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NFL Playoff Picture Week 13: Updated playoff race and scenarios

Entering Week 13, we break down the NFL playoff standings for the AFC and NFC, with various scenarios emerging as the picture takes shape.

NFL Playoff Picture Week 13: Updated playoff race and scenarios
ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 29: Dawson Knox #88 and Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills celebrate their first quarter touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers at Bills Stadium on November 29, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Week 12 brought a fascinating set of matchups that shook up the NFL standings and playoff picture for both the AFC and NFC entering Week 13. Some teams put themselves firmly in control of their own destiny, while others are left looking at less favorable playoff scenarios than prior to Week 12 of the 2020 NFL season. Let’s take a look at how the NFL playoff picture for both the AFC and NFC shapes up heading into Week 13.

NFL playoff picture for Week 13

The current NFL playoff standings have a different shape in the new playoff format

After around 30 years of featuring 12 playoff teams, six for each conference, the NFL expanded their playoffs to a 14-team system for the 2020 season. Each conference will now feature three wild card teams instead of two for the first time since the 2002 expansion. The additional wild card team places a premium on the number one seed, as only that team receives a bye in the first weekend of the playoffs.

The remaining six teams in each conference will face off on wild card weekend, with the three remaining divisional winners hosting the three wild card teams (#2 vs. #7, #3 vs. #6, and #4 vs. #5). This change in the NFL structure has significantly altered the playoff scenarios and how we view both the playoff picture and standings in both the NFC and AFC.

Current AFC playoff standings

1) Pittsburgh Steelers, 11-0

2) Kansas City Chiefs, 10-1

3) Tennessee Titans, 8-3

4) Buffalo Bills, 8-3

5) Cleveland Browns, 8-3

6) Miami Dolphins, 7-4

7) Indianapolis Colts, 7-4

Outside looking in: Las Vegas Raiders (6-5), Baltimore Ravens (6-5), New England Patriots (5-6)

Entering Week 13, the AFC playoff standings are taking an interesting shape. The Titans and Bills control their divisions by a single game from the Dolphins and Colts. In terms of seeding, the Titans are the third seed by virtue of their head-to-head win over the Bills, while the Dolphins have a better conference record than the Colts, giving them the sixth seed.

Current NFC playoff standings

1) New Orleans Saints, 9-2

2) Green Bay Packers, 8-3

3) Seattle Seahawks, 8-3

4) New York Giants, 4-7

5) Los Angeles Rams, 7-4

6) Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 7-5

7) Arizona Cardinals, 6-5

Outside looking in: Minnesota Vikings (5-6), Chicago Bears (5-6), San Francisco 49ers (5-6), Washington Football Team (4-7), Philadelphia Eagles (3-7-1), Dallas Cowboys (3-8)

In the NFC, the NFL playoff picture entering Week 13 has a somewhat bizarre look to it. The New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers look set to duke it out with the winner of the ultra-competitive NFC West for the first-round bye.

However, the fourth seed provides interesting viewing, with the 4-7 New York Giants currently in that spot by virtue of their two wins over the Washington Football Team. All four NFC East teams still have a realistic shot at winning the division, one of only two divisions that can boast that accolade entering Week 13.

Of the two NFL conferences, the NFC playoff picture looked to be far clearer a couple of weeks ago but entering Week 13, that is no longer the case. Two straight losses for the Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have put the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, and San Francisco 49ers within two games of all three wild card spots.

NFL Playoff scenario’s heat up in Week 13

AFC playoff scenarios

In the AFC, the playoff standings seem to be separating into two groups; the fight for the #1 seed and the fight for the other five spots. The Steelers and Chiefs both have at least a two-game lead over the Titans and Bills, with just five games left to play. Unless both of those teams have a massive drop off in the final few weeks, that part of the NFL playoff picture looks reasonably sewn up as to the two contenders entering Week 13.

In terms of the NFL playoff scenarios behind those two, that is where things get interesting. The Titans and Bills cannot afford many slip-ups with both of their division rivals hot on their tails. Meanwhile, the Browns and Ravens meet in Week 14, which will be crucial to the playoff hopes of both sides. If a couple of teams struggle down the stretch, the Las Vegas Raiders and New England Patriots are looming, hoping to sweep up the final spot.

Perhaps the most crucial battle to watch in the AFC playoff standings is the battle to avoid the seventh seed. The seventh seed will face a gauntlet of road games against the Chiefs and Steelers in some order. Facing the two best teams in the entire NFL playoff picture heading into Week 13 in back to back weeks will not be a desirable position for any team.

NFC playoff scenarios

Over in the NFC, the battle for the top seed now realistically involves four teams. The Saints and Packers are in prime position, but the winner of the NFC West of the Seahawks and Rams could still put pressure on them if they can survive tough closing schedules in the most competitive division in the NFL right now.

The wild card spots are also interesting. The Rams look well placed, but four games against the Seahawks, Patriots, and two against the Cardinals is a tough finish. If they can win three of those four, they could be in a fight for the top seed in the conference. Lose three of the four, and they could be risking missing out on the playoffs altogether.

The Buccaneers are on bye this week, but with three games against the Lions and Falcons, they look to have a reasonable chance to get to 10 wins. The Cardinals are in the biggest danger with three divisional games on their schedule.

Behind the Cardinals, the Vikings, Bears, and 49ers can all put themselves within striking distance of the Cardinals, Buccaneers, and Rams in the NFC playoff standings with a win in Week 13. A Week 13 loss for Arizona could see four teams on the same record fighting for the seventh seed when Week 13 is all said and done.

Week 13 clinching scenarios

With five weeks left in the season, the clinching scenarios for the NFL playoffs are still few and far between but three teams can clinch playoff spots this week, and two can even lock up their divisions in Week 13.

AFC clinching scenarios

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs both have scenarios to clinching an NFL playoff berth and topping the standings in their respective AFC divisions in Week 13.

The Kansas City Chiefs can clinch the AFC West if:

1) Kansas City win their game against the Denver Broncos and the Las Vegas Raiders lose or tie their game with the New York Jets

2) Kansas City tie their game with the Denver Broncos and the Las Vegas Raiders lose their game against the New York Jets

The Kansas City Chiefs can clinch a playoff berth if:

1) Kansas City win their game against the Denver Broncos

2) Kansas City tie their game against the Denver Broncos and various combinations of the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Las Vegas Raiders, and Miami Dolphins tie or lose their Week 13 games.

3) The Chiefs can even qualify for the playoffs with a loss if the Raiders lose to the Jets, the Ravens lose to the Dallas Cowboys, and the Colts lose to the Houston Texans

The Pittsburgh Steelers can clinch the AFC North if:

1) Pittsburgh win their game against the Washington Football Team, the Cleveland Browns lose to the Tennessee Titans, and Pittsburgh clinches the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Browns.

The Pittsburgh Steelers can clinch a playoff berth if:

1) Pittsburgh win or tie their game against the Washington Football Team

2) The Raiders lose or tie with the Jets

3) The Dolphins lose or tie with the Cincinnati Bengals

4) The Colts lose or tie with the Texans.

NFC clinching scenarios

The New Orleans Saints have three scenarios in which they can clinch an NFL playoff spot atop the NFC standings in Week 13.

1) New Orleans win against the Atlanta Falcons and the Chicago Bears lose or tie their game with the Detroit Lions

2) New Orleans tie their game, the Bears lose to the Lions, the Minnesota Vikings lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the San Francisco 49ers lose to the Buffalo Bills

3) New Orleans tie their game, the Bears lose to the Lions, the Vikings lose to the Jaguars, and the Arizona Cardinals lose or tie against the Los Angeles Rams.

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