January 26, 2021

NFL Playoff Picture Week 16: Updated playoff race and scenarios

7 min read
The NFL standings have stayed fairly static through the first two-thirds of Week 15, but there...

The NFL standings have stayed fairly static through the first two-thirds of Week 15, but there have been some significant developments in the NFL playoff picture heading towards Week 16. With the 2020 NFL playoff race heating up, let’s take a look at the AFC and NFC playoff standings. 

NFL playoff picture for Week 16

The current NFL playoff standings have a different shape in the new playoff format

After around 30 years of featuring 12 playoff teams, six for each conference, the NFL expanded their playoffs to a 14-team system for the 2020 season. Each conference will now feature three wild card teams instead of two for the first time since the 2002 expansion. The additional wild card team places a premium on the number one seed. Only that team receives a bye in the first weekend of the playoffs.

The remaining six teams in each conference will face off on wild card weekend, as the three remaining divisional winners hosting the three wild card teams (#2 vs. #7, #3 vs. #6, and #4 vs. #5). This change in the NFL structure has significantly altered the playoff scenarios and how we view both the playoff picture and standings in the NFC and AFC.

Current AFC playoff standings

1) Kansas City Chiefs, 13-1 – clinched the AFC West

2) Buffalo Bills, 11-3 – clinched the AFC East

3) Pittsburgh Steelers, 11-3 – clinched a playoff berth

4) Tennessee Titans, 10-4

5) Cleveland Browns, 10-4

6) Indianapolis Colts, 10-4

7) Miami Dolphins, 9-5

Outside looking in: Baltimore Ravens (9-5), Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)

The Bills joined the Chiefs and Steelers in confirming playoff places with their win in Week 15. The AFC has become quite interesting with the Steelers’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals this past week. All of a sudden, the AFC North division is once again in contention with the Browns only one game behind Pittsburgh. Cleveland plays the Jets next week, meanwhile, Pittsburgh plays the Colts. Their clash in Week 17 could be for the AFC North.

The Colts and Titans both won to keep their race for the AFC South neck and neck. Victories for the Dolphins and Ravens means they both remain in their spots in the 2020 NFL playoff race. Neither team can afford to stumble down the stretch.

Meanwhile, the Patriots slipped out of the playoff race in the AFC for the first time in 11 years. Finally, the Raiders are clinging on by their fingertips at the bottom of the AFC playoff standings.

Current NFC playoff standings

1) Green Bay Packers, 11-3 – clinched the NFC North

2) New Orleans Saints, 11-4 – clinched the NFC South

3) Seattle Seahawks, 10-4 – clinched a playoff berth

4) Washington Football Team 6-8

5) Los Angeles Rams, 9-5

6) Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 9-5

7) Arizona Cardinals 8-6

Outside looking in: Chicago Bears (7-7), New York Giants (5-9), Dallas Cowboys (5-9), Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1)

The NFL playoff picture on the NFC side has many permutations entering Week 16. The Green Bay Packers put themselves one step closer to clinching the first-round bye with a Saturday night victory over the Carolina Panthers.

The Seahawks have temporarily taken control of the NFC West ahead of their Week 16 matchup with the Rams. The picture further cleared with the Cardinals’ victory over the Eagles. The Eagles are now on the verge of elimination, while the Cardinals maintain their one-game lead over the Bears.

The Buccaneers’ comeback victory against the Falcons keeps them two games clear of the Bears, who are the best of the rest right now. However, with the Saints’ win over the Vikings on Christmas, the NFC South is no longer in contention. The Vikings have also been eliminated from any chance at making the wild card.

Meanwhile, losses for both the Washington Football Team and the New York Giants keeps the NFC East open for the Eagles and Cowboys to stake a claim.

NFL playoff scenarios heat up in Week 16

AFC playoff scenarios

In the AFC, the Chiefs have their future in their own hands. Win out, and they are the number one seed. The Bills have now leapfrogged the Steelers for the second seed and a guarantee of a home game in round two of the playoffs.

The Titans can hold the Colts at bay by winning out, but both have tough games in Week 16. The Titans host the Packers on Sunday Night Football, while the Colts travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.

The situation between the Browns, Dolphins, and Ravens is extremely tight. The Ravens have the tie break advantage over the Browns. Therefore, even with a win on Sunday Night Football, the Browns have little margin for error. The Ravens have the easiest schedule in the last two weeks.

