NFL Playoff Picture 2022: Week 18 Scenarios, Standings and Predictions

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 7, 2022

NFL Playoff Picture 2022: Week 18 Scenarios, Standings and Predictions

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Who will end up as the No. 1 seed in the AFC? Which two of the five teams battling it out in the AFC wild-card race will make it to the playoffs? And will the San Francisco 49ers or New Orleans Saints capture the final wild-card berth in the NFC?

    For the first time in NFL history, the regular season is going to an 18th week. And there's still plenty to decide this weekend before the playoffs get underway the following week.

    Three of the 14 postseason berths are still up for grabs, as well as two division titles (the AFC East and NFC West). So there aren't a ton of teams that will have the luxury of resting starters this weekend.

    Here's a look at the playoff pictures for both the AFC and NFC, along with Week 18 clinching scenarios (per and predictions for how things will unfold.

AFC Playoff Picture, Scenarios

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Bye: No. 1 Tennessee Titans (11-5)

    No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)

    No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) vs. No. 6 Indianapolis Colts (9-7)

    No. 4 Buffalo Bills (10-6) vs. No. 5 New England Patriots (10-6)

    In the hunt: Las Vegas Raiders (9-7), Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1), Baltimore Ravens (8-8)


    There are four teams that could still end up as the No. 1 seed in the AFC: the Titans, Chiefs, Bengals or Patriots. But Tennessee is currently in the top spot and would need to lose for any of the other teams to have a chance to move up to No. 1.

    The Titans will clinch a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the conference playoffs with a road win over the Texans on Sunday. They'd also end up in the top spot if the Chiefs, Bengals and Patriots all lose, or if Kansas City and Cincinnati both lose and Buffalo wins.

    The Chiefs can clinch the No. 1 seed with a road win over the Broncos on Saturday and a Titans loss. The Bengals need to beat the Browns on the road on Sunday and have the Titans and Chiefs both lose, along with either a Patriots loss or a Bills win. Meanwhile, the Patriots need to beat the Dolphins on the road on Sunday and see losses for the Titans, Chiefs and Bills.

    In the AFC wild-card race, the Colts just need to beat the Jaguars on the road on Sunday to secure their spot. Indianapolis could also still get in with a loss if Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and New England all lose.

    The Chargers and Raiders will face off in Las Vegas on Sunday night, with the winner clinching a spot in the playoffs. Los Angeles has to win to get into the postseason, while Las Vegas could lose and still get in if Indianapolis and Pittsburgh both lose this week.

    The Steelers can make it to the playoffs if they beat the Ravens on the road on Sunday and the Colts lose to the Jags. Pittsburgh would also need the Los Angeles-Las Vegas game to not end in a tie.

    The Ravens need the most help to find a way to the postseason. They have to beat the Steelers and hope the Chargers, Colts and Dolphins all lose.

NFC Playoff Picture, Scenarios

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Bye: No. 1 Green Bay Packers (13-3)

    No. 2 Los Angeles Rams (12-4) vs. No. 7 Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

    No. 3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4) vs. No. 6 San Francisco 49ers (9-7)

    No. 4 Dallas Cowboys (11-5) vs. No. 5 Arizona Cardinals (11-5)

    In the hunt: New Orleans Saints (8-8)


    The Packers already clinched the No. 1 seed, so it's a guarantee that the Buccaneers, Cowboys and the NFC West champion will be hosting games during the Wild Card Round. It's the second straight year that Green Bay will be the top seed in the playoffs.

    Either the Rams or the Cardinals will be the NFC West champions. Los Angeles can capture the division crown with a home win over San Francisco or if Arizona loses to Seattle at home on Sunday. The only way the Cardinals can win the NFC West is with a win and a Rams loss.

    The Eagles may currently be the No. 7 seed, but they've already clinched a playoff berth. So that leaves the 49ers and Saints to battle it out for the final wild-card spot.

    San Francisco controls its own destiny, as it can clinch a postseason berth with a road win over the Rams on Sunday. It will also get into the playoffs if New Orleans loses in Atlanta on Sunday.

    The only way the Saints can reach the postseason is with a win and a 49ers loss.

Week 18 Predictions

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    With four teams in contention for the No. 1 seed and five teams battling for the final two wild-card berths, the AFC has a bunch of different scenarios. However, don't expect anything surprising to happen.

    The Titans should have little trouble beating the Texans on the road, so they'll secure the AFC's top seed. Tennessee may have lost to Houston in Week 11 (a 22-13 defeat), but it's a much better team now. And with higher stakes this time, it will take care of business.

    The Colts will have no trouble beating the Jaguars on the road to clinch a wild-card berth. And that will leave the final spot for the winner of Sunday night's Chargers-Raiders game.

    That AFC West matchup should be a close one, but the prediction here is that Los Angeles win. The Chargers beat the Raiders 28-14 in Week 4, and they have too many offensive playmakers for Las Vegas to stop. Justin Herbert will air it out and guide his team into the playoffs.

    In the NFC, the Rams will get revenge against the 49ers, which won the first meeting between the teams 31-10 in Week 10. Los Angeles' offense will have a much better showing this time, and quarterback Matthew Stafford will have one of his better performances in helping his team claim the NFC West crown.

    With San Francisco losing, that will open the door for New Orleans to get into the playoffs. The Saints will avenge their Week 9 loss to the Falcons, relying on their strong defense to shut down Atlanta's offense and getting enough offense from Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara to make it to the postseason.