Thanks to an incredible Week 15 that featured the biggest comeback in NFL history, a walk-off Pick-Six in overtime, and whatever that was in Las Vegas, chaos is certainly a possibility as the NFL playoffs loom. James Dator walked us through all the potential madness that could ensue over the next few weeks, thanks to what happened over the past weekend.
Still, things could settle down over the next week if results break in a certain way.
To that end, here are the playoff, seeding, and elimination scenarios for Week 16 of the NFL season.
Who has clinched, and what
We can start with the NFC, where four teams have already booked a ticket for the postseason.
With their win over the Chicago Bears, the Eagles clinched at least a playoff berth.
Despite their loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in overtime, the Cowboys still clinched a playoff berth, thanks to losses from the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Commanders.
With their epic comeback against the Indianapolis Colts, the Vikings clinched the NFC North.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers locked up the NFC West with their win Thursday night over the Seattle Seahawks.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs locked up their seventh-straight AFC West title with Sunday’s overtime win over the Houston Texans.
Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills wrapped up a playoff spot with Saturday night’s win over the Miami Dolphins.
We can start in the NFC, where there are currently three playoff spots remaining. Only one team can join the Eagles, Cowboys, Vikings, and 49ers in the postseason this week, and it is a bit of a surprise.
New York Giants
That’s right. The Fightin’ Brian Dabolls can clinch a playoff spot this weekend. Here is how.
First, the Giants need to win against the Vikings on Saturday. That game is in Minnesota.
Then, they will need a little help. With a win over Minnesota and losses from the Detroit Lions and the Seahawks, the Giants are in. With a win over Minnesota, and losses from the Lions and Washington Commanders, the Giants are in the playoffs. With a win Saturday, and losses from Seattle and Washington, the Giants are in.
Things are a bit more complicated in the AFC, where three teams can lock up playoff spots, and a fourth who is already in can lock up their division.
The Bills are already in the playoffs, thanks to Saturday’s win over the Dolphins. But they can clinch the division for the third-straight year with either a win Saturday over the Chicago Bears on the road, or a Dolphins loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday.
Beyond the Bills, three teams can solidify playoff status this weekend.
One of the hottest teams in the league can punch their ticket to the playoffs this weekend, and they could have a spot locked up before they even take the field on Saturday. Cincinnati is in the playoffs with a win over the New England Patriots on Christmas Eve. But they can also get in with a loss from the New York Jets, who play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night.
Despite losing to the Cleveland Browns on Saturday, the Baltimore Ravens can still find a way into the playoffs this weekend. First, they have to win against the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday. Then, a few different combinations could see them clinch a playoff spot. A win plus losses from both the Jets and the Patriots would get them in. A win over Atlanta and losses from the Jets and the Dolphins would get them in. Finally, a win and losses from the Patriots and the Dolphins gets the Ravens in.
Basically, the Ravens are hoping for a win and then every AFC East team to lose.
You will note, there are also multiple scenarios where the Ravens can get in with a tie against the Falcons. For example, if the Ravens and Falcons tie, then losses by the Patriots and the Jets would see the Ravens clinch a spot. More such possibilities are outlined here.
Los Angeles Chargers
Dare we believe again?
It seems every year we in the media talk ourselves into the Los Angeles Chargers. But thanks to wins in three of their last four games, the Chargers are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.
Now, the Chargers do not play until Monday night, when they take on the Indianapolis Colts, so they will know before kickoff if they can indeed punch a ticket to the postseason. But if the Jets, Patriots, and Las Vegas Raiders have all lost, then a win over the Colts can get the Chargers in.
Also to watch Monday night? Whether backup QB Chase Daniel goes to work at his second job after the game.
There is one seeding scenario to watch this week. The Eagles can clinch the top-overall seed, and homefield advantage in the playoffs, with a win over the Cowboys.
And now, a bit of bad news.
While there are 27 teams still hoping for a shot at the playoffs, there are a few teams that could see their slim playoff hopes come to an end this weekend.
We can start in the NFC. Three teams have already been eliminated, the Chicago Bears, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Los Angeles Rams, who were eliminated with their loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.
