NFL Playoff Scenarios Heading into Week 17

By Matthew Zimmer

Seven teams can make the playoffs in each conference, there are still four spots in the AFC and three spots in the NFC available.

All Week 17 games are on Sunday. With that out of the way, let’s just break it down.


So far in the NFC, four teams have clinched a playoff spot, including three of the four divisions are already locked up.

However, none of the seeds are set in stone. With seven teams able to make the playoffs, only the top seed will earn a first-round bye.

No. 1 Seed Scenarios

Green Bay clinches the top seed if:

  1. Packers WIN or Tie; OR
  2. Seahawks Loss or Tie

New Orleans clinches the top seed if:

  1. Saints WIN + Packers Loss + Seahawks Win

Seattle clinches the top seed if:

  1. Seahawks WIN + Packers Loss + Saints Loss or Tie

So, in other words, the Packers have the easiest path to the No. 1 Seed: Just win.

Green Bay, New Orleans and Seattle all play their games at 1:25 p.m. PT, which the NFL does on purpose so teams don’t have the advantage of knowing they can rest players because another team already lost.

The Packers face Chicago; the Saints take on Carolina; Seattle battles San Francisco. All three games are road games for the potential top seeds.

Technically, the Seahawks-49ers game is a road game for both teams because it’s in Arizona due to Santa Clara County’s COVID restrictions.

Seattle will be the No. 2 seed if GB wins AND New Orleans loses. The Seahawks will be the No. 3 seed if they lose OR if both the Packers and Saints win.

The Rest of the NFC

Three of the four teams in the NFC East (Washington, Dallas and New York) are still able to win the division.

Washington’s Scenarios:

  1. Washington WIN; OR
  2. Washington Tie + Dallas Loss or Tie

Dallas’ Scenarios:

  1. Cowboys WIN + Washington Loss or Tie; OR
  2. Cowboys Tie + Washington Loss

NY Giants’ Scenarios:

  1. Giants WIN + Washington Loss

Washington faces Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football while Dallas and New York face each other at 10 a.m. PT.

Besides the top three teams, Tampa Bay is the only other team to clinch a playoff spot in the NFC. The Bucs will be the No. 5 seed if they win, and the No. 6 seed if they lose AND the LA Rams win.

The other teams that can clinch a playoff spot are the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears and LA Rams.

Arizona’s Scenarios:

  1. Cardinals WIN; OR
  2. Cardinals Tie + Chicago Loss

Chicago’s Scenarios:

  1. Bears WIN; OR
  2. Cardinals Loss; OR
  3. Bears Tie + Cardinals Tie

LA Rams’ Scenarios:

  1. Rams WIN or Tie; OR
  2. Bears Loss or Tie

All three teams technically control their own destiny, because if they win they’re in.

The Bears have the toughest road to victory because they’re hosting Green Bay. The Rams and Cardinals play each other in Los Angeles. Both games (Bears-Packers and Cardinals-Rams) are at 1:25 p.m. PT.


The Kansas City Chiefs are the AFC West Champs and the No. 1 seed.

However, the No. 2 seed is still up for grabs between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills.

No. 2 Seed Scenarios

Pittsburgh clinches second seed if:

  1. Steelers WIN + Buffalo Loss or Tie

Buffalo clinches second seed if:

  1. Bills WIN; OR
  2. Steelers Loss; OR
  3. Bills Tie + Steelers Tie

The AFC South champion, either Tennessee or Indianapolis, can’t finish higher than the No. 4 seed.

Tennessee wins the AFC South if:

  1. Titans WIN; OR
  2. Colts Loss; OR
  3. Titans Tie + Colts Tie

Indy wins the AFC South if:

  1. Colts WIN + Titans Loss or Tie; OR
  2. Colts Tie + Titans Loss

The Titans can still make the playoffs if they lose, but the Colts are out no matter what if they lose. Tennessee faces Houston and Indianapolis battles Jacksonville, both games at 1:25 p.m. PT.

The Rest of the AFC

All the remaining scenarios are pretty complicated so I’m just going to list them out for you. The teams that still have a shot at the playoffs in the AFC are Baltimore, Cleveland, Miami and the aforementioned Titans and Colts.

Baltimore’s Scenarios:

  1. Ravens WIN; OR
  2. Browns Loss; OR
  3. Colts Loss; OR
  4. Ravens Tie + Dolphins Loss; OR
  5. Ravens Tie + Titans Loss; OR
  6. Ravens Tie + Browns Tie; OR
  7. Ravens Tie + Colts Tie

Cleveland’s Scenarios:

  1. Browns WIN; OR
  2. Colts Loss; OR
  3. Titans Loss + Dolphins Win or Tie + Ravens Win or Tie; OR
  4. Browns Tie + Ravens Loss; OR
  5. Browns Tie + Dolphins Loss; OR
  6. Browns Tie + Titans Loss; OR
  7. Browns Tie + Colts Tie; OR
  8. Browns Tie + Titans Tie + Ravens Win + Dolphins Win

Miami’s Scenarios:

  1. Dolphins WIN; OR
  2. Ravens Loss; OR
  3. Browns Loss; OR
  4. Colts Loss; OR
  5. Dolphins Tie + Ravens Tie; OR
  6. Dolphins Tie + Browns Tie; OR
  7. Dolphins Tie + Colts Tie; OR
  8. Dolphins Tie + Titans Loss

Tennessee’s (non-division) Scenarios:

  1. Ravens Loss; OR
  2. Dolphins Loss; OR
  3. Titans Tie + Browns Loss; OR
  4. Titans Tie + Dolphins Tie; OR
  5. Titans Tie + Ravens Tie

Indianapolis’ (non-division) Scenarios:

  1. Colts WIN + Ravens Loss or Tie; OR
  2. Colts WIN + Browns Loss or Tie; OR
  3. Colts WIN + Dolphins Loss or Tie; OR
  4. Colts Tie + Ravens Loss; OR
  5. Colts Tie + Browns Loss; OR
  6. Colts Tie + Dolphins Loss

Confused? I’ll try to clear things up.

If Baltimore, Cleveland, Miami and Tennessee win, they are each in.

Miami has the best chance to get in with a loss because if any of the other teams lose (except Tennessee) the Dolphins would be in.

The Colts need the most help. Indy must win and get one of the four other teams to lose.

As mentioned near the top of the AFC section, if the Colts win and Titans lose, the Colts win the AFC South. If the Colts win and any of the other three — Baltimore, Cleveland or Miami — lose, then Indy gets in as a wild card team.

However, if all five teams win, the Colts would be left out of the postseason at 11-5. Ouch.

The matchups are as follows for the AFC teams “in contention”:

10 a.m. PT Kickoff

  • Baltimore at Cincinnati
  • Pittsburgh at Cleveland
  • Miami at Buffalo

1:25 p.m. PT Kickoff

  • Jacksonville at Indianapolis
  • Tennessee at Houston

Bring on Week 17!

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