NFL Playoff Picture 2022: Dissecting AFC, NFC Scenarios Before Final Games

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2022

NFL Playoff Picture 2022: Dissecting AFC, NFC Scenarios Before Final Games

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Three wild-card spots, two division titles and a multitude of seeding possibilities are on the line in NFL Week 18.

    The playoff drama starts right away Sunday, when the AFC wild-card race takes center stage. The Indianapolis Colts control the direction that playoff race will go in.

    Sunday's late-afternoon window carries a bit of drama in every game. The AFC East and NFC West titles, as well as the final NFC wild-card spot, are on the line.

    The regular-season finale between the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers will be for the 14th and final playoff position. The winner of that contest could feature in a rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round.

    Kansas City, the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are the three playoff teams that have already played their last regular-season games.

    The Chiefs are waiting on the result of the Tennessee Titans' game to see whether they land the AFC's No. 1 seed. Dallas and Philadelphia are at the mercy of other results in regard to their playoff seeding in the NFC.

AFC Playoff Picture

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Division Leaders

    1. Kansas City (12-5)

    2. Tennessee (11-5)

    3. Cincinnati (10-6)

    4. Buffalo (10-6)


    The Tennessee Titans need to beat the Houston Texans to secure the AFC's No. 1 seed.

    Tennessee and the Kansas City Chiefs are the only two franchises that can land the top spot in the conference after Andy Reid's side beat the Denver Broncos on Saturday.

    There could be other changes in the top four depending on what happens in the AFC East. The Buffalo Bills need a victory over the New York Jets to secure the division title. A Buffalo victory combined with a Cincinnati Bengals loss to the Cleveland Browns would move the Bills up to No. 3 and away from a potential wild-card showdown with the New England Patriots.

    That scenario is in play since quarterback Joe Burrow did not travel with the Bengals to Cleveland. The Browns are also using their backup quarterback, so the Bengals still have a decent shot at securing the No. 3 seed.

    New England hops into the top four with a win over the Miami Dolphins and a loss by the Bills. If not, the Patriots should be the No. 5 seed.


    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)


    There is a possibility that the AFC wild-card standings remain the same after Week 18.

    New England already clinched a playoff berth and will finish no worse than the No. 5 seed with a win over Miami.

    Indianapolis clinches a playoff spot with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. A Colts win eliminates the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers from playoff contention.

    Baltimore needs losses by the Colts, Chargers and Dolphins combined with a win of its own over Pittsburgh to get in.

    Pittsburgh must beat Baltimore and get help from Jacksonville to feel safe. The Steelers would then qualify as long as the Sunday night game does not end in a tie.

    An Indianapolis win sets up the Sunday night clash as a battle for the final playoff spot and a potential matchup with the Chiefs in the Wild Card Round.

    Justin Herbert and the Chargers won the team's first meeting with the Raiders by 14 points, but Las Vegas comes in with a three-game winning streak and is playing at home.

NFC Playoff Picture

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Division Leaders

    1. Green Bay (13-3)

    2. Los Angeles Rams (12-4)

    3. Tampa Bay (12-4)

    4. Dallas (12-5)


    The Green Bay Packers locked up the NFC's No. 1 seed and the home-field advantage that comes with it in Week 17.

    The Dallas Cowboys will most likely be the No. 4 seed. That happens if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Carolina Panthers. Dallas would be one-game worse off in the loss column compared to the Los Angeles Rams, and the Arizona Cardinals have a head-to-head tiebreaker over the NFC East side.

    Los Angeles needs a win over the San Francisco 49ers to secure the NFC West crown and the No. 2 seed. Arizona must defeat the Seattle Seahawks and get a 49ers win to jump into the top four and land a home playoff game.

    The second-place side in the NFC West will be the No. 5 seed and most likely lands a wild-card matchup versus the Cowboys.


    Wild-Card Race

    5. Arizona (11-5)

    6. San Francisco (9-7)

    7. Philadelphia (9-8)

    8. New Orleans (8-8)


    The second-place team from the NFC West and the Philadelphia Eagles are already locked into the postseason field.

    San Francisco can beat the Rams to secure the final wild-card position. A 49ers loss combined with a New Orleans Saints defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons also qualifies Kyle Shanahan's side.

    New Orleans must hope for the Rams to finish the regular season with the NFC West title so that it can play its way into the postseason with a win. The Saints are out with a loss.

    Philadelphia's seeding depends on which wild-card hopeful gets in. The Eagles would be the No. 7 seed if San Francisco wins and the No. 6 seed if the Saints qualify.