NFC playoff scenarios

The situation when it comes to the NFC playoff standings in the 2020 NFL playoff race is extremely convoluted from top to bottom. The Packers cannot afford a mistake against the Titans in Week 16, with the Seahawks, Rams, and Saints all sitting right behind them.

In the NFC West, the Rams no longer have the opportunity to lock up the NFC West in Week 16. Even if they beat Seattle in Week 16, they will still need to win in Week 17 to be assured of topping the division. However, the Seahawks can win the division if they defeat the Rams next week.

The NFC East remains extremely open following the loss by Washington and the victory for the Dallas Cowboys. All four teams can still win that division heading towards Week 16.

Week 16 clinching scenarios

With just two weeks remaining, the NFL playoff picture is becoming much clearer heading into Week 16. Which teams can lock up a spot in the 2020 NFL playoff race in Week 16?

AFC clinching scenarios

The Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, and Cleveland Browns all have clinching scenarios in the AFC playoff standings this week.

The Kansas City Chiefs can clinch a first-round bye in Week 15 if:

1) The Chiefs defeat or tie with the Falcons

2) The Steelers lose to or tie with the Colts

3) The Bills lose to or tie with the Patriots

4) The Chiefs clinch the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Steelers or the Bills and clinches at least a tie in strength of victory tiebreaker over the other club

The Pittsburgh Steelers can clinch the AFC North if:

1) The Steelers defeat the Colts

2) The Browns lose to the Jets

3) The Steelers tie with the Colts, and the Browns tie with the Jets

The Tennessee Titans can clinch the AFC South if:

1) The Titans defeat the Packers and the Colts lose to the Steelers

The Tennessee Titans can clinch a playoff berth if any of the following scenarios occur:

1) The Titans defeat the Packers

2) The Dolphins lose to the Raiders

3) The Ravens lose to the Giants

4) The Titans tie with the Packers and the Ravens tie with the Giants

The Indianapolis Colts can clinch a playoff berth if any of the following scenarios occur:

1) The Colts defeat the Steelers and the Ravens lose to or tie with the Giants

2) The Colts defeat the Steelers and the Dolphins lose to or tie with the Raiders

3) The Colts tie with the Steelers and the Ravens lose to the Giants

4) The Colts tie with the Steelers and the Dolphins lose to the Raiders

The Cleveland Browns can clinch a playoff berth if any of the following scenarios occur:

1) The Browns defeat the Jets and the Ravens lose to or tie with the Giants

2) The Browns defeat the Jets and the Dolphins lose to or tie with the Raiders

3) The Browns defeat the Jets and the Colts lose to the 

4) The Browns tie with the Jets and the Ravens lose to the Giants

5) The Browns tie with the Jets and the Dolphins lose to the Raiders

NFC clinching scenarios

Four teams can clinch playoff spots in the NFC playoff standings in Week 16.

The Green Bay Packers can clinch the first-round bye if any of the following scenarios occur:

1) The Packers defeat the Titans and the Seahawks lose to or tie with the Rams

2) The Packers tie with the Titans, the Saints lose to or tie with the Vikings, and the Seahawks lose to or tie with the Rams (One of the two must lose)

The Seattle Seahawks can clinch the NFC West if:

1) The Seahawks defeat the Rams

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can clinch a playoff spot if either of the following scenarios occur:

1) The Buccaneers defeat or tie with the Lions

2) The Bears lose to or tie with the Jaguars

The Los Angeles Rams can clinch a playoff berth if any of the following scenarios occur:

1) The Rams defeat or tie with the Seahawks

2) The Bears lose to or tie with the Jaguars 

3) The Cardinals defeat or tie with the 49ers

The Arizona Cardinals can clinch a playoff berth if either of the following scenarios occur:

1) The Cardinals defeat the 49ers and the Bears lose to or tie with the Jaguars

2) The Cardinals tie with the 49ers and the Bears lose to the Jaguars

The Washington Football Team can clinch the NFC East if either of the following scenarios occur:

1) Washington defeats the Panthers and the Giants lose to or tie with the Ravens

2) Washington ties with the Panthers, the Giants lose to the Ravens, and the Cowboys and Eagles tie

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