NFL Playoff Picture & Scenarios: The (Almost) Final AFC & NFC Brackets

NFL Playoff Picture & Scenarios: The (Almost) Final AFC & NFC Brackets article feature image
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Carmen Mandato/Getty Images. Pictured: A.J. Brown

NFL Playoff Picture

Below are the standings following the late afternoon games.

FINAL AFC BRACKET
1. Chiefs (14-2)*
7. Colts (11-5)*
2. Bills (13-3)*
6. Browns (11-5)*
3. Steelers (12-4)*
5. Ravens (11-5)*
4. Titans (11-5)*
NFC
1. Packers (13-3)*
7. Bears (8-8)*
2. Saints (12-4)*
6. Rams (10-6)*
3. Seahawks (12-4)*
5. Bucs (11-5)*
4. NFC East Winner

The last game of the afternoon, the last play of the afternoon, clinched the AFC South for the Tennessee Titans.

In a back-and-forth game, the Titans used a 19-play, 75-yard drive to score a go-ahead touchdown with 1:42 remaining, only to see Deshaun Watson take the Houston Texans down the field for a field goal with 18 seconds left to tie the game at 38.

Plenty of time for the Titans.

With three timeouts remaining, Ryan Tannehill took his shot to A.J. Brownfor 52 yards to the Houston 23 yard line. One Derrick Henry run later, Sam Sloman banked in a 37-yard field goal off the post and in for the 41-38 victory.

The win gave the Titans the No. 4 seed in the AFC. They’ll host the Ravens in the first round. The Colts are the No. 7 seed and travel to Buffalo.

Tracking Late Afternoon Scenarios

We’ll be tracking how the NFL playoff picture shifts and solidifies in real-time on Sunday. Find the latest updates below, in order of most recent first.

7:15 p.m. ET: Kyler Murray’s exit on the first series of the game changed things for the Cardinals. So did his return, but it was too little too late as Arizona fell to the Rams 18-7, clinching berths for Los Angeles and Chicago. Arizona is officially eliminated.

Murray gave the Cardinals offense some life, but the Rams teed off on his lack of mobility. He finished 8-11 for 87 yards.

Elsewhere, the Colts clinched a playoff berth after fending off a Jaguars’ second-half charge. Now they wait to see if the Texans can beat the Titans and give Indianapolis the AFC South.

The Packers pulled away from the Bears to clinch the NFC North and first-round bye in the NFC. The Saints took down Carolina to take the No. 2 seed. Seattle will be the No. 3 seed.

6:35 p.m. ET: With one quarter to go, the Rams look in control in a battle of backup quarterbacks. John Wolford is outplaying Cardinals backup Chris Streveler with 233 yards passing and 43 yards rushing compared to Streveler’s 77 yards passing. Los Angeles leads 15-7 and with a goal-to-go scenario.

A Rams win clinches a spot for both themselves and the Bears.

Those Bears are hanging tough against the Packers, trailing 21-16 at the end of the third.

Seattle trails San Francisco 16-6. If that result holds, the Packers get the first-round bye win or lose.

The Colts are stuck in a tight game against Jacksonville, leading just 20-14. A Jaguars win eliminates the Colts and gets the Dolphins back into the playoffs.

Halftime Updates

5:50 p.m. ET: The Titans are already in thanks to the Dolphins’ loss earlier this afternoon, but Tennessee is moving closer to the AFC South title.

Behind Derrick Henry (who else?), the Titans have a 17-9 lead over the Texans at the half. Tennessee will need the win, too, since the Colts are cruising against the Jaguars, up 20-7.

The Bears got the break they needed when Tavon Austin fumbled a punt, but Chicago turned the mistake into a field goal rather than a touchdown. That doesn’t work against the Packers. Aaron Rodgers is 10-for-10 at half with three touchdowns as Green Bay leads 21-13.

The Rams took the lead right before half with an 84-yard pick six by Troy Hill. Add that to the earlier safety and Los Angeles has a 12-7 advantage. Kyler Murray has not returned to the game since the first series.