A handful of teams could see their playoff hopes end this weekend.
New Orleans Saints
The only path into the playoffs for the New Orleans Saints is by winning the NFC South. But the path is tough. With a loss to the Cleveland Browns, and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers win against the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas Day, the Saints are eliminated from the playoffs.
Similar to the Saints, the only way for the Atlanta Falcons to make it to the playoffs is if they win the division. But with a loss to the Ravens on Saturday, they would be on the brink of elimination. A loss to the Ravens, plus a Tampa Bay win, eliminates the Falcons. In addition, a loss to the Ravens, coupled with a Buccaneers tie, and a Carolina Panthers win over the Detroit Lions, and the Falcons are out. A Falcons loss, coupled with a Buccaneers tie, a Panthers tie, and a Saints win, eliminates Atlanta. Finally, a Falcons loss, along with wins from the Panthers and Saints, eliminates Atlanta.
Green Bay Packers
Thanks to their win Monday night against the Rams, the Packers are still alive. But they would be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to the Dolphins, and a Washington win over the 49ers.
On the AFC side of things, the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans have already been eliminated from playoff contention. But there are a few teams on the brink heading into Week 16.
The Colts, despite their epic collapse against the Vikings, avoided elimination when the Tennessee Titans lost to the Chargers on Sunday afternoon. There is a path for the Colts to somehow win the division, which involves the Titans, Colts, and Jaguars all finishing at 7-9-1. Indianapolis would advance on the third tiebreaker.
However, any of the following results would eliminate Indianapolis: A Colts loss or tie, a Jaguars win or tie, or a Titans win or tie.
New York Jets
Despite their solid season to date, the New York Jets can see their playoff hopes end this weekend. There are two different paths, both of which begin with a Jets loss to the Jaguars on Thursday night. In the first scenario, that loss coupled with wins from the Chargers, the Patriots, and the Dolphins, along with either a win or a tie from the Ravens, would eliminate the Jets.
In the second scenario, a Jets loss to Jacksonville, paired with wins from the Chargers, the Patriots, and the Dolphins, along with either a win or a tie from the Browns, eliminates the Jets.
Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still technically alive.
But there are a number of scenarios where those slim playoff hopes are dashed.
First, a loss to the Raiders on Christmas Eve eliminates the Steelers.
Second, the Steelers can be eliminated with a tie against the Raiders. If they tie the Raiders, and the Chargers win or tie, and the Dolphins win or tie, the Steelers are out. If they tie Las Vegas, and the Chargers win or tie, and the Patriots win or tie, the Steelers are out. If they tie the Raiders, and the Chargers win or tie, and the Jets win or tie, the Steelers are out.
There are also elimination possibilities even if the Steelers beat the Raiders. If they win on Christmas Eve, but the Chargers and Dolphins both win, the Steelers are out. A Chargers win, a Patriots win, and a Dolphins tie would eliminate the Steelers regardless of a win over the Raiders. A Chargers win, a Jets win, and a Dolphins tie would knock the Steelers out even if they beat Las Vegas, as would the combination of wins from the Chargers, Patriots, and Jets.
The Browns are still alive, but their slim playoff hopes can be dashed this weekend. First, a loss to the Saints on Christmas Eve eliminates the Browns. If the Browns and the Saints finish with a tie, then there are three combinations which would eliminate Cleveland: A Chargers win or tie coupled with a win or tie from either of these teams: Miami, New England, or the New York Jets.
The Browns can also be eliminated even if they beat the Saints. The cleanest pathway in this scenario is a Ravens win or tie, along with a Chargers win and a Dolphins win.
Las Vegas Raiders
Like the Browns, the Raiders are still alive, but elimination is a distinct possibility this week. A loss to the Steelers is the first step. Combine that with a Chargers win or tie, along with a win or tie from either of these teams: Miami, New England, or the New York Jets, and the Raiders are out.
Las Vegas can also be eliminated if they tie the Steelers. A tie, along with wins from the Chargers and the Dolphins, and the Raiders are out. A tie, along with a Chargers win, a Patriots win, and a Dolphins tie, and the Raiders are out.