NFL Playoff Picture 2022: Latest Super Bowl Bracket and AFC, NFC Scenarios

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2022

NFL Playoff Picture 2022: Latest Super Bowl Bracket and AFC, NFC Scenarios

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    It's the most magical time of the year.

    The 2022 NFL playoffs are just around the corner, but the real magic might be happening right now. That's when reporters, fans and analysts balance mathematics and cartography to map out clinching scenarios for every club still in the postseason hunt.

    Week 17 thankfully simplified some of the math, as only three playoff spots remain unclaimed heading into the final weekend. There are, however, seven clubs competing for those berths, so there are still a healthy amount of scenarios that could change the playoff bracket.

    But with Week 17 in the books, let's lay out the latest Super Bowl bracket, then dig deeper into those remaining scenarios for Week 18.

Latest Playoff Bracket

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    AFC

    No. 1 Tennessee Titans: First-round bye

    No. 7 Los Angeles Chargers at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs

    No. 6 Indianapolis Colts at No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals

    No. 5 New England Patriots at No. 4 Buffalo Bills

                       

    NFC

    No. 1 Green Bay Packers: First-round bye

    No. 7 Philadelphia Eagles at No. 2 Los Angeles Rams

    No. 6 San Francisco 49ers at No. 3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    No. 5 Arizona Cardinals at No. 4 Dallas Cowboys

AFC Scenarios

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Before diving into all the AFC's what-ifs, let's run through what's been decided: nothing.

    OK, that's not entirely true. Three of the four division crowns have been claimed (everything but the AFC East), and a handful of teams have been officially eliminated. But that's pretty much it.

    The No. 1 seed could land with one of four teams: the Titans, Chiefs, Bengals or Patriots. Tennessee has the most direct path, as a win over the Houston Texans would do the trick. A combination of other teams' losses or ties could also get it done.

    Kansas City is up next, as a win over the Denver Broncos plus a Titans loss or tie would get it done. So would a tie against the Broncos coupled with a Titans loss. Then, it's Cincinnati, which gets the spot with a win over the Cleveland Browns and a lot of help, and finally New England, which basically needs a win over the Miami Dolphins and some divine intervention (Bills loss or tie, Chiefs loss and a Titans loss).

    The Bills can't get to the top seed, but they can lock up the AFC East with a win over the New York Jets or a Patriots loss or ties by both teams. Buffalo could climb as high as No. 2 with a win, a Chiefs loss and a Bengals loss or tie.

    The Colts are in the playoffs with a win or tie against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Chargers are in with a win or tie against the Raiders, while the Raiders take the spot by winning that game. The Pittsburgh Steelers need a win, a Colts loss and a non-tie in the Chargers-Raiders game to get in. The Baltimore Ravens need a win, a Chargers loss, a Colts loss and a Dolphins loss or tie to break in the back door.

NFC Scenarios

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    The Packers are locked into the NFC's top seed. Everything else is unsettled behind them.

    Four different teams could land in the second spot: the Rams, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Cardinals. If L.A. stops the San Francisco 49ers in Week 18, then the No. 2 seed and the NFC West crown belong to the Rams. If L.A. falters in that contest, then Tampa could take it with a triumph over the Carolina Panthers. If the Rams and Bucs both lose, that's when chaos could reign and elevate the Cowboys or Cardinals to No. 2.

    The Buccaneers and Cowboys can't fall lower than the fourth seed by way of their respective division titles. They will most likely finish third and fourth, respectively, but there are specific scenarios that could change that.

    The Eagles secured their wild card spot, although the seed is to be decided. It will probably be No. 7, but Philly has a few different paths to No. 6, all of which start with a San Francisco loss. If the 49ers win over the Rams, they're in at No. 6.

    San Francisco could also get in with the New Orleans Saints losing or tying the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints, finally, are into the No. 7 seed with a win and a 49ers loss.

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