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NFL playoff scenarios for the 14 teams still in the picture

aaron rodgers, khalil mack, kirk cousins, jameis winston
Chris Keane/Associated Press; Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Sports; Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports; Buccaneers Staff

Time flies by when you having fun.

It’s hard to believe, but we’re already in the final week of the regular season, and there are plenty of NFL playoff scenarios left to sort out.

A lot was decided in Week 16, though. The Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, and Denver Broncos were all eliminated from playoff contention after the dust settled. In fact, all six AFC postseason teams have been decided, but a lot can change regarding seeding.

The NFC is a different story. Four teams have clinched playoff berths, but a bye is still on the line. After that, four teams are battling for the final two spots to the dance.

Let’s look at the playoff scenarios for every team still in the postseason picture.


New England Patriots

Julian Edelman, Tom Brady

Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots have already wrapped up the AFC East and a bye at 13-2. But, they still need at least one of two results to clinch the conference’s top seed in Week 17.

If New England beats Miami this Sunday, they take the top spot. Lose, and they need a Raiders loss at the hands of the Broncos to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Technically, a tie by either the Patriots or Oakland will also give them the top spot.

Oakland Raiders

Seth Roberts, Derek Carr

Nick Wass/AP Photo

The Raiders are going back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but their exact seeding is very much up in the air.

To clinch the AFC West and a bye, the Raiders need to either beat or tie the Broncos, or they need the Chiefs to either lose to or tie the Chargers.

Additionally, if they want to earn the AFC’s #1 seed, they’ll also need the Patriots to lose to Miami paired with an Oakland win in Denver.

However, without quarterback Derek Carr, the Raiders’ Super Bowl aspirations have taken a major hit. They’ll decline even further should they lose to the Broncos and the Chiefs beat San Diego. If that happens, they’ll drop down to the #5 seed and start out on the road on Wild Card weekend.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger

Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

There’s nothing left to decide for the Steelers. With their dramatic victory over the Ravens on Christmas, Pittsburgh clinched the AFC North and the #3 seed in the AFC.

With nothing on the line in Week 17, head coach Mike Tomlin plans to rest his starters against the 1-14 Browns.

Houston Texans

bill o'brien

Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

Similar to the Steelers, the Texans locked up their division and playoff positioning over the weekend.

With a narrow victory over the Bengals, Houston clinched the AFC South title for the second consecutive season, and they’re locked into the conference’s 4th seed.

Kansas City Chiefs

jeremy maclin

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

The Chiefs clinched themselves a playoff berth on Christmas night by beating the Broncos, but they still have plenty to play for in Week 17.

If Kansas City loses to the Chargers, they’re locked into the #5 seed and will play in Houston the following weekend if the Dolphins lose or tie. If Miami wins, they drop down to the 6th seed.

But, if they win, a Raiders loss to the Broncos will hand Kansas City the AFC West title and a bye as the #2 seed in the AFC. If Oakland prevails, KC will stay at #5.

Miami Dolphins

miami dolphins Hard Rock Stadium

Al Diaz/Miami Herald

It wasn’t easy, but the Dolphins just squeaked by the Bills in Buffalo this past Saturday to clinch their first playoff berth in eight years. Miami will be the 6th seed and play in Pittsburgh on Wild Card weekend unless they beat the Patriots and the Chiefs lose to San Diego. If that happens, they jump up to the 5th seed and play the Texans.


Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott

TIm Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

As we transition to the NFC, we start with one of two teams already locked into a specific seed.

Even before they beat the Lions on Monday night, the Dallas Cowboys clinched the NFC East and the #1 seed in the playoffs. They chose to play their starters last night, but they might take a different approach in Week 17 against the Eagles.

Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones

Getty Images

Heading into Week 17, the Falcons currently hold the 2nd seed and a bye in the NFC.

Last week, they clinched a division title by beating the Panthers paired with a Buccaneers defeat at the hands of the Saints. Here are the four ways they can clinch the #2 seed and a bye:

1) Falcons win
2) Falcons tie + Seattle loss or tie
3) Seattle loss + Detroit loss or tie
4) Seattle tie + Detroit loss

If Atlanta loses, they get the 3rd seed if either Seattle or Detroit loses. If both win, they’ll drop down to the 4th seed.

Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson


The Seahawks wrapped up the NFC West crown a couple weeks back in what’s been a down year for the division. Now, with one game left on the docket before the playoffs, they can slide any where from the 2nd seed to the 4th.

Here’s how they capture that #2 spot:

1) Seahawks win + Atlanta loss or tie
2) Seahawks tie + Atlanta loss + Green Bay/Detroit tie

If Seattle wins as well as the Falcons, the Hawks will take the 3rd seed. If they lose, they’ll drop down to 4th regardless of who wins the PackersLions Sunday night game.

Green Bay Packers

aaron rodgers

Evan Siegle/Packers.com

At 4-6, the Packers’ playoff odds were pretty low. But, after winning their last five games, they’re in prime position to clinch their eight straight playoff appearance.

If Green Bay beats or ties the Lions, they clinch the NFC North title. They’ll be the 4th seed unless the Seahawks either lose to or tie against San Francisco.

The Packers can still clinch a playoff spot if they lose, but they’ll need some help. If the Redskins lose, Green Bay still gets in as a wild card. If Washington wins, Green Bay goes home.

Later, we’ll dive into one other way the Packers can be eliminated after a loss to the Lions, but it’s pretty obscure.

Prior to their Sunday night game, the Packers will already know if they’re in or if they need a win not only for the division, but just to make the postseason at all.

New York Giants

Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr.

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

Last Thursday, the Giants had a chance to wrap up a playoff spot and remain in play for the NFC East/#1 seed, but they ended up losing to the Eagles.

Even though the defeat handed Dallas the conference’s top spot, the Giants ended up getting a postseason berth over the weekend thanks to losses by fellow contenders.

Heading into Week 17, Big Blue technically doesn’t have anything to play for; they’re locked into the #5 seed.

Detroit Lions

matthew stafford

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Despite their loss on Monday night, the Lions can still get a bye in Week 17. Or, they could miss the playoffs entirely.

With a win over the Packers, Detroit will clinch the NFC North title. They’ll be the #4 seed if both the Seahawks and Falcons win. If either of those teams loses, or if Seattle ties, they’ll bump up to #3. They’ll get the #2 spot and a bye if the Falcons lose and the Seahawks either lose or tie.

If the Lions lose to Green Bay, they can still get in as a Wild Card if the Redskins lose or tie. They’ll miss the playoffs if Washington is able to top the Giants.

Or, if they get the rare tie against the Packers, the Lions will also get in, regardless of what Washington does.

Washington Redskins

kirk cousins

Jonathan Newton/Washington Post via Getty Images

We’ve kind of covered the Redskins’ playoff scenario in the sections above.

It’s pretty simple: if Washington beats New York, they’ll earn a wild card spot as long as the Packers-Lions game doesn’t end in a tie.

Here’s the more complicated scenario that still gets Washington in:

Redskins tie + Green Bay loss + Tampa Bay loss or tie

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis Winston, sylvester williams

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Just a couple weeks ago, the Buccaneers were in great shape and appeared poised to earn their first playoff berth since 2007 after winning five straight.

But, after defeats at the hands of the Cowboys and Saints over the last couple weeks, their postseason chances are now incredibly slim. Going into Christmas, the Bucs first needed the Chiefs to beat the Broncos and the Cowboys to beat the Lions to stay alive. Both of those results occurred.

Now, heading into the season’s conclusion, Tampa only has one road to the postseason, and it involves winning the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Packers. Here’s the ludicrous chain of events that they need to occur:

Bucs win + Green Bay loss + Washington tie + Tennessee win + Indianapolis win + Dallas win + San Francisco win

The Titans, Colts, and Cowboys could all easily win, but the odds of both the Packers losing and Seattle falling to the 49ers are quite low. Pair that with the even slimmer chance of the Redskins and the Giants tying, and the Buccaneers could end up watching the postseason from home, just like 2010 when they narrowly lost out on another obscure tiebreaker to the Packers (who went on to win the Super Bowl).

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