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NFL Playoff Picture, Bracket & Scenarios: Steelers Drop To 3-Seed After Loss to Bengals

NFL Playoff Picture, Bracket & Scenarios: Steelers Drop To 3-Seed After Loss to Bengals article feature image

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images. Pictured: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Playoff Picture

No. 1 Chiefs (13-1)
No. 7 Dolphins (9-5)
No. 2 Bills (11-3)
No. 6 Colts (10-4)
No. 3 Steelers (11-3)
No. 5 Browns (10-4)
No. 4 Titans (10-4)
Bubble: Ravens (9-5), Raiders (7-7)
No. 1 Packers (11-3)
No. 7 Cardinals (8-6)
No. 2 Saints (10-4)
No. 6 Buccaneers (9-5)
No. 3 Seahawks (10-4)
No. 5 Rams (9-5)
No. 4 Football Team (6-8)
Bubble: Bears (7-7), Vikings (6-8), Giants (5-9), Eagles (4-9-1), Cowboys (5-9)

Monday Night Update

Our model gave the Pittsburgh Steelers a 99% chance to win the AFC North entering their Monday Night Football bout, but their loss the Bengals as double-digit favorites opens the door for the Browns.

The Steelers opened as 12-point favorites before closing at -14.5 once it was revealed Ryan Finley would start at quarterback for the Bengals. Finley threw for 89 yards and ran for 47, scoring a touchdown with his arm and legs in the game.

Pittsburgh’s lead is down to one game in the AFC North, and the loss drops the Steelers to No. 3 in the AFC behind the Chiefs and Bills.

There were once dreams of an undefeated season, but now Pittsburgh has to worry about a potential first-round exit.

Monday Morning Update

The Giants lost an opportunity to move back into a tie for the NFC East lead after losing to the Browns on Sunday Night Football. Meanwhile, the Browns jumped back into the AFC’s No. 5 spot that was briefly held by the Colts.

Cleveland won 20-6 in a game that got away from New York when the Giants could turn only three early red-zone trips into three total points. At 10-4, the Browns have a 86.7% chance to make the playoffs according to our model.

The Giants have just an 11.77% chance, and that only gets tougher on the road against the Ravens in Week 16. New York opened as 9.5-point underdogs, while Washington is a 2-point favorite at home against Carolina.

The only playoff implication on Monday Night Football is for the Steelers, who can clinch the AFC North with a win. Our model gives Pittsburgh a 99% of holding off the Browns for the top spot.

Sunday Evening Update

The Los Angeles Rams not only cost the New York Jets the easy route to Trevor Lawrence — the Rams also gave up their lead in the NFC West.

All the Rams had to do on Sunday to clinch a playoff spot was beat the Jets as a 17-point favorite. Instead, Los Angeles lost outright, falling 23-20 in one of the two biggest upsets over the past 25 seasons.

What a Jets upset would mean in betting history…

📊 Biggest NFL Point Spread Upsets Last 25 Years:

+17.5: Jets over Rams (Today)
+17.5: Dolphins over Patriots (2019)
+17.5: Washington over Cowboys (1995)
+16.5: Bills over Vikings (2018)

— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) December 20, 2020

With the Seahawks’ win over Washington, they’re now 10-4 and a game ahead of the Rams in the division. The Rams face the Cardinals next week. The Seahawks travel to San Francisco for a meeting with the 49ers.

Sunday Afternoon Update

The Seattle Seahawks held on for a 20-15 win over the Washington Football team to become the only team in the early slate to clinch a playoff spot.

Seattle will be rooting for the Jets to upset the Rams for NFC West implications. The Seahawks still trail Los Angeles for the top spot in the division. Likewise, Washington needs Cleveland to beat the Giants to maintain a lead in the NFC East.

Tampa Bay had Atlanta right where they wanted them, with the Falcons leading 17-0 at half so they could pull off a usual collapse. Tampa’s 31-27 win was important, but the Bucs didn’t clinch when the Vikings and Bears failed to result in a tie.

The Titans took care of business with a win over Detroit to stay ahead of the Colts in the AFC South, but didn’t get the help needed to clinch a spot this week.

