NFL Playoff Picture 2022: AFC, NFC Wild-Card Scenarios and Week 18 Predictions

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2022

NFL Playoff Picture 2022: AFC, NFC Wild-Card Scenarios and Week 18 Predictions

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    The inaugural NFL Week 18 is packed with drama from start to finish.

    Saturday's opener between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos carries implications for the AFC's No. 1 seed.

    The 16-game slate wraps up with an AFC West battle between the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers that will likely decide the last of the 14 postseason teams.

    One of the two remaining AFC wild-card spots, the AFC East and NFC West titles and the final NFC wild-card spot will be determined Sunday afternoon.

    The Indianapolis Colts could lock up a wild-card spot in the early-afternoon window, while the two division titles and the NFC wild-card spot will be determined in the late set of games.

AFC Wild-Card Scenarios

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Playoff Picture

    1. Tennessee (11-5)

    2. Kansas City (11-5)

    3. Cincinnati (10-6)

    4. Buffalo (10-6)

    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 Indianapolis Colts control the direction of the AFC wild-card race Sunday.

    Indianapolis needs to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars to secure one of the two remaining wild-card spots. The New England Patriots already clinched their position.

    The Colts have not beaten the Jaguars away from home since 2014, but this is the perfect scenario for that dry spell to end since the Jaguars need to lose to secure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft.

    An Indianapolis victory eliminates the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, who are set to play each other at M&T Bank Stadium.

    That situation would make the Sunday night clash between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers for the final wild-card spot.

    A Colts loss opens up more possibilities in the wild-card race. Baltimore gets in with a win combined with losses by the Colts, Chargers and Miami Dolphins. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, qualifies with a win, a loss by the Colts and a defeat from either AFC West side in the Sunday night game.

    The Chargers and Raiders would both qualify for the playoffs if the Colts lose and their game results in a tie, but that is the most unlikely scenario on the board.

NFC Wild-Card Scenarios

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Playoff Picture

    1. Green Bay (13-3)

    2. Los Angeles Rams (12-4)

    3. Tampa Bay (12-4)

    4. Dallas (11-5)

    5. Arizona (11-5)

    6. San Francisco (9-7)

    7. Philadelphia (9-7)

    8. New Orleans (8-8)


    The NFC wild-card race comes down to two games in Sunday's late-afternoon window.

    The San Francisco 49ers need their sixth straight win over the Los Angeles Rams to lock into the seventh and final NFC playoff position.

    San Francisco needs a victory or an Atlanta Falcons win over the New Orleans Saints to join the second-place team in the NFC West and the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card spots.

    New Orleans qualifies for the postseason with a win over Atlanta and a loss by the 49ers to the Rams, who are fighting for the NFC West crown with the Arizona Cardinals.

    The Philadelphia Eagles will either be the No. 6 or No. 7 team in the NFC bracket. Philadelphia will be No. 6 if it finishes with the same record as New Orleans. The Eagles will be No. 7 if it carries the same mark as the 49ers. Both of those situations are determined by head-to-head tiebreakers.

    Philadelphia could also finish sixth if it beats the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night and both the 49ers and Saints lose Sunday.


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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press


    1. Tennessee

    2. Kansas City

    3. Buffalo

    4. Cincinnati 

    5. New England

    6. Indianapolis

    7. Los Angeles Chargers


    The drama could be sucked out of the AFC playoff race if the favored teams take care of their respective mismatches.

    The Tennessee Titans need a win over the Houston Texans to secure the No. 1 seed, and they could have some extra motivation to win after losing to the Texans earlier in the season.

    Kansas City should beat the Denver Broncos. The same goes for the Buffalo Bills against the New York Jets. Buffalo could move up to the No. 3 seed if the Cincinnati Bengals lose to the Cleveland Browns.

    Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon are not available for the Bengals, and they could sit more starters ahead of the Wild Card Round.

    Indianapolis should defeat the Jaguars, which would leave the Chargers and Raiders fighting it out for the final wild-card spot.

    The Chargers defeated the Raiders by two scores in their first meeting, and they have the more well-rounded offense at this point in the season. If the Chargers shut down wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, the Las Vegas passing attack could lack options and scoring chances could dry up.

    A Los Angeles win could set up a third meeting with the Chiefs, who won the last battle between the teams in overtime in Week 15.



    1. Green Bay

    2. Los Angeles Rams

    3. Tampa Bay 

    4. Dallas

    5. Arizona

    6. Philadelphia

    7. San Francisco


    The Los Angeles Rams have a significant advantage at quarterback over San Francisco in their Week 18 matchup.

    San Francisco is limited on offense, with Trey Lance going up against the Rams pass rush. Lance beat the Houston Texans in Week 17, but Aaron Donald and Co. present a much tougher matchup.

    San Francisco's playoff hopes may not be erased with a loss since the Saints could lose in Atlanta.

    The Falcons have nothing to play for but to be the spoiler at home against a NFC South foe. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown more touchdowns against the Saints than he has against any other opponent.

    New Orleans is also limited on offense with Taysom Hill at quarterback. The Saints have struggled to find a consistent rhythm on offense over the past three weeks, and a loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium would put the 49ers into the postseason regardless of the result at SoFi Stadium.

    If the Rams win, they will secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC and lock the Arizona Cardinals into the No. 5 seed and a likely wild-card matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.