The NFL regular season is rapidly winding down. But the NFL playoff picture is still messy. A total of 19 teams woke up Sunday morning with at least a 1-in-10 chance to reach the postseason and another four were just a game out in the NFL standings. Sunday and Monday’s games will do a lot to clarify the AFC and NFC playoff picture and clinching scenarios heading into Week 17 of the NFL season.
NFL Playoff Picture for Week 17
The Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts helped themselves in a big way in Week 16, and as a result, there is more than a 97% chance the AFC South will be a two-bid division. But there’s plenty more that needs to be resolved, and all but three of Sunday and Monday’s 13 games involve teams with realistic playoff hopes.
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 Week 16’s action.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
2. Tennessee Titans (10-5)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
4. Buffalo Bills (9-6)
5. Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
6. New England Patriots (9-6)
7. Miami Dolphins (8-7)
AFC: In the Hunt
8. Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)
10. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7)
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1)
12. Cleveland Browns (7-8)
13. Denver Broncos (7-8)
Titans ride second-half surge vs. 49ers
There was a moment Thursday night when the Tennessee Titans’ grip on the AFC South seemed covered in grease. They trailed the San Francisco 49ers by double-digits and seemed destined for a fourth loss in five games.
Instead, the Titans got it together, rallied past San Fran, and are now more than 90% to host a first-round or second-round playoff game. The No. 1 seed is also still a distinct possibility.
Colts keep pace on Christmas
The Colts’ resiliency is the only reason the Titans aren’t yet 100% to win the AFC South. Indy got some help from the floundering Arizona Cardinals Saturday night to win for the ninth time in 12 games.
The Colts strangely cannot clinch this weekend despite entering Sunday 98% to make the playoffs. The Cardinals, meanwhile, look lost. Arizona has now lost three straight to fall out of the NFC West lead. Still, there’s no realistic scenario in which they miss the playoffs.
Chargers do the unthinkable: Lose to Houston
The Chargers entered Sunday in firm control of their own playoff destiny. They left it in need of some help. But there are far bigger concerns for Brandon Staley and Co. after LA’s defense got roasted by Davis Mills and the terrible Houston Texans.
The Chargers still have a way of reaching the postseason, but games against the Raiders and Broncos to close out the year don’t look nearly as easy as they did heading into the weekend.
Joe Burrow blitzes, buries Ravens
The events of 2021 seem to have finally caught up with the Baltimore Ravens. No Lamar Jackson and no Tyler Huntley meant no chance for Baltimore in Cincinnati Sunday.
Joe Burrow and the Bengals now have a stranglehold on the AFC North and would be guaranteed at least one home playoff game with wins against the Chiefs and the Browns in the last two weeks of the season. The Ravens, meanwhile, would need help to get in even if they beat the Rams and Steelers to close out the year.
Buffalo Bills close in on AFC East title
The Bills are back. After two months of inconsistency, Josh Allen and the Bills looked like the team everyone expected. And as a result, they’re on the precipice of a second straight division crown.
The Patriots, meanwhile, still control their own destiny, but their Week 18 showdown with the Miami Dolphins might just be an elimination game.
Chiefs capture sixth-straight AFC West crown
The Kansas City Chiefs are without question the team to beat in the AFC — and perhaps the entire NFL. They bludgeoned the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday to win the division for the sixth straight time and put them in position to potentially clinch the No. 1 seed next weekend. A Chiefs win over the Bengals and Titans’ loss to the Dolphins would get it done. The Steelers, meanwhile, need to win out and get a lot of help to get in.
Current NFC Playoff Picture
Five teams in the NFC have clinched a playoff spot, which means there are just two spots remaining as we head into the final two weeks of the NFL season.
The teams who have clinched include the Green Bay Packers (NFC North), Dallas Cowboys (NFC East), Los Angeles Rams (playoffs), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC South), and Arizona Cardinals (playoffs).
1. Green Bay Packers (12-3)
2. Dallas Cowboys (11-4)
3. Los Angeles Rams (11-4)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4)
5. Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
6. San Francisco 49ers (8-7)
7. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)
NFC: In the Hunt
8. Minnesota Vikings (7-8)
9. Atlanta Falcons (7-8)
10. New Orleans Saints (7-8)
Packers close in on No. 1 seed
It’s this simple for Green Bay — win out (against the Vikings and Lions) and you won’t have to leave Green Bay until the Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers bolstered his MVP candidacy on Christmas with another 3-touchdown game against the Browns, who are now under .500 and basically out of it after their fourth loss in six games.
Rams clinch playoff berth, help Cardinals too
Two teams clinched at least Wild Card spots with one result Sunday. By beating the Vikings, the Rams ensured that both they and the Arizona Cardinals will be in the postseason field.
Still unresolved: which of those teams will enter as the division champ, and which one will be a Wild Card team. The Vikings, meanwhile, are in deep trouble. And Mike Zimmer probably is too.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are NFC South champs
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have the chance to defend their Super Bowl title. In beating the Carolina Panthers Sunday, the Bucs clinched their first NFC South title since 2007. There’s next to no chance that Tampa Bay can catch the Packers for the No. 1 seed, so don’t be surprised if Bruce Arians rests some of his players down the stretch.