NFL Playoff Scenarios For the NFC East, AFC South & Wild Card Races
Getty Images. Pictured: Lamar Jackson, Chase Young
Eleven teams are mathematically alive in the playoff race entering Week 17, ranging from a 94% chance for the Ravens to a 19% chance for the Cowboys.
That makes for a confusing weekend of playoff scenarios.
That’s what we’re here for.
We’ve compiled playoff scenarios for each of the 11 teams still alive, breaking everything down from playoff chances to scenarios to their Week 17 matchups.
See below for team-by-team breakdowns.
All odds as of Thursday and via DraftKings, where you can get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.
NFL Playoff Chances
Ravens Playoff Scenarios
For weeks the Ravens have been projected to make the playoffs without actually sitting in that No. 7 spot. Now they enter Week 17 in the No. 6 spot with a 94% chance of making the playoffs, according to our model.
The Ravens are in with a win over the Bengals. If that doesn’t happen, they need the Browns or Colts to lose.
Baltimore doesn’t have to cover the spread to make the playoffs, but our NFL PRO Report has tracked 71% of bets expecting the Ravens to do so.
The Ravens are -770 on the moneyline, meaning you would have to risk $770 to profit $100 (convert more odds using our calculator). Seems likely enough, but the Bengals are coming off back-to-back upsets against the Steelers and Texans.
Browns Playoff Scenarios
It can never be easy for the Browns, can it? No, but the Steelers will do their AFC North rival a favor this week.
A win over the Jets in Week 16 would’ve answered a lot of these questions, but down the team’s four top receivers, the Browns could muster just 16 points in a 23-16 loss.
The Browns still control their own destiny and are in with a win over the Steelers, who have already announced they will start Mason Rudolph at quarterback instead of Ben Roethlisberger.
Should the Browns lose, they need a loss from the Colts or the combination of a Titans loss, Miami win and Ravens win to get into the playoffs.
The Browns are up to a double-digit favorite against Rudolph and the Steelers. In Rudolph’s last start against the Browns, he threw four interceptions. Cleveland would like to repeat that script this week.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, this will be the first time Cleveland is a double-digit favorite against a team with a winning record since 1968. The Browns covered against the Giants that day.
Our NFL PRO Report has tracked 61% of bets on Pittsburgh, but the Browns are getting 67% of the money as of Wednesday.
Titans Playoff Scenarios
The Titans are not only playing for a playoff spot, but also the AFC South crown. The Titans win the division with a win over the Texans or a Colts loss to the Jaguars.
If not as the division champs, Tennessee still gets a wild card spot with a loss from either Baltimore or Miami.
The Titans opened as 7-point favorites before moving to 7.5. The Texans say they’ll start Deshaun Watson if he’s cleared, but starting tackle Laremy Tunsil will miss the game.
The Titans will try to wash out whatever happened in the snow last Sunday night in a 40-14 loss to the Packers.
Early tracking by our NFL PRO Report has 84% of bets coming in on Tennessee as if Wednesday.
Rams Playoff Scenarios
The Rams control their own destiny, but it’s not quite that easy.
Los Angeles has to beat the Cardinals on Sunday without starting quarterback Jared Goff, who underwent thumb surgery this week.
With a win far from guaranteed, that 80% chance at the playoffs may seem confusing. But the Rams are also in if the Bears lose to the Packers. Even if Rams fans don’t feel great with John Wolford under center, they have to feel OK about Aaron Rodgers against Mitch Trubisky.
Wolford spent four years at Wake Forest, finishing with more interceptions than touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. His senior year was much better, throwing for 3,192 yards with 29 touchdowns to only six interceptions.
He has never taken a snap in an NFL game.
In addition, Wolford will likely be without receiver Cooper Kupp, who was placed on the COVID list this week.
It’s probably no surprise 63% of bets and 89% of money is coming in on the Cardinals as of Thursday (track real-time public betting data here).
Our NFL PRO Projections make the Rams 1.5-point underdogs, so this line has a 6.5% edge at +3.
Dolphins Playoff Scenarios
The Dolphins can beat the Bills to get in. But will Josh Allen start for Buffalo? That’s to be determined, but the betting market reacted Tuesday like the Bills would sit starters.
If the Dolphins lose, though, they would need a loss from any of the Ravens, Colts or Browns.
The line opened with the Bills as 4-point favorites but dropped to 1.5 early in the week.
Our NFL PRO Projections reveal a significant edge in this matchup, giving an ‘A’ grade on the Bills at this price. That’s not great news for Dolphins fans.
