Sunday.

    Inconsistent play from the Browns offense, injuries endured by Mayfield all season and the raw emotion that will surround the game should result in the Steelers securing the win and moving on to a high-stakes season finale in Week 18 against their toughest, most hated rivals: the Baltimore Ravens.

    The 39-year-old said: "But the fun thing is, I know I still have it in the tank to go out there this week and next week and give it everything I have to do everything I can to get us into the postseason. That's always the ultimate goal: to win us a Lombardi. That's still my goal. We're not out of this thing yet."

AFC Playoff Picture

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press


    1. Tennessee Titans (11-5, clinched AFC South)

    2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, clinched AFC West)

    3. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, clinched AFC North)

    4. Buffalo Bills (10-6, clinched playoffs)

    5. New England Patriots (10-6, clinched playoffs)


    In the Hunt

    6. Indianapolis Colts (9-7, second in AFC South)

    7. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7, second in AFC West)


    On the Bubble

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

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

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


    The Cincinnati Bengals threw the top of the playoff picture into disarray Sunday with a come-from-behind victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, allowing the Tennessee Titans to recapture the top seed in the conference. The Bengals also clinched the AFC North in doing so, ensuring themselves a spot in the postseason.

    Tennessee simply needs to knock off Houston to remain in the catbird seat. A surprising loss would create chaos atop the conference, with both the Chiefs and Bengals being able to secure the No. 1 seed in different scenarios.

    The New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick also cashed their ticket to the playoffs with a dismantling of the Jacksonville Jaguars in which the six-time world champions looked like an unstoppable force.

    The Colts had a chance to clinch a playoff spot and potentially win the AFC South, but a last-second loss to the Las Vegas Raiders halted their momentum and kept a berth in the postseason just out of reach for another week. Indy can earn a spot with a victory over the aforementioned Jaguars. A loss makes things much more difficult and leaves them relying on losses by Pittsburgh on Monday night and in Week 18 by both Baltimore and Los Angeles.

    Speaking of the Chargers and Raiders, the NFL has one of its beloved "win-and-you're-in" scenarios for next week's Sunday Night Football as the two AFC West squads compete in what will be the most meaningful game in the brief history of Allegiant Stadium.

    Las Vegas keeps snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, while L.A.'s inconsistency has prevented them from earning its way to the postseason. Either Derek Carr will find a way to return his squad to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, or Justin Herbert will make good on all of the potential he has shown en route to tossing the most touchdowns in a single season within franchise history. 

NFC Playoff Picture

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    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press


    1. Green Bay Packers (13-3, clinched NFC North and No. 1 seed)

    2. Los Angeles Rams (12-4, clinched playoffs)

    3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4, clinched NFC South)

    4. Dallas Cowboys (11-5, clinched NFC East)

    5. Arizona Cardinals (11-5, clinched playoffs)

    7. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7, clinched playoffs)


    In the Hunt

    6. San Francisco 49ers (9-7, third in NFC West)


    On the Bubble

    8. New Orleans Saints (8-8, second in NFC South)


    For the San Francisco 49ers, a playoff berth rests with their ability to defeat the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18.

    Kyle Shanahan's squad has beaten the Rams the last five times they have played, proving to be a conundrum that Sean McVay has been unable to solve. With the opportunity to wrap up the No. 2 seed and the NFC West title with a win, expect a renewed sense of urgency from the Rams and the toughest battle the Niners have seen from their neighbors to the south.

    A loss by San Francisco would open things up a bit, giving the Saints an opportunity to slide into the postseason with a win over the Atlanta Falcons. That is an easy matchup for Sean Payton's crew, though Matt Ryan and Co. are anything but an easy out.

    In the event that both teams win or both lose, San Francisco would advance to the playoffs.

    The seeding in the conference remains undecided, too.

    The aforementioned Rams could slide in anywhere from No. 2 through No. 4. Both Tampa Bay and Dallas can wind up in the No. 2 seed depending on the results of their Week 18 games (Carolina and Philadelphia, respectively).