NFL Playoff Picture Week 14: AFC and NFC races and clinching scenarios

The No. 1 seeds in both the AFC and NFC are very much in doubt as we look at the NFL playoff picture and clinching scenarios ahead of Week 14.

Week 13 set up exactly how the NFL had envisioned it when it came to the playoff picture for both the AFC and NFC. All 14 games this week involved teams either currently in the playoff field or within a game of the seventh seed, and so comfortably still in the picture. No matter which game you had on TV, there were NFL playoff implications — may the Week 14 playoff scenarios be just as juicy.

Only five of the NFL’s 32 teams began December with no plausible path to the postseason — the New York Jets, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, and Detroit Lions. While no team can clinch a playoff berth this weekend, the Lions were formally eliminated despite their first win of the season.

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NFL Week 14 Playoff Picture (and clinching scenarios)

Three teams can clinch a playoff berth in Week 14 — the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Cardinals can get in with a win or a tie against the Los Angeles Rams Monday night. But they might not even have to wait that long. They would also clinch a playoff berth with a:

  1. Vikings loss or tie AND a 49ers loss OR
  2. Vikings loss or tie AND a Saints loss or tie AND a Panthers loss or tie OR
  3. 49ers loss AND a Saints loss or tie AND a Falcons/Panthers tie

With a win over the Bears, the Packers would clinch the NFC North crown this weekend if the Vikings lose to or tie the Steelers. Green Bay could also capture the NFC North with a tie AND a Vikings loss.

The Packers would clinch at least a Wild Card spot with a win AND a Saints loss or tie AND:

  1. A 49ers loss OR
  2. A Rams loss AND a 49ers tie

The Buccaneers host the Bills Sunday. They would clinch the NFC South with a win AND a Saints loss or tie AND a Panthers loss or tie. Tampa Bay would secure at least a Wild Card berth with a tie AND a Panthers loss AND a Saints loss AND a Vikings loss AND a 49ers loss or tie AND a Washington Football Team loss or tie.

Current AFC Playoff Picture

1. New England Patriots (9-4)
2. Tennessee Titans (8-4)
3. Baltimore Ravens (8-4)
4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4)
5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-5)
6. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
7. Buffalo Bills (7-5)

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1)
9. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
10. Las Vegas Raiders (6-6)

Titans get much-needed week off

The Tennessee Titans are on a bye, and perhaps some time away will do them good. They’ve lost back-to-back games, and their lead in the NFC South is no longer insurmountable. From looking comfortable atop the AFC playoff picture a few weeks back in the 2021 NFL season, the Titans will enter Week 14 wobbling for their place in the playoffs at all.

The offense simply doesn’t function like it should without Derrick Henry, and there’s no guarantee he’ll play again this year. But Tennessee could get back several key contributors in Week 14, including wide receiver Julio Jones, running back Jeremy McNichols, and linebackers David Long Jr. and Rashaan Evans.

It was not pretty, but the Colts got a comprehensive victory in Houston

An overwhelming Jonathan Taylor and a steady Carson Wentz might just be enough to get the Colts to the postseason. Indianapolis took care of business against the awful Houston Texans on Sunday, gaining ground in the AFC South on an idle Titans team that’s in free fall on offense. Taylor keeps doing enough to hang around the MVP conversation, running for another 143 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Chargers boost their playoff hopes while the Bengals stumble again

The Justin Herbert Experience is a blast to watch. Yeah, he might offer up some picks, but there are few prettier pure passers in football when he grips and rips it. And in a battle of young stars, he was the best quarterback on the field.

Herbert lit up the Bengals for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow gutted out a busted finger, but he threw 2 picks to make Cincinnati’s road to the postseason that much harder.

Steelers save their season, Ravens surrender No. 1 seed

How important was a single incomplete pass? It dropped the Ravens from the No. 1 seed to the No. 3 seed, and it kept the Steelers very much in the hunt in the wild AFC. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh elected to go for 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers when kicking the extra point would have tied the game. But Lamar Jackson’s pass to Mark Andrews was just off target, handing Ben Roethlisberger a thrilling win.

Current NFC Playoff Picture

1. Arizona Cardinals (10-2)
2. Green Bay Packers (9-3)
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3)
4. Dallas Cowboys (8-4)
5. Los Angeles Rams (8-4)
6. Washington Football Team (6-6)
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-6)

8. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
9. Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
10. Carolina Panthers (5-7)

Cowboys close in on division crown

Dallas did what needed to be done Thursday night, dispatching a free-falling New Orleans Saints team to extend its NFC East lead to 2.5 games with five to play. The Cowboys strengthen their position in the playoff picture with just over a month left in the 2021 NFL season.

The Cowboys should have the worst of their COVID-19 outbreak behind them ahead of the stretch run, including four division games in the last five weeks — two with the resilient Washington Football Team between now and Boxing Day (December 26). The Cowboys, per Five Thirty Eight, entered Sunday with a 96% chance to make the playoffs and an 84% chance of winning the NFC East.

Cardinals remain atop the NFC race as Murray returns

Welcome back, Kyler Murray. The Cardinals have their best player back, and because they do, they might be the best team in the NFL. Murray (ankle) played for the first time since October 28 and showed little rust, throwing 2 touchdowns and leading the top-seeded Cardinals past the sad-sack Bears 33-22.

Arizona remains the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and their magic number to clinch the first-round bye is five. The Bears are so bad they’re not even a player in the NFC’s wide-open race for the No. 7 seed.

Tampa Bay eases to victory in the end over the Falcons

Don’t sleep on the champs. The Buccaneers have now won three straight to grab a stranglehold on the NFC South, and Tom Brady is a legitimate threat to win the MVP at age 44. He now has 34 touchdown passes through 12 games after 4 more (including 2 to Rob Gronkowski) Sunday against the Falcons, who ostensibly were in the NFC playoff race (but not really).

Washington Football Team rallies for fourth straight win

New kicker Brian Johnson powered through a 48-yard field goal with 37 seconds left and the Washington Football Team defense held off Derek Carr in the game’s final moments to lift WFT past the Las Vegas Raiders 17-15. Washington has improbably now won four straight to crawl back to .500 after starting the season 2-6. The Raiders, on the other hand, have now lost four out of five, including their last three at home.

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

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