One of many reasons the NFL decided to expand to a 17-game season over 18 weeks in 2021 was the idea that talk of playoff scenarios would expand to more weeks late in the season.
The NFL is many things, but it is not dumb about generating fan interest in such things, and it worked out about as well as the league could have expected. Last week, only the Chiefs had clinched a playoff berth in an AFC nobody seems to want to win. There were five defined playoff teams in the NFC, but the one-seed was still up for grabs, and all kinds of anarchy at the bottom.
As we head into the final week of the season, we know a lot more about what the playoffs will look like. The Packers have clinched the NFC’s one-seed, and five teams — the Chiefs, the Bengals, the Titans, the Bills, and the Patriots — are officially playoff-bound. Kansas City could have wrapped up the AFC’s one-seed if they beat the Bengals, but they didn’t, and now, the Titans have the one-seed for the time being. That is still in play, with several teams vying for the top spot, the only first-round bye in the conference, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
In the NFC, six teams — the Packers, Cowboys, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Rams, and Eagles — are in. Where they’ll all stand below Aaron Rodgers and his crew remains to be seed.
Here are all the possible playoff and division scenarios for the final week of the regular season.
(Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports)
(David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
The 10-6 Bills take on the 4-12 Jets on Sunday, and they win the AFC East with a win, or a Patriots loss, or a Bills tie and a Patriots tie.
(Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)
The 10-6 Bengals face the reeling 7-9 Browns on Sunday. Joe Burrow’s team has already clinched the AFC North. They can wrap up the AFC’s one-seed under these coditions:
CIN win + TEN loss + KC loss + NE loss or tie OR
CIN win + TEN loss + KC loss + BUF win
(Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
The 9-7 Colts play the 2-14 Jaguars on Sunday, and all they have to do is win or tie, and they’re in. If they lose, the Colts can still make the playoffs if the Chargers lose and the Ravens and Steelers tie, or if the Chargers lose, the Steelers lose, and the Dolphins beat the Patriots.
Kansas City Chiefs
(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
The 11-5 Chiefs take on the 7-9 Broncos on Saturday. Kansas City already owns the AFC West, and they’ll take the conference’s one-seed if they win, and the Titans lose to the Texans. If the Chiefs and Broncos tie and the Titans lose, that’s another way for Patrick Mahomes to drive to home-field advantage through the postseason.
Las Vegas Raiders
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
The 9-7 Raiders play the 9-7 Chargers in the regular-season finale on Sunday night, and an AFC playoff spot is at stake. The Raiders get in if they beat the Chargers, or if they tie with the Chargers and the Colts lose, or if the Colts lose, and the Steelers lose or tie.
Los Angeles Chargers
(Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
If the aforementioned Chargers beat or tie with the aforementioned Raiders on Sunday night, they get the final AFC playoff spot. No other scenarios exist for them.
Well, except for this one.
Here's something totally bonkers: If the Colts lose to the Jaguars Sunday, the Raiders and Chargers would both get in with a tie. Literally, there would be no motivation for either team to do anything other than kneel it out 15 times each.
— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) January 3, 2022
New England Patriots
(Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
The 10-6 Patriots face the 8-8 Dolphins on Sunday, and the world is their oyster, depending on what happens. They will clinch the AFC’s one-seed if they win, the Bills lose or tie, the Chiefs lose, and the Titans lose. They will clinch the AFC East with a win and a Bills loss or tie, or a Patriots tie and a Bills loss.
(Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports)
The 8-7-1 Steelers get to extend Ben Roethlisberger’s career a bit with a playoff berth if they beat the 8-8 Ravens, but they also need help. The Colts need to lose, and the Raiders-Chargers game can’t end in a tie.
(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)
The 11-5 Titans play the 4-12 Texans on Sunday, hoping for a couple things: Wrapping up the AFC’s one-seed, and possibly getting Derrick Henry back for the playoffs. They can take care of the first thing with a win, or the following:
TEN tie + KC loss or tie OR
KC loss + CIN loss or tie + NE loss or tie OR
KC loss + CIN loss or tie + BUF win
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
The 11-5 Cardinals got back on the good foot after beating the Cowboys last Sunday, and they can win the NFC West with a victory over the 6-10 Seahawks… and if the Rams lose to the 49ers.
Los Angeles Rams
(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)
The 12-4 Rams will hope that Matthew Stafford knocks off his recent turnover festival against the 9-7 49ers on Sunday. The Rams are already in the playoffs, but they can win the NFC West with a win or a tie, or with a Cardinals loss or tie against the Seahawks.
New Orleans Saints
(AP Photo/Derick Hingle)
The 8-8 Saints play the 7-9 Falcons on Sunday, and they’ll back into the playoffs with a win, and with a 49ers loss to the Rams.
San Francisco 49ers
(Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)
The 9-7 49ers play the 12-4 Rams on Sunday, and they’ll grab a playoff spot with a win or a tie, or if the Saints lose to or tie with the Falcons.