Colts Playoff Scenarios
Is an 11-win team really going to be left out of the playoffs? It’s possible.
The Colts do not control their own destiny. They have to win, but then they’ll be scoreboard watching.
Indianapolis needs a loss or tie from Baltimore, Miami or Cleveland, in addition to beating Jacksonville. If Baltimore beats Cincinnati, Miami beats Buffalo and Cleveland beats Pittsburgh, Indianapolis is out.
James Robinson is out for the Jaguars and Mike Glennon remains in at quarterback in the final game of the pre-Trevor Lawrence Era in Jacksonville.
As of Wednesday, 61% of bets were on the Colts but more than 90% of dollars were on the Jaguars according to our NFL PRO Report.
Bears Playoff Scenarios
The Bears have two paths to a playoff berth, which is two more than expected three weeks ago:
- If the Bears beat the Packers on Sunday, they’re in.
- If the Cardinals lose to the Rams, the Bears are in.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is questionable with a lower leg injury while the Rams have already ruled Jared Goff out. The line is off the board at most books while awaiting official word on Murray.
It’s only fitting that the Bears’ road to the playoffs rolls through a Packers team trying to lock up a first-round bye. The line is bouncing between 5.5 and 5, with our NFL PRO Report showing 68% of tickets on the Packers but 77% of money on the Bears as of Wednesday.
Washington Playoff Scenarios
Win and in.
That’s all for the Washington Football Team. Slow down the Jalen Hurts Hype Train that is now the Philadelphia Eagles, and the NFC East belongs to Washington.
Washington turns to Not Dwayne Haskins at quarterback and is a 1.5-point favorite on the road against Philadelphia. That’s all we know about quarterback as of Tuesday.
Washington is hopeful Alex Smith can return from a calf injury that’s cost him the last two games.
“He was very close last week,” head coach Ron Rivera told reporters. “I thought he had an exceptional day on Friday, but it’s always about how that person feels the next day and he felt it was still grabbing him a little bit.
“This week, I’m optimistic about the opportunity.”
If Smith can’t play, it’ll be Taylor Heinicke under center for Washington.
Early action tracked by our NFL PRO Report indicates 60% of bets and 94% of the money are on Washington as of Tuesday.
Cardinals Playoff Scenarios
Arizona’s chances rely heavily on Kyler Murray’s health.
The Cardinals have to beat the Rams to make the playoffs. That, in theory, is easier with Jared Goff (thumb) out and John Wolford (google him) in. Murray says he’ll play, but is he really healthy enough to help? If he’s not or re-injures his leg during the game, the Cardinals turn to Chris Streveler (Google him).
If the Cardinals lose, the Rams are in. The only other way the Cardinals get in is with a tie and Bears loss to the Packers.
The Cardinals have been off the board at points this week, but are sitting at -3 as of writing (find real-time odds here).
Bettors are either hopeful that Murray plays or are just willing to bet against Wolford: Our NFL PRO Report shows 90% of bets are on Arizona as of Wednesday.
Giants Playoff Scenarios
The Giants have to stop a three-loss streak on Sunday and beat the Cowboys for any chance to make the playoffs.
Then the Giants just have to root for the Eagles — might be gross, but gross things have to happen for a 6-10 team to win a division.
If Washington loses to Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football, the winner of Giants-Cowboys wins the NFC East and is the 4-seed hosting a playoff game.
If the Giants lose to the Cowboys, it’s mock draft time in New York.
Opening as a 3.5-point home underdog usually makes for a trendy pick, except no one is believing in the Giants just yet — they’re getting just 18% of early action tracked by our NFL PRO Report. This is where Giants fans mention the public is always wrong (the public isn’t always wrong).
Cowboys Playoff Scenarios
The Cowboys don’t control their own destiny completely, but they can put themselves into position with a win on Sunday.
If Dallas doesn’t beat New York, none of this matters — the Cowboys have to win for a shot at the NFC East title. That’s their only path to the postseason: Beat the Giants, gather in a socially-distanced room and watch Sunday Night Football.
If Washington loses to the Eagles on Sunday night, the winner of Cowboys-Giants will win the division and secure the NFC’s 4-seed — or in simpler terms, if Washington loses and Dallas wins next week, America’s Team is in.
The Cowboys will be road favorites when the line closes on Sunday.
Daniel Jones returned for the Giants last week, so he’s the expected starter. Mind you, New York is equally as motivated for the same playoff shot Dallas has.
Our early NFL PRO Report shows 82% of bets coming in on Dallas.