The Patriots’ bubble burst with a loss to the Dolphins, falling to 6-8 and officially out of playoff contention. That keeps Miami inside the top-seven with the Ravens still lurking.

Chicago is alive thanks to a 33-27 win over Minnesota. The Bears are chasing the Cardinals for the final spot in the NFC.

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Sunday Morning Update

The Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks all have a chance to join the Buffalo Bills in clinching playoff berths in Week 15.

The Bills became the third AFC team to clinch a spot with their win over the Broncos on Saturday. The Chiefs locked up the AFC West crown and are looking for home-field advantage. The Steelers also clinched a bid.

To help clarify the NFL playoff picture heading into Sunday, we’ve outlined the current standings as well as all the possible scenarios based on the slate’s results. And as a bonus, we used our betting model to simulate the rest of the season 10,000 times to project the final brackets in the AFC and NFC.

NFL Playoff Picture

Current AFC Picture
No. 1 Chiefs (12-1)
No. 7 Dolphins (8-5)
No. 2 Steelers (11-2)
No. 6 Colts (9-4)
No. 3 Bills (11-3)
No. 5 Browns (9-4)
No. 4 Titans (9-4)
Bubble: Ravens (8-5), Raiders (7-7), Patriots (6-7)

The Titans hold a tiebreak over the Colts in the AFC South, but only Tennessee can clinch a spot this week.

The Titans need a win over the Lions as 9-point favorites (compare real-time odds), and then it’ll take some help around the league. A Ravens loss is unlikely considering they’re double-digit favorites against the Jaguars, but that’s one way to get the Titans in. Tennessee can also get in if Miami loses to New England and Cleveland wins its Sunday Night Football bout with the Giants.

The only other immediate implication this week is for the Steelers, who can clinch the AFC North with a win over the Bengals or a Browns loss to the Giants.

The Dolphins hold the final spot entering the day, but our model actually gives the Ravens a better chance to make the playoffs — the Dolphins are a short favorite against the Patriots while the Ravens have the Jaguars. The Ravens are 85% to make the playoffs according to our model while the Dolphins have a 56% chance.


Current NFC Picture
No. 1 Packers (10-3)
No. 7 Cardinals (7-6)
No. 2 Saints (10-3)
No. 6 Buccaneers (8-5)
No. 3 Rams (9-4)
No. 5 Seahawks (9-4)
No. 4 Football Team (6-7)
Bubble: Vikings (6-7), Bears (6-7), Giants (5-8), Eagles (4-8-1)

The Rams are the most likely of the group to clinch, needing just a win over the Jets as 17-point favorites. A win also keeps the Rams ahead of the Seahawks in the NFC West. Seattle can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Washington, though, but would still trail Los Angeles in the division standings due to a tiebreaker.

The Saints are already in, but a win over the Chiefs or a Buccaneers loss would give New Orleans the NFC South. Only Green Bay has clinched a division in the NFC.

Technically, the Bucs can clinch on Sunday. However, it would take a win and a Vikings-Bears tie to do it. Tampa Bay is 95% to make the playoffs according to our model.

Washington holds the edge over the Giants to win the NFC East. The Football Team has a 67.8% chance to win the division; the Giants are 21.2% to win it. Both teams are underdogs on Sunday.

As for the teams on the outside looking in, the Vikings and Bears meet in essentially a win-or-stop-pretending-there’s-a-chance game. Our model favors the Cardinals (76%) for the final spot, but the Bears do have a 17% chance. Minnesota’s chances are just 6%. The Vikings are 3-point favorites.

NFL Playoff Bracket Predictions

Below is how we project the end-of-season bracket heading into Sunday’s games.

Final AFC Projections
No. 1 Chiefs
No. 7 Ravens
No. 2 Steelers
No. 6 Browns
No. 3 Titans
No. 5 Colts
No. 4 Bills
Final NFC Projections
No. 1 Packers
No. 7 Cardinals
No. 2 Saints
No. 6 Buccaneers
No. 3 Rams
No. 5 Seahawks
No. 4 Washington

How did we project these brackets? We used our model to project the top-four seeds of each conference by ranking the most likely division winners by their chances to land the Nos. 1-4 seeds. Then, we identified teams with the next highest playoff odds, and assigned the subsequent standings based on highest average wins.

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