We have one more week of regular season NFL football, and there is still room for lots of pandemonium in week 17 as five 10-5 AFC teams are vying for four playoff spots. It's possible that all five of those teams win, and an 11-5 team is left out of the postseason. That would be insane, especially given that there are only four teams in the NFC right now with double digit wins. It's going to be fascinating to see who's in and who's out when it's all said and done.
Prior to the start of the season, I predicted the final standings for each division, highlighting the teams that would make it into the playoffs when the season is all said and done. I still stand by some of my original predictions, but there are certainly teams that have surprised me, both positively and negatively, through the length of the NFL season. After every four weeks I have updated my previous division standings and playoff outlook to reflect what I think will occur for the remainder of the season and how the final standings will shake out. Keep reading if you want to know where your team will finish in the playoff picture this year.
x - clinch division
y - clinch wild card
1. Buffalo Bills (12-3 currently) - x
2. Miami Dolphins (10-5) - y
3. New England Patriots (6-9)
4. New York Jets (2-13)
The Bills demolished the Patriots on Monday night and they look like they could be real contenders come playoff time. Josh Allen is playing as good as any quarterback in the league and their defense has improved over the course of the season. The Dolphins have to most likely beat the Bills in their last game to clinch the playoffs, and it's unknown whether Buffalo will play their starters or rest them, knowing they have either the two or three seed locked up (the same goes for Pittsburgh). I think Miami has a better chance of winning that Cleveland, and even if they both lose, the Dolphins would own the tiebreaker and be slotted as the seventh seed in the postseason. New England's streak of 11 straight division titles has come to an end this year, and without a stable quarterback, they'll be looking to improve their depth chart in the offseason. Fortunately for the other three teams in the AFC East, the Jets fumbled their chance of drafting Trevor Lawrence by inexplicably winning their last two contests. Only New York's players and coaches are happy about those accomplishments.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-1) - x
2. Las Vegas Raiders (7-8)
3. Los Angeles Chargers (6-9)
4. Denver Broncos (5-10)
The biggest change in the AFC West since week 12 is the epic collapse the Raiders experienced. They were right there in the mix for a wild card spot just a few short weeks ago, but now they have officially been eliminated and will end up not even being close to the playoffs. It has to be tough for Raider fans to watch, as their only win in recent weeks came from a laughingly bad coaching decision by the then winless New York Jets. As expected from the beginning of the season, the Chiefs appear dominant yet again and will get a first round bye in the playoffs as they look to defend their Super Bowl title. Mahomes and company could face tougher tests in the coming years as both the Chargers and Broncos have exciting, young quarterback prospects they are trying to develop.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3) - x
2. Baltimore Ravens (10-5) - y
3. Cleveland Browns (10-5)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1)
Pittsburgh hit a really rough stretch over weeks 13 through 15 and continued that into the first half of their game on Sunday against the surging Colts, but overcame a 17-point second half deficit to snap their three game losing streak and clinch the AFC North. The Ravens looked like they were done about five weeks ago, but after four straight wins, they just have to defeat the Bengals in the final week of the season to secure a wild card spot. It's simple for Cleveland: win and they're in. They suffered a terrible loss to the Jets this week which has put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. And they, along with the Dolphins, have a tough season ending opponent. Even if the Steelers relax in week 17, I think the Browns fall again and finish as the team on the outside looking in as the regular season comes to a close.
1. Tennessee Titans (10-5) - x
2. Indianapolis Colts (10-5) - y
3. Houston Texans (4-11)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-14)
Neither the Titans nor the Colts have been able to decisively take control of the division. When one falters, the other seems to do the same. That was true this past week as well, as both teams lost in big road games to make their respective final games matter even more. The Titans have a slightly tougher opponent, but I think they both take care of business, and since Tennessee owns the tiebreaker, they will win the AFC South and be guaranteed a playoff spot. If the other three teams in the AFC wild card race also win, Indianapolis will be out of the postseason. Therefore, the Colts need at least one of those teams to lose in order to secure a wild card spot. Fortunately for Colts fans, I think either the Dolphins or Browns (if not both) will lose their last game and help Indy clinch a playoff berth. If not, that week 1 loss to the Jaguars will prove to be the difference in Indy's season. The Jags secured the number one overall pick in the upcoming draft after the Jets notched their second win last week, so Trevor Lawrence will likely be joining the AFC South next season, which is bad news for the other three teams.
1. Washington Football Team (6-9) - x
2. Dallas Cowboys (6-9)
3. New York Giants (5-10)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1)
Let's be honest, no one really knows how the NFC East is going to play out, because all four teams are nearly impossible to predict. I feel like Washington and Dallas both win against Philadelphia and New York, respectively, which will put Washington into the playoffs due to their tie break over Dallas due to their two victories over the Cowboys. I also think Washington has the best chance of actually winning a game in the playoffs due to their stellar defense, even though I think whichever team makes it will lose in the first round. It's a travesty that one of these teams will get a shot in the postseason while one of the AFC's 10 or 11 win teams will not. But, it is what it is I suppose.
1. Seattle Seahawks (11-4) - x
2. Los Angeles Rams (9-6) - y
3. Arizona Cardinals (8-7) - y
4. San Francisco 49ers (6-9)
The season finale between the Rams and Cardinals is a huge game for both teams, especially for the Cardinals. They must win to get into the playoffs, as the Chicago Bears currently own the tiebreaker between them. Both squads started strong but have hit rough patches in recent weeks, and I'm not particularly confident in either team to have a lot of success in the postseason. The NFC isn't as strong as the AFC this year, and if you can get into the playoffs on the NFC side of the bracket, I think you have a pretty good shot at making it to the Super Bowl. Seattle has switched their play style lately to a more conservative approach, and they are the team I would bet on to cause the most trouble for other teams due to Russell Wilson's experience, their playmakers on offense, and their improving defense. It's hard to tell how the last couple wild card spots will play out, but I think the Cardinals will beat the Jared Goff-less Rams in week 17 to secure their slot in the postseason and knock Chicago out.
1. Green Bay Packers (12-3) - x
2. Chicago Bears (8-7)
3. Minnesota Vikings (6-9)
4. Detroit Lions (5-10)
The Packers have secured the NFC North title and will be trying to win in week 17 against Chicago to fend off the Saints for the top spot in the playoffs for the NFC. If however, the Bears win or the Cardinals lose, Chicago will find themselves in the postseason after a rollercoaster season. The Bears won five of their first six, then lost six in a row before winning their last three to put themselves at 8-7 on the year. The Vikings stared terribly, but rebounded in the middle of the season to get into the playoff hunt before falling off in recent weeks. Detroit has been an outcast all season, per usual. I think that the Packers beat the Bears in the season's final week, ending the season on a positive note and removing the Bears from contention. Aaron Rodgers also might need another stellar performance to be crowned league MVP this season.
1. New Orleans Saints (11-4) - x
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5) - y
3. Carolina Panthers (5-10)
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-11)
The Saints lost their grip on the overall number one seed and first round bye in the playoffs when they suffered a couple losses while Drew Brees was injured and getting back into the swing of things, but they have secured the NFC South title and will host a first round playoff game, which is an advantage even with minimal fans present. Tampa Bay has looked mediocre for significant lengths of the season, but Tom Brady and the offense was very impressive in their 47-7 annihilation of the Lions on Saturday. We'll see if they can build some momentum heading into the playoffs and string a few wins together. No one will want to face off against the Bucs in the postseason, especially if their offense is firing on all cylinders.
Written by Nick Swatson
Expert Nick Swatson discusses all the news, predictions, and outcomes surrounding the NFL.