NFL Playoff Scenarios 2022: Week 18 AFC, NFC Postseason Picture

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2022

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
AJ Mast/Associated Press

The Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams need to end losing runs in specific situations to secure playoff spots in Week 18.

Indianapolis has not defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road in its past five attempts. The Colts need to defeat their AFC South rival to land one of the two remaining AFC wild-card spots.

The Rams will lock up the NFC West title with a win over the San Francisco 49ers. Kyle Shanahan's team has a five-game winning streak versus Sean McVay's squad but also needs a victory to help its own playoff status. The 49ers get into the postseason with a victory, and if not, they need the New Orleans Saints to lose to the Atlanta Falcons.

The AFC East title and a second wild-card spot in the AFC are also up for grabs Sunday. The Buffalo Bills must beat the New York Jets to win their division, while the wild-card spot could come down to the last game of the regular season.


AFC Playoff Picture

Division Leaders

1. Tennessee (11-5)

2. Kansas City (11-5)

3. Cincinnati (10-6)

4. Buffalo (10-6)


The fight for the AFC's No. 1 seed is likely down to the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans.

Tennessee plays the Houston Texans on Sunday, while Kansas City opens Week 18 opposite the Denver Broncos on Saturday.

A Titans victory secures the No. 1 seed, a first-round bye and home-field advantage for the AFC South champion. A Chiefs win, combined with a Tennessee loss, moves them back into the No. 1 position that they vacated after Week 17's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The newly crowned AFC North champion will not have Joe Burrow or Joe Mixon available Sunday. Burrow confirmed to reporters Wednesday that he is resting ahead of the postseason, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Mixon, meanwhile, returned a positive COVID-19 test.

Cincinnati plays the Cleveland Browns, who are already eliminated from playoff contention and will start Case Keenum at quarterback.

Buffalo can move into the No. 3 spot in the AFC by way of a win over the Jets and a Bengals loss to Cleveland. The Bills must beat the Jets to land a home playoff game by way of the AFC East title. A Bills win and Bengals loss would keep Josh Allen and Co. away from the New England Patriots in the Wild Card Round.


Wild-Card Race

5. New England (10-6)

6. Indianapolis (9-7)

7. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)

8. Las Vegas (9-7)

9. Pittsburgh (8-7-1)

10. Baltimore (8-8)


The New England Patriots are playing to either win the AFC East or to maintain their No. 5 position in the AFC standings.

New England needs to beat the Miami Dolphins and have Buffalo lose to the Jets to move into the top four. If not, the Patriots will likely be the No. 5 seed.

Indianapolis needs to beat Jacksonville in a road game for the first time since 2014 to secure a wild-card spot. The Colts lost five games in north Florida and one in London during that span. The good news for Frank Reich's team is that the Jaguars are playing for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft. A loss secures that for the Jags for the second year running.

Everyone else in the AFC wild-card race is rooting for the Jags because that opens up a handful of different possibilities.

The most bizarre scenario is that the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders could both get into the postseason with a tie combined with a Colts loss. The winner of Sunday night's AFC West showdown gets into the postseason regardless.

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers face off in what could be an elimination game Sunday. Both teams need a victory and help to get into the postseason. Pittsburgh needs an Indianapolis loss and a defeat for either AFC West side to get in, while Baltimore needs the Colts, Chargers and Dolphins to fall so it can qualify with a victory.


NFC Playoff Picture

Division Leaders 

1. Green Bay (13-3)

2. Los Angeles Rams (12-4)

3. Tampa Bay (12-4)

4. Dallas (11-5)


All eyes are on the NFC West.

The Los Angeles Rams need to end their losing streak against the San Francisco 49ers to secure the NFC West crown and the No. 2 seed. San Francisco is playing for its playoff life, so a victory may be hard to come by for Matthew Stafford and Co.

A Rams loss opens the door for the Arizona Cardinals to capture the NFC West. Arizona must beat the Seattle Seahawks in that scenario to leapfrog the Rams.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should beat the Carolina Panthers. They will either be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed based off what happens in the NFC West games. 

The Dallas Cowboys are likely the No. 4 seed. They are on the wrong end of head-to-head tiebreakers with Tampa Bay and Arizona. Dallas faces the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday and both teams are already locked into the postseason.


Wild-Card Race

5. Arizona (11-5)

6. San Francisco (9-7)

7. Philadelphia (9-7)

8. New Orleans (8-8)


Arizona will be the No. 5 seed at worst.

The Cardinals could head back to AT&T Stadium for the Wild Card Round after defeating the Cowboys in Week 17.

If the Rams lose and Cardinals win, Los Angeles would drop down to No. 5 and face Dallas in the Wild Card Round.

San Francisco needs to beat the Rams to lock in its playoff spot. A 49ers loss opens the door for the New Orleans Saints to qualify. New Orleans must defeat the Atlanta Falcons and have the Rams take down the 49ers to sneak in as the No. 7 seed.

Philadelphia will either be the No. 6 or No. 7 seed. It has a head-to-head loss to the 49ers and a victory over the Saints.