If the Bears don’t come back, the Saints can’t get home field in the NFC — either way, New Orleans is doing its part with a 16-7 advantage over Carolina. The Seahawks are the other team with a chance at the top spot. They hold a small 6-3 lead over San Francisco.

4:45 p.m. ET: A lot of early action in the NFC wild card race.

John Wolford’s first pass was picked off by the Cardinals, but on Arizona’s drive Kyler Murray limped off the field and into the locker room. Backup Chris Streveler came in and hit a shovel pass for an 11-yard touchdown to give Arizona a 7-0 lead.

As that happened, Bears running back David Montgomery was slow to get off the field but returned on the drive and scored the game’s opening touchdown. Chicago took over seven minutes off the clock on the opening drive for a 7-0 lead.

The Ravens and Browns have clinched their berths, locking into the AFC’s 5- and 6-seeds.

Two more seeds were also finalized in the early window: The Steelers finish as the 3-seed with Sunday’s loss to the Browns while the Bills locked-in the 2-seed with their win over the Dolphins.


Early Afternoon NFL Playoff Scenarios

We’ll be tracking how the NFL playoff picture shifts and solidifies in real-time on Sunday. Find the latest updates below, in order of most recent first.

4:15 p.m. ET: Of course it wouldn’t be easy for the Browns, but Cleveland is in after holding off the Steelers, 24-22. Pittsburgh scored with under two minutes remaining but failed on the potential game-tying two-point conversion. The Steelers keep the No. 3 seed in the AFC.

The Ravens and Bills left no doubt in the early slate. The Ravens ran away from the Bengals with a 38-3 win. The Bills stunned the Dolphins in the fashion they dismantled them. Behind three first-half touchdowns from Isaiah McKenzie, the Bills held a 28-6 halftime lead and extended it into a 56-26 win.

Atlanta made Tampa Bay sweat in the second half, but ultimately Tom Brady’s rekindled connection with Antonio Brown was too much. The Bucs 44-27 win keeps them in the No. 5 slot in the NFC, which means they’ll meet the NFC East winner in the first round.

3 p.m. ET: The Dolphins woke up in the second half with a touchdown drive to get within 28-13. The better news? Josh Allen is done for the day with Matt Barkley replacing him.

Miami is playing for a wild-card spot.

The outlook is better for Baltimore, which is cruising against Cincinnati. A win for the Ravens punches their postseason ticket.

Halftime Updates For 1 p.m. ET Games

The Ravens held a comfortable 17-3 lead at half against the Bengals — win and Baltimore is in.

Elsewhere in the AFC North, the Steelers added another field goal to keep things close with the Browns still leading 10-6 at the half. Cleveland would be in with a win, too.

Matt Ryan found the end zone on a sneak to bring Atlanta within 20-10 of Tampa Bay, but the Bucs ended the half with a field goal. The lead is 23-10, but the Bucs will be without Mike Evans for the second half. He was officially ruled out with a knee injury. Brady and Co. are playing for the 5-seed and honors of facing the NFC East winner in the wild-card round.

Miami went to some trickery to get into the red zone, hitting Lynn Bowden on a screen who passed it back to Myles Gaskin for 32 yards. But the offense stalled inside the 10, resulting in a field goal. It was points, but not enough as Buffalo came right back for another touchdown. This one was Allen to John Brown for 32 yards. The Bills are cruising with a 28-6 lead at half. It’ll be telling to see who starts the second half at quarterback between Allen — who is making a backdoor case for MVP — and Matt Barkley.

The Dolphins need a win or a loss from any of the Ravens, Browns or Colts to make the postseason while the Bills could lock in the AFC’s 2-seed with a victory.

Daniel Jones’ second touchdown of the half extended the Giants’ lead to 20-9 over the Cowboys at halftime. Dallas added a field goal before the half thanks to Greg Zuerlein from 57 yards. The Cowboys finished the half with 113 yards of total offense.

Reminder: Dallas and New York are playing for a chance at the NFC East crown should Washington lose to Philly on Sunday night.

2:14 p.m. ET: There’s no Ryan Fitzpatrick to save the Dolphins, so they need the clock to strike Tua Time in a hurry. Isaiah McKenzie’s third touchdown of the day — this one a punt return — put the Bills up 21-3. Tagovailoa is an efficient 8-of-12 passing but has just 61 yards thus far with 5:22 left in the half with the Dolphins fighting for their postseason chances.

2:10 p.m. ET: The Dallas Cowboys have 16 passing yards. The New York Giants have 13 points. Sterling Shepard’s second touchdown of the game put the Giants up 13-3 with 6:42 remaining in the second quarter. If Washington loses on Sunday night, winner of Cowboys-Giants is the NFC East champion.

2:05 p.m. ET: Nervous energy might start building on the Miami sideline after Josh Allen found Isaiah McKenzie once again for a touchdown and 14-3 lead.

Meanwhile, the Steelers put a field goal on the board to pull within 10-3 of the Browns, who are hoping to clinch their berth with a win.

The Ravens, who are also in with a win, are pulling away from the Bengals with a 17-0 lead.

Finally, the Bucs — who are hoping to lock in the NFC’s 5-seed — took a 20-3 lead over the Falcons in the second quarter.

1:50 p.m. ET: The Bills are taking advantage of Josh Allen’s time on the field with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie. That gave Buffalo a 7-3 lead almost simultaneously as the Browns went ahead 10-0 on a Cody Parkey field goal. The bigger the lead for the Browns, the more likely Buffalo is to sit Allen.

1:42 p.m. ET: Josh Allen started for the Bills, but the question is how long he’ll stay in the game — it was a shaky start for the quarterback looking to set the franchise record for single-season passing yards. His first drive resulted in an interception, which led to a Dolphins field goal. A Buffalo punt to the Miami 1 and defensive stop led to great field position for the Bills to end the first quarter.

1:37 p.m. ET: COVID-19 fallout and all, the Browns are still double-digit favorites against the Steelers needing just a win to make the playoffs. Nick Chubb took some pressure off early with a 47-yard touchdown run while Pittsburgh’s first drive with Mason Rudolph stalled at mid field. Cleveland leads 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.

1:35 p.m. ET: The Ravens entered Sunday with a 94% chance of making the playoffs according to our model, mainly because they’re in with a win over the Bengals. As double-digit favorites, the Ravens took an early 10-0 lead thanks for touchdown connection between Lamar Jackson and Miles Boykin.

1:30 p.m. ET: Tampa Bay already clinched a playoff spot but is playing for seeding. Those chances — and more importantly, the team’s chances at a deep postseason run — possibly took a hit when Mike Evans limped off the field after suffering an apparent leg injury.

The Bucs held a 7-3 lead at the time when Tom Brady threw Evans’ way in the end zone. The drive ended with a field goal for a 10-3 lead.


Everything after this point was written and published before Sunday’s games kicked off.


NFL Playoff Picture

NFC STANDINGS
1. Packers (12-3)*
7. Bears (8-7)
2. Saints (11-4)*
6. Rams (9-6)
3. Seahawks (11-4)*
5. Bucs (10-5)*
4. Football Team (6-9)
Bubble: Cardinals (8-7), Cowboys (6-9), Giants (5-10)
* = playoff berth clinched
AFC STANDINGS
1. Chiefs (14-1)*
7. Browns (10-5)
2. Bills (12-3)*
6. Ravens (10-5)
3. Steelers (12-3)*
5. Dolphins (10-5)
4. Titans (10-5)
Bubble: Colts (10-5)
* = playoff berth clinched
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NFL Playoff Scenarios

There are 11 teams waking up Sunday with a chance to make the NFL playoffs, but only seven will secure a spot.

Four still need to be filled in the AFC with five 10-win teams fighting to stay in it. Three NFC slots will be filled, including one by a team that will finish the season below .500.

The Titans and Colts are still vying for the AFC South. The Chiefs have the first-round bye and are sitting Patrick Mahomes and others. And the Bills and Steelers will host playoff games.

