NFL Playoff Picture Week 15: AFC and NFC races and clinching scenarios

Let's explore the NFL playoff picture ahead of Week 15, with a look at the AFC and NFC fields and Week 14 clinching scenarios.

Week 14 features seven key divisional showdowns and a couple of significant AFC-NFC matchups as the NFL playoff picture comes into focus. We run down the big games in the AFC and NFC plus the many clinching scenarios as three teams look to punch their tickets to the NFL playoffs with nearly a month left of the regular season.

NFL Playoff Picture: Clinching scenarios

The Arizona Cardinals were the only team after the 1 PM window with an opportunity to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Three teams had a chance to clinch a spot entering Sunday, but the Cardinals were the only one of the three that could do so without any help.

Arizona will be in with a win or a tie against the Los Angeles Rams Monday night. They had other routes in before their game but victories for the Vikings and Saints took those options off the table.

Current AFC Playoff Picture

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

8. Cleveland Browns (7-6)
9. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
10. Denver Broncos (7-6)
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)
12. Las Vegas Raiders (6-7)
13. Miami Dolphins (6-7)

Chiefs strengthen their position while the Raiders spiral continues

The Chiefs and the Patriots are on a collision course. The question is less about whether these teams will meet in the AFC Championship Game and more about where that game will be held.

Kansas City throttled the tailspinning Raiders on Sunday for the second time in five weeks. The Chiefs have now won six straight to put a stranglehold on the AFC West. Meanwhile, Las Vegas has lost for the fifth time in six games and will almost certainly not be playing beyond Jan. 9.

Ravens playoff hoped hinge on the health of Jackson, while the Browns are right in the mix

The Baltimore Ravens are in deep, deep trouble. Lamar Jackson is hurt and the AFC North is suddenly wide open. Jackson left Sunday’s loss to the Browns with an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return. Without Jackson, the Ravens are in danger of not only losing out on the division crown, but the playoffs altogether. Games remain against the Packers, Bengals, Rams, and Steelers.

The Browns, meanwhile, are suddenly right back in it — although they made a would-be blowout game very interesting late. Cleveland finishes the year against the Raiders, Packers, Steelers, and Bengals.

Patriots, Colts, Dolphins, and Eagles all on byes

The last month of the season could have hardly set up better for the Patriots. They rolled into their Week 14 bye on a seven-game winning streak and secure in the knowledge that, no matter what happens, they would leave the weekend the same way they entered it — the AFC’s No. 1 seed.

With a win over Tennessee and at 7-1 in the conference, New England basically owns every tiebreaker. The Pats close out the season against the Colts, Bills, Jaguars, and Dolphins.

Indianapolis woke up Sunday as the AFC’s eighth seed but with a 63% chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. After facing New England in Week 15, Indianapolis closes out the season against the Cardinals, Raiders, and Jaguars.

The Eagles basically have a 1-in-3 chance of making the postseason, and their most secure path is of course winning out against the Giants, Cowboys, and Washington Football Team twice. As for the Dolphins, they’re somehow still in the hunt despite starting 1-7, but they need to run the table and get some help.

Current NFC Playoff Picture

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

8. Minnesota Vikings (6-7)
9. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
10. Atlanta Falcons (6-7)
11. New Orleans Saints (6-7)
12. Carolina Panthers (5-8)
13. Seattle Seahawks (5-8)

Niners blow lead, win in overtime

Give Jimmy Garoppolo his due. He put together a fantastic drive at the most important time, lifting the 49ers past the Bengals 26-23 in overtime of a game San Francisco nearly blew. Garoppolo connected with Brandon Aiyuk on a 12-yard touchdown pass in OT, capping a 75-yard touchdown drive that won the game. The Niners have now won four out of five games to remain in the playoff field. Joe Burrow and the Bengals rallied from 14 points down and even took the lead in overtime, only to lose for the second straight week.

Tom Brady’s 700th TD a game-winner

Tom Brady won the game and made history on the same throw. His 700th career touchdown pass went for 58 yards to Breshad Perriman on the last play of Sunday’s game Buccaneers-Bills game. And it broke the hearts of Bills Mafia, who had seen their team claw back from a 21-point halftime deficit to force overtime, only to give up a 94-yard touchdown drive on Tampa’s first possession. As a result, there eight AFC teams within a game fighting for two playoff spots with four weeks to go.

Falcons and Saints keep their playoff hopes alive

There is a five-way tie for seventh in the NFC … at 6-7. Good luck saying with any confidence who the last team into the field will be after the Falcons and Saints took care of business against bad teams. Of course, you can make the argument that Atlanta and New Orleans are also bad teams. But bad might be good enough in the NFC this year.

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