The final week of any NFL regular season leaves us with all kinds of postseason possibilities to be decided, and never more so than in the 2022 regular season. Due to the cancellation of last Monday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals because of Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the field, the NFL had to create multiple stipulations in order to try and maintain competitive balance in a league that had two teams with one fewer game in the books.
We’ll get into all that in the scenarios below. Suffice to say, there are a bunch of teams with everything on the line in Week 18. Week 18 started Saturday, with the Kansas City Chiefs clinching the AFC’s one-seed, and the Jacksonville Jaguars clinching the AFC South, and the AFC’s four-seed.
Things are less complicated in the NFC. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have clinched the four-seed, and they’ll do so even if they go into the playoffs with a losing record. The New York Giants have already clinched the six-seed no matter what happens in their game with the Philadelphia Eagles… but as you’ll see, the Eagles can move anywhere from the one-seed to the five-seed based on what they, and several other NFC teams, do on Sunday. By the time we get to who can win the NFC’s two-seed, your head may be ready to explode.
In order to provide as much clarity as possible, here is every possible playoff scenario in both conferences for all non-eliminated teams.
The AFC one-seed: Kansas City Chiefs
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With their 31-13 win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday, the 14-3 Chiefs have clinched the AFC’s one-seed. Home field will go through Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC postseason unless the Buffalo Bills beat the New England Patriots in Week 18 and face the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game. In that event, the AFC Championship game will be held at a to-be-determined neutral site.
The AFC's two- and three-seeds: Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals
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If the 12-3 Bills beat the 8-8 New England Patriots on Sunday, they are the AFC’s two-seed. Buffalo can also take the two-seed if they lose to the Patriots, but the 11-4 Bengals lose to the 10-6 Baltimore Ravens.
If the Bengals beat the Ravens, and the Bills lose to the Patriots, the Bengals will be the two-seed, and the Bills will be the three-seed.
The AFC's four-seed: Jacksonville Jaguars
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With their 20-16 Saturday win over the 7-10 Tennessee Titans, the 9-8 Jaguars win the AFC South, and are penned in as the AFC’s four-seed. That will not change no matter what happens on Sunday.
The AFC's five- and six-seeds: Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers
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If the 10-6 Chargers beat the 4-12 Denver Broncos on Sunday, they clinch the AFC’s five seed. They can also do this if they lose to the Broncos, but the Ravens lose to the Bengals.
The Ravens clinch the five-seed if they beat the Bengals and the Chargers lose to the Broncos.
If the Ravens and Chargers both win, this would set up a game between the six-seed Ravens and the three-seed Bengals, and a coin flip would determine the home team for that game.
The AFC's seven-seed: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers
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If the Patriots beat the Bills, they clinch the AFC’s seven-seed. They can also do so if they lose to the Bills. For that to happen, the 8-8 Miami Dolphins would have to lose to the 7-9 New York Jets, and the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers would have to lose to the 7-9 Cleveland Browns.
If the Patriots lose to the Bills, and the Dolphins beat the Jets, the Dolphins are the AFC’s seven-seed.
If the Steelers beat the Browns, and the Patriots and Dolphins both lose, the Steelers are the AFC’s seven-seed.
The NFC's one-seed: Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys
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If the 13-3 Philadelphia Eagles beat the 9-6-1 New York Giants on Sunday, they win the NFC East, and the NFC’s one-seed. If they lose to the Giants, but the 12-4 Dallas Cowboys lose to the 7-8-1 Washington Commanders and the 12-4 San Francisco 49ers lose to the 4-12 Arizona Cardinals, the Eagles still win the division and take the one-seed.
If the Eagles lose to the Giants, and the 49ers beat the Cardinals, the 49ers are the NFC’s one-seed.
If the Cowboys beat the Commanders, and the Eagles and 49ers both lose, the Cowboys are the NFC’s one-seed.
The NFC's two-seed: Four different teams!
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Okay, it’s time to get weird.
If the 49ers beat the Cardinals, and the Eagles beat the Giants, the 49ers are the NFC’s two-seed.
If the 12-4 Minnesota Vikings beat the 3-13 Chicago Bears, and the 49ers lose to the Cardinals, the Vikings are the NFC’s two-seed.
The Eagles will be the two-seed if they lose to the Giants, the 49ers beat the Cardinals, and the Cowboys lose to the Commanders.
If the Cowboys beat the Commanders, the Eagles lose to the Giants, and the 49ers beat the Cardinals, the Cowboys are the two-seed.
The NFC's three-seed: Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers
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If the 49ers beat the Cardinals, or the Vikings lose to the Bears, the Vikings are the NFC’s three-seed.
The 49ers will be the three-seed if they lose to the Cardinals, and the Vikings beat the Bears.
The NFC's four-seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The 8-8 Buccaneers have clinched the four-seed and the NFC South already, so they keep that no matter what happens in their Sunday game against the 6-10 Atlanta Falcons. The extent to which multiple teams with better records will have lower seeds is a relevant discussion we seem to have every year with at least one team.
The NFC's five- and six-seeds: Dallas Cowboys Philadelphia Eagles
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The Eagles can plummet from the potential one-seed to the potential five-seed if they lose to the Giants, and the Cowboys beat the Commanders.
If the Eagles beat the Giants, or the Cowboys lose to the Commanders, the Cowboys are the five-seed.
The NFC's six-seed: New York Giants
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The Giants have already clinched the NFC’s six-seed, no matter what happens in their game against the Eagles. And Brian Daboll is going to get a ton of Coach of the Year votes.
The NFC's seven-seed: Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks
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If the 8-8 Packers beat the 8-8 Lions on Sunday night, they clinch the NFC’s seven seed, and the Lions are out. The Lions are also out if the 8-8 Seahawks beat the 5-11 Los Angeles Rams, which would give Detroit nothing to play for but pride in the night game.
However, if the Lions beat the Packers, and the Rams beat the Seahawks, the Lions grab the seven-seed.
If the Seahawks beat the Rams, and the Packers lose to the Lions, the Seahawks are the seven-seed.