NFL playoff picture: AFC wild-card race still could end up with Raiders making postseason

We spent all Christmas talking about what the Kansas City Chiefs' loss meant to their outlook the rest of this season. We didn't talk enough about what that result might mean to the winning team in that game.

The Las Vegas Raiders are alive. Their path to the playoffs isn't easy, but it's not blocked off either. Any shot at the playoffs didn't seem feasible when the Raiders lost 3-0 to the Minnesota Vikings to drop to 5-8.

The Raiders, who are 7-8, have a 13% shot at the playoffs, according to Next Gen Stats. They face a huge game in the AFC wild-card race against the 8-7 Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. If the Raiders beat the Colts their playoff odds increase to 30%, via Next Gen Stats. That's not great, but it would be an accomplishment for Las Vegas, which fired head coach Josh McDaniels earlier this season, to have something at stake in Week 18.

The Raiders' biggest problem is how many other teams are still alive. The Browns and Bills (or Dolphins, if Buffalo rallies to win the AFC East) are in great shape for two of the three AFC wild-card spots. Then come all the teams with an 8-7 or 7-8 record and eyeing that final wild-card spot: Colts, Texans, Bengals, Steelers, Raiders and Broncos. Five of those six teams will likely be going home.

Here is how Frank Schwab thinks the NFL playoff picture will shake out as we enter Week 15. (Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)
Here is how Frank Schwab thinks the NFL playoff picture will shake out as we enter Week 15. (Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)

The Colts lead the race now, which makes Sunday's Raiders-Colts game a big one. The Raiders would grab the head-to-head tiebreaker with a win, though it seems likely more than one team would be tied for the final spot at the end. The Raiders finish with the Denver Broncos at home and would probably have to win that one too. Las Vegas will also be hoping for Week 17 results like Chiefs over Bengals, Titans over Texans and Seahawks over Steelers. The good news is none of those results is unrealistic.

The Raiders aren't exactly in great shape for a playoff spot. But they're alive. If they beat the Colts (whose playoff odds would increase to 70% with a win) and Broncos, they might be getting really familiar with tiebreaker math. For a team that was an afterthought in the race heading into Arrowhead Stadium for a Week 16 game, it's not a bad place for the Raiders to be.

Here are the Week 17 games that will have the biggest impact on the playoff picture:

Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens

Everything we think we know about the NFL season after Monday night's Ravens win could change again. The Dolphins are one game behind the Ravens, and if they win Sunday they take over the No. 1 seed in the AFC. That would be a major shift after a week of talking up the Ravens as the best team in football following their decisive win over the 49ers. The Ravens could clinch the No. 1 seed with a win. Also, if Baltimore wins and Buffalo beats New England, a Week 18 game between the Bills and Dolphins becomes the AFC East championship game (and is an obvious choice to be flexed to Sunday night). This is a big game for shaping the AFC bracket.

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

You'd think this is an NFC South championship game, but the Saints' loss and Bucs' win in Week 16 changed that math. The Buccaneers, who lead the division by a game, are still in great shape to win the NFC South no matter what happens Sunday because of tiebreakers and a game against the Panthers in Week 18. But a win would keep the Saints alive for the division, and they also have a small wild-card shot.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks' last-minute win at the Titans last week was huge. It put them in the No. 7 seed, and all the NFC wild-card teams are hoping for a Steelers win Sunday. If Seattle beats Pittsburgh, they move to an 87% percent chance to make the playoffs, via Next Gen Stats. Seattle can clinch in Week 17, but it would take a win and a Vikings-Packers tie. The Steelers also kept themselves alive with a win last week over the Bengals. Their playoff chances are 32% with a win or 6% with a loss.

Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs

The Bengals' loss to the Steelers last week was damaging, mainly because they finish with games at the Chiefs and against the Browns. That's a tough road. A loss at Kansas City would practically crush Cincinnati's playoff dreams in a tight AFC wild-card race. Surprisingly, the Chiefs still haven't clinched the AFC West. The Raiders and Broncos are still mathematically alive. The Chiefs winning the division is a formality, and it's very likely they'll be the No. 3 seed in the AFC, too.

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings

This is practically an elimination game between 7-8 teams. The loser's playoff odds are less than 5%. The winner will be above 50%. So the winner isn't in the playoff field, but the loser is most certainly out. That raises the stakes for a classic rivalry game. They'll both be rooting for the Giants to upset the Rams in Week 17.

This article contains affiliate links; if you click such a link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission.