NFL Playoff Picture, Scenarios, Bracket: Browns Face Tough Road; Red-Hot Vikings in the Mix
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Jefferson
- The Cleveland Browns have the toughest schedule in the AFC from here on out.
- The Minnesota Vikings would be in the playoffs if they started today.
- Read to see how your team's faring in the NFL playoff picture.
NFL Playoff Picture Update: After Monday Night Football
AFC: The North is an absolute mess. All four teams are expected to contend until the curtain closes, but no team lost more ground than the Browns.
A win Monday would have vaulted them into first place in the division, but instead, they’re in the last following a loss to the Raiders.
Cleveland opened a 6.5-point favorite, but saw 20-plus players and coaches sidelined to COVID and the game postponed two days. Talk about a sub-optimal time for an outbreak.
The Browns are still alive. However, they’ll have to fight tooth and nail or a spot in the log jam of the AFC hunt, getting the Packers in Lambeau on a short week and a pair of crucial contests against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati down the stretch.
Overall, Cleveland gets the toughest draw in the conference from here on out, with a combined opponent win percentage of .631.
NFC: The Vikings would be in if the postseason started today. That’s right: The team that handed the Lions their first win of the season a few weeks ago would be in.
Minnesota, which has had a penchant for heart-breaking losses this season, is beginning to make things look a bit easier of late.
After piling up 41 points in a win over the Steelers, Minnesota went on the road and beat Chicago in a cover, pushing the Saints out of the picture for the time being.
The cream’s risen to the crop in the NFC, but the fight for the wild cards will be a dogfight.
The Eagles and Washington meet Tuesday in the next slate with implications.
NFL Playoff Brackets After Monday Night Football
NFL Playoff Picture Update: After Sunday Night Football
NFC: Wow. What a result out of Tampa.
The Saints defense put up a shutout against the greatest quarterback of all-time and vaulted themselves into the playoff picture. Despite a genuinely despicable offense, the New Orleans defense — ranked 5th overall and 1st against the run — has kept them in ballgames all season. And now, they took down the defending champions — a team that was once a legitimate No. 1 seed contender. New Orleans is a No. 7 seed in the NFC as of Sunday night.
Now, Tampa is probably screwed out of a No. 1 seed. They dropped down below the Dallas Cowboys and into the No. 3 seed. They’re expected to win out against their Mickey Mouse schedule, but they’ll need help to get that bye week. The Green Bay Packers would have to lose twice to the Browns, Vikings and Lions for the Bucs to have a chance.
The Bucs face the Panthers twice and the Jets to close out the season.
As it stands on Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers have a firm grip of the bye week.
The No. 2 seed would go to the Cowboys, who would host the Saints. It would be quite the test for Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian and the rest of that bad Saints offense to head into Dallas and score on the Cowboys’ No. 3 ranked defense.
The No. 3 seed Buccaneers would host the 49ers. Tom Brady would be playing his hometown team in the playoffs for the first time in his career. An elementary school aged Brady attended the Joe Montana-Dwight Clark “The Catch” game at Candlestick in 1982.
Lastly, the Cardinals would host the Rams in a contentious third game of the season. Los Angeles is 2-0 against Arizona this year.
Keep in mind that there are still at least three games to be played by each team.
AFC: The playoff picture in the AFC stayed the same through Sunday Night Football. The Chiefs are the No. 1 seed after their Thursday Night Football victory over the Chargers.
The Patriots would host the Bills in a divisional matchup. The two teams will face-off in Foxborough next weekend.
The Titans would host the Chargers. The teams haven’t faced each other since 2019.
And the Bengals would face the Colts as the four, five seed matchup. The Bengals usurped the Ravens in the AFC North after Sunday’s late afternoon games, which you can read about further just below.
NFL Playoff Picture Update: After Late Afternoon Games
NFC: The San Francisco 49ers showed why advanced analytics love them as a team — even though the public continues to doubt them. The 9ers covered easily as 9-point favorites, yet their spread received just 55% of the money. That includes teasers, by the way. And that’s despite the fact that they entered this week ranked No. 6 in offensive DVOA and No. 8 in defensive DVOA.
The Green Bay Packers kept their poll position as the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 31-30 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. They need wins against the Browns, Vikings and Packers to guarantee a first-round bye. Their next-best competition are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who play tonight on Sunday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints.
Green Bay needs to win out because the Bucs have a Mickey Mouse schedule ahead of them. They play tonight at home against the Saints, away at the Panthers, away at the Jets, then home against the Panthers again. If the Bucs don’t go 4-0, Tom Brady and his -175 odds at the NFL MVP are fraudulent and should be rescinded.
The Falcons are effectively out of the playoff hunt with their loss to the 9ers.
AFC: The AFC had the biggest movers and shakers during this late afternoon window.
The upshot: The Cincinnati Bengals are now the leaders in the AFC North — and hold down the No. 4 seed in the AFC — after a 15-10 win over the Denver Broncos and with the Ravens’ loss.
The Ravens — without Lamar Jackson, who was out with sprained ankle on Sunday — have plummeted from the No. 4 seed to outside of the playoff picture. Thankfully for Baltimore fans, the Ravens will face the Bengals on Boxing Day in a game that will decide the fate of the AFC playoff picture.
The Bengals haven’t won the division since 2015. Baltimore last won it in 2019. FanDuel had opened their line for the game at Bengals -2 before the start of the Week 15 slate. Cincinnati is at home for that pivotal matchup. Expect the line to be more like -3 when the line reopens.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are stuck with a nearly impossible road ahead of them after their loss to the Bengals. They’ll need to win out against the Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs — with help from others — in order to limp in. Don’t expect it.
NFL Playoff Picture Update: After Early Games
NFC: Things got interesting atop the NFC playoff race with Arizona’s loss to the Lions in the early window.
Kliff Kingsbury’s club has lost four games in the last seven weeks after a perfect 7-0 start and have conceded multiple spots in the playoff race. Their chances of nabbing a No. 1 seed have all but evaporated. In fact, with the Cowboys’ victory over the Giants, Dallas has usurped Arizona as the No. 3 overall seed.
Arizona’s standing in the NFC West is equally as shaky now.
Although the Cardinals own the tiebreaker over the Rams, L.A. can match Arizona’s 10-4 record with a win over Seattle at home Tuesday. The Rams would only need to have a better record than the Cardinals down the stretch to guarantee themselves a home playoff game.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, beat the Giants to improve to 10-4 and firm position as the No. 3 seed in the NFC.
While the Cowboys did not officially clinch a playoff spot on Sunday, they are in distinct poll position for the NFC East.
AFC: The Titans had a chance to jump the Patriots as the No. 1 seed in the AFC after a brutal loss to them a few weeks ago.
But, a fourth-down stop inside the red zone by the Steelers, prevented that from happening. Now, the Titans are in somewhat of a dog fight for the AFC South. The Colts are just a game behind, but lose out on a tiebreaker with Tennessee.
The Steelers had just a 9% chance of making the postseason heading into Week 15, according to Travis Reed’s simulations. Now, they’re in better position with a victory over a good team, but still need a ton of help in the coming weeks.
Pittsburgh has three incredibly tough games remaining, including a game at the Chiefs, at home against the Browns and at the Ravens.
They’d need to win out there and hope that the Bills, Chargers or Colts falter.
Titans vs. Steelers was the only game from the 1 p.m. ET window that had playoff implications.
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