The NFC East still needs to crown a champion. And while the Packers hold the top seed, the Saints or Seahawks could have it by Sunday night. Meanwhile, the Bears, Rams and Cardinals are battling for the final two spots.

There are a ton of scenarios and not every team in contention has to win to get in, but no team will complain about how it got in — they just want to get there and have a chance at losing to the Chiefs.

Let’s take a look at how all of this can unfold.

NFC Scenarios

NFC East Winner: The Cowboys and Giants play first. The winner stays alive but will need Washington to lose to Philadelphia. If Washington wins, the Football Team is in. If Washington loses, the winner of the Giants-Cowboys game gets in and we get to bet against Mike McCarthy or Daniel Jones in a playoff game.

No. 1 Seed Still Up For Grabs: Green Bay gets the first-round bye with a win over Chicago as a 4-point favorite. The Packers will have to do it without left tackle David Bakhtiari, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered in practice this week.

If the Packers fall and the Seahawks lose to the 49ers, Green Bay stills get the bye. New Orleans gets the No. 1 seed with a win, Green Bay loss and Seattle win. Finally, the Seahawks get the top spot with a win and losses from the Packers and Saints.

Our model gives the Packers a 71% chance of earning the bye.

nfl-playoff-picture-bracket-predictions-standings-scenarios-afc-nfc-week-14-2020
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images. Pictured: Aaron Rodgers.

The Wild Card Race: Three teams are vying for two spots — and two of those teams are playing each other on Sunday. The Cardinals take on the Rams, who will be without Jared Goff. The winner of that game is in, but Los Angeles can still make the playoffs with a loss if Chicago loses to Green Bay.

The Cardinals are only in with a win or a tie while the Bears get in with a win or Cardinals loss.

Our model gives the Rams an 80% chance of making the playoffs, the Bears a 69% chance and the Cardinals a 50% chance

AFC Scenarios

AFC South Winner: The Titans and Colts are big favorites on Sunday (compare real-time lines), with Tennessee holding the tiebreaker.

The Titans win the division and No. 4 seed with a win over the Texans or a Colts loss to the Jaguars. The Colts win the division with the opposite — a win over the Jaguars and Titans loss to the Texans.

The No. 2 Seed? In theory, the Bills and Steelers are playing for the No. 2 seed, but the Steelers already announced Ben Roethlisberger won’t play — neither will T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and a handful of other starters.

The Bills haven’t announced their plans for Josh Allen and Co., but if they see the Browns jump ahead of the Steelers early, there may be no reason for Allen to start the second half — or sooner.

Either way, the Steelers and Bills both get a home game and avoid the Chiefs until the AFC Championship Game, so there’s no longer as much motivation as there was in past seasons when a second bye was at stake.

The AFC Wild Card Race: A double-digit-win team is missing the playoffs in the AFC as one of the Titans, Colts, Browns, Ravens or Dolphins will be on the outside looking in.

The first four teams are favored on Sunday by at least seven points, but it’s the Colts that are most likely to miss according to our model: Indianapolis has a 71% chance of making it, but it’ll take a loss from Miami, Baltimore or Cleveland to happen.

The Dolphins have a 73% chance, needing a win over the Bills or a loss from any of the Ravens, Browns or Colts.

The Ravens are in with a win over the Bengals or losses from the other three.

The Browns need a win or Colts loss before ties come into the equation.

And, finally, the Titans are in with a win or losses from the Colts, Ravens or Dolphins.


Bracket Projections

We used a model to simulate Week 17 using the power ratings of the five analysts behind our NFL PRO Projections. Below are the results.

NFC PROJECTIONS
1. Packers (bye)
7. Cardinals
2. Saints
6. Rams
3. Seahawks
5. Buccaneers
4. Washington
AFC PROJECTIONS
1. Chiefs (bye)
7. Browns
2. Bills
6. Colts
3. Steelers
5. Ravens
4. Titans

How exactly did we project these brackets? We used our model to project the top-four seeds of each conference by ranking the confirmed or 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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