NFL playoff scenarios: Simulating final standings, Week 18 scores and AFC matchups

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Who will Patriots play in AFC Wild Card Round? We simulated key Week 18 games originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Week 18 of the 2021 NFL season has the potential to be a pretty exciting one, especially in the AFC, where all seven playoff seeds have yet to be locked up.

The Titans, Chiefs, Bills, Bengals and Patriots all have clinched a playoff spot. Tennessee, Kansas City and Cincinnati have secured division titles. For the Patriots to claim the AFC East championship, they need to beat the Miami Dolphins in Week 18 and have the Buffalo Bills lose to the New York Jets. The Bills win the division for the second consecutive year if they beat the Jets.

Here's how Patriots can still earn AFC's No. 1 seed in Week 18

What's most likely to happen this weekend and how will the playoff race shake out?

Our friends at Strat-O-Matic simulated the key Week 18 games to give us the final AFC standings and the AFC Wild Card Round playoff matchups.

AFC Playoff Picture

Here's a look at the final AFC standings from Strat-O-Matic's Week 18 simulation.

  1. Tennessee Titans, 12-5 (AFC South champs)

  2. Kansas City Chiefs, 12-5 (AFC West champs)

  3. Buffalo Bills, 11-6 (AFC East champs)

  4. Cincinnati Bengals, 10-7 (AFC North champs)

  5. New England Patriots, 11-6 (First wild card)

  6. Las Vegas Raiders, 10-7 (Second wild card)

  7. Indianapolis Colts, 10-7 (Third wild card)

These teams just missed the playoffs:

--Los Angeles 9-8
--Baltimore 9-8
--Pittsburgh 8-8-1

The above standings were the result of the following Week 18 outcomes:

  • Patriots 23, Dolphins 17

  • Colts 24, Jaguars 20

  • Browns 31, Bengals 13

  • Chiefs 36, Broncos 33

  • Titans 26, Texans 15

  • Bills 30, Jets 14

  • Raiders 31, Chargers 17

  • Ravens 27, Steelers 20

The only upset in these scores was the Raiders beating the Chargers. L.A. is a 3-point road favorite, via PointsBet. The rest of the games played out mostly as expected, at least in terms of which team won.

The Patriots and Colts didn't have the easiest time defeating the Dolphins and Jaguars, respectively, but both teams got the job done. 

Playoff Matchups

Based on the above standings, the matchups for the AFC Wild Card round are as follows:

  • No. 7 Colts at No. 2 Chiefs

  • No. 6 Raiders at No. 3 Bills

  • No. 5 Patriots at No. 4 Bengals

  • No. 1 Titans: Bye

The Bengals are the most likely Wild Card opponent for the Patriots in ESPN's Football Power Index model, so it's no surprise to see that matchup come to fruition in this simulation as well. 

It's a pretty favorable matchup for the Patriots. The Bengals don't have a ton of playoff experience, and the head coaching matchup between Zac Taylor and Bill Belichick favors the Patriots by a lopsided margin. Cincinnati also hasn't won a playoff game since 1990.

Cassel: Who is a better matchup for the Patriots come playoff time?

If the Patriots beat the Bengals, they would play the No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans if the Colts and Raiders aren't able to pull off upsets on Wild Card Weekend. Tennessee will play the lowest remaining seed in the Divisional Round.

The Patriots have played in the Wild Card Round just four times since Belichick took over as head coach before the 2000 season. They beat the Jaguars in 2005 and the Jets in 2006, while losing to the Ravens in 2009 and the Titans in 2019. 

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