NFL Playoff Picture: AFC and NFC race and clinching scenarios

An overview of the NFL playoff picture in the middle of Week 17, with a look at the AFC and NFC fields and scenarios.

The compelling 2022 NFL playoff race is reaching its conclusion. With just six spots claimed entering Week 17, much will be decided in the NFL standings in the final eight days of the season. Fourteen of this weekend’s 16 games have playoff implications and 10 teams could clinch something entering Sunday. We break down the NFL playoff picture and all the clinching scenarios and AFC/NFC playoff implications ahead of the last week of the NFL regular season.

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NFL Playoff Picture

Six teams woke up on Sunday knowing they’re already in the playoff field — the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, and Los Angeles Rams.

Seven more could punch their ticket this weekend — the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, and San Francisco 49ers. Here’s how.

Current AFC Playoff Picture

The Kansas City Chiefs have clinched the AFC West and are the only team in the AFC to clinch a playoff berth as of the conclusion of last week’s action. But that changed in a big way Sunday.

*x — clinched playoff berth, z — clinched division

1. z — Tennessee Titans (11-5)
2. z — Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
3. z — Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
4. x — Buffalo Bills (10-6)
5. x — New England Patriots (10-6)
6. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
7. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)

AFC: In the Hunt

8. Las Vegas Raiders (9-7)
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1)
10. e* — Miami Dolphins (8-8)
11. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)

*In a quirk of the standings and playoff tiebreakers, the Dolphins are eliminated but the Ravens are not. However, the Dolphins are technically 10th in the NFL standings.

The Ravens’ hopes continue to fade as the Rams keep the NFC West under their control

Von Miller made his biggest plays in a Rams uniform, sacking Tyler Huntley on the penultimate play of the game to preserve an LA victory and all but end the Ravens’ playoff chances.

Baltimore needs a win and some major help in Week 18. The Rams, meanwhile, are a win or a Cardinals loss or tie away from wrapping up the NFC West.

Bengals take the division while the Chiefs lose control of the No. 1 seed

The Bengals are AFC North champions, and the Chiefs are no longer the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But that doesn’t begin to describe the insanity of the end of the Chiefs-Bengals game, which was decided on a field goal on the final play. The Chiefs now need help if they are to get a bye in the first week of the playoffs.

Titans clinch the AFC South and control the No. 1 seed

The Tennessee Titans are AFC South champions. They are in the playoffs and will host, at the very least, a Wild Card game after crushing the Miami Dolphins, who were riding a seven-game winning streak. The loss all but ends the Dolphins’ playoff hopes. Miami would have been guaranteed a spot with wins in its final two games.

The Raiders give themselves a chance while the Colts still control their own destiny entering Week 18

The Raiders are one win away from the playoffs after a thrilling victory on the road over the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts, meanwhile, were formally eliminated from the AFC South race but are still overwhelming favorites to be one of the conference’s three Wild Card teams.

Chargers force a Week 18 decider with the Raiders while eliminating multiple teams

Chargers-Raiders will be the biggest game of Week 18. It’s essentially an elimination game for the AFC’s final Wild Card spot (assuming the Colts beat the Jaguars for the other). Los Angeles ended the Broncos’ faint postseason hopes with a blowout win, during which Justin Herbert broke the Chargers’ single-season touchdown record. The Dolphins and Browns were also eliminated with the Chargers’ win.

Current NFC Playoff Picture

Five teams in the NFC have clinched a playoff spot, which means only two spots remain as we head into the final two weeks of the NFL season.

*x — clinched playoff berth, y — clinched No. 1 seed, z — clinched division

1. y — Green Bay Packers (13-3)
2. x — Los Angeles Rams (12-4)
3. z — Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)
4. z — Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
5. x — Arizona Cardinals (11-5)
6. San Francisco 49ers (9-7)
7. x — Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

NFC: In the Hunt

8. New Orleans Saints (8-8)

Green Bay Packers secure homefield advantage

The Packers won’t have to get on a plane again until the Super Bowl. They locked down the 1 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it by crushing the Vikings Sunday night. The loss eliminated Minnesota from the playoff race.

Cardinals keep NFC West hopes alive while Cowboys likely resign themselves to playing on Wild Card weekend

The Cowboys torched basically all of their slim remaining hopes at getting the No. 1 seed by laying an egg at home against Arizona. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have a plausible path to the NFC West crown. They’ll be division champions with a win against the Seahawks and a Rams loss to the Niners.

The Eagles made it look difficult but they all but locked up an NFL playoff spot

The Eagles going to the playoffs, and the Washington Football Team is formally eliminated after a 20-16 Eagles victory Sunday. Philadelphia entered the week needing a win and some help to clinch a postseason appearance. They got it Sunday.

Buccaneers’ last-minute win ends wild afternoon for Tampa

Tom Brady is absolutely incredible. He led the Buccaneers on a 93-yard touchdown drive with no timeouts to escape North Jersey with a win in which Antonio Brown quit on his team. The game had very little playoff significance, but who cares? We got to see greatness.

49ers head to Week 18 needing to win against the Rams to ensure their playoff spot

No Jimmy Garoppolo, no problem for the San Francisco 49ers, who got enough offense from Trey Lance to handle the terrible Texans. The Niners are headed to the playoffs with a win over the Rams in Week 18 or a Saints loss to the Falcons next weekend. There are other scenarios in which they could get in if none of those things happen, but they’re very unlikely.

Saints stay alive but head to Week 18 needing help

New Orleans will go to Week 18 with a playoff pulse after taking care of business against the Carolina Panthers. But the Saints would still need help – specifically from the Rams – even with a win over the Falcons next weekend.

Adam Beasley is the National NFL Analyst and Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.