NFL Playoff Scenarios 2022: Week 18 Picture and Latest Bracket Predictions

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 8, 2022

NFL Playoff Scenarios 2022: Week 18 Picture and Latest Bracket Predictions

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The longest regular season in NFL history continues Saturday, when Week 18 gets underway with a pair of games. The Kansas City Chiefs are taking on the Denver Broncos in an AFC West showdown, while the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles will go head-to-head in an NFC East matchup.

    However, neither of those games is going to have much of an impact on the playoff picture. The most important matchups will occur Sunday, when 14 games are set to take place.

    By the end of the weekend, the final three playoff berths will have been clinched and two more division titles will have been won. We'll also know which AFC team will join the NFC's Green Bay Packers in securing a first-round bye for the playoffs, as well as the Wild Card Round matchups.

    Heading into Week 18, here's a look at the NFL playoff picture, along with predictions.

Current NFL Playoff Picture

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    AFC

    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)

                        

    NFC

    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)

AFC Predictions

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    1. Titans

    2. Chiefs

    3. Bengals

    4. Bills

    5. Patriots

    6. Colts

    7. Chargers

              

    Entering Week 18, there are four teams that could end up as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Tennessee Titans are the front-runner to land the top spot, but the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots are all alive in the race.

    It seems highly unlikely, though, that Tennessee won't end up securing a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the conference playoffs. The Titans are going on the road to face the Houston Texans, and they should avenge their Week 11 loss to Houston, which has long been eliminated from playoff contention.

    With Tennessee winning, it won't matter how Kansas City, Cincinnati and New England fare. However, it's also unlikely that the Patriots will pass the Buffalo Bills to win the AFC East title, which will make the Pats the No. 5 seed.

    In order for the Patriots to finish first in the AFC East, they need to beat the Miami Dolphins on the road and also have the Bills lose to the New York Jets. The latter scenario is unlikely to happen, as Buffalo should have no trouble beating New York at home to capture its second straight division crown.

    The Indianapolis Colts only need to beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville to get into the playoffs, and they should cruise to victory. Indianapolis beat Jacksonville 23-17 in Week 10, but the matchup should be more lopsided Sunday with the stakes raised for the Colts.

    When Indianapolis wins, it will also eliminate the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens from playoff contention. The Steelers and Ravens can only get into the postseason if the Colts lose, but that won't happen.

    Sunday night's AFC West game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders will then decide the final wild-card berth in the conference. The winner of the contest is guaranteed to clinch a postseason berth, but Las Vegas could get in with a loss if Indianapolis loses.

    Instead, the Raiders will miss out on the playoffs, as the Chargers will win to secure the No. 7 seed. Los Angeles' offense will be too strong for Las Vegas' defense, as quarterback Justin Herbert will have a big game to power the Chargers into the postseason.

NFC Predictions

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    1. Packers

    2. Rams

    3. Buccaneers

    4. Cowboys

    5. Cardinals

    6. Eagles

    7. Saints

               

    The Los Angeles Rams or Arizona Cardinals can win the NFC West title in Week 18, and L.A. is in control in that race. The Rams will secure the division crown with a home win over the San Francisco 49ers or if the Cardinals lose at home to the Seattle Seahawks.

    That means the only way that Arizona can finish first in the NFC West is if it beats Seattle and Los Angeles loses to San Francisco. And while the Cardinals are likely to win, so are the Rams, meaning Los Angeles should end up as the NFC West champions.

    In Week 10, the 49ers beat the Rams 31-10. This time, Los Angeles should have a better showing, as it's been playing better during its ongoing five-game winning streak. And the Rams will have an opportunity to secure their first division title since the 2018 season with a victory.

    With the 49ers losing, that will create an opportunity for the New Orleans Saints to get into the playoffs. The only way that New Orleans can reach the postseason is with a win at the Atlanta Falcons and a San Francisco loss. The 49ers would get the final wild-card berth in any other scenario.

    However, the prediction here is that the Saints will get into the playoffs because they will beat the Falcons, while the 49ers lose.

    New Orleans lost to Atlanta 27-25 in Week 9. But the Saints have been playing better recently, having won three of their past four games.

    The Falcons are eliminated from playoff contention, and they are going to struggle to generate offense against the Saints defense. Because of that, New Orleans will secure a victory and reach the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

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