NFL Playoff Clinching Scenarios: Week 18
C/O to marca.com
Well folks, this is it! The last week of the NFL regular season, kickoff feels like it was only yesterday. It's been quite a wild year for football, teams rising and falling all over the place. Many fans can celebrate the fact that their team has made playoffs, while many sit back and wish at what could have been. However, there's still room for more celebration and disappointment as the final playoff spots have yet to be set in stone. The same goes for the higher seeds as they'll be looking to keep their thrones for better playoff spots or those two lucky teams that get first round byes (Yes I know the Packers already got theirs). But let's dive in and take a closer look at these wacky playoff scenarios and think about which teams have the best chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February.
Tennessee Titans (11-5) (Clinched AFC South)
C/O to Danny Karnik/Associated Press
Woah. Now who would've guessed this one? By Week 8 the Titans had seen Derrick Henry rush for 100+ yards for five straight weeks! But leave it to the division rival Colts to bring all that fun to an end as Henry was injured and forced to have foot surgery. Then to make matters worse AJ Brown and Julio Jones go down and everyone's questioning if we'd see this team in the postseason. Well with the fantastic coaching of Mike Vrabel and that stout Titans defense, the Titans have managed to hang on and play fantastic football. With decisive wins over teams such as the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs, this team is a force to be reckoned with. Derrick Henry returned to practice last week, which all fingers now point a healthy return for the postseason.
The Titans can secure a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with:
A win over the Texans
Chiefs loss/tie over the Broncos
A Chiefs loss, plus a Bengals loss/tie to the Browns, plus a Patriots loss/tie to the Dolphins
A Chiefs loss, plus a Bengals loss/tie, plus a Bills wins against the Jets
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) (Clinched AFC West)
C/O to fox2now.com
This, is surprising (seeding position), but not surprising at the same time. Everyone called it that we would see Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs back in the Super Bowl once again... but it wasn't always like that. This team opened their season very sloppy, allowing a huge comeback for Lamar and the Ravens to win 36-35, followed by a tough loss to their division rival Chargers 30-24. Then suffering large blowouts to both the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans many fans were wondering are these the Kansas City Chiefs?
Never sleep on these guys as they've gone on to win eight straight and hoisting their 6th straight division title. However, that close lose to Joe Burrow and those sneaky Cincinnati Bengals has pushed the Chiefs down to the second seed in the AFC. That doesn't mean they don't have a chance to retake that top spot...
The Chiefs can clinch a first round bye and home field advantage through the playoffs with:
A win over the Broncos, plus a Titans loss/tie against the Texans
A tie against the Broncos, plus a Titans loss
3. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) (Clinched AFC North)
C/O to AP Photo/Jeff Dean and nola.com
Talk about a cinderella story, the Bengals have not won a division title since 2015, but fans can rejoice after an impressive blowout over the Ravens 41-21. And to put the cherry on top, a decisive win over the Kansas City Chiefs last week at home, 34-31.
Hats off to Zac Taylor who in his third season as the Bengals head coach has brought them this far. But give credit where it's due to these players! Joe Burrow standing tall, in his second season, is looking like the field general that this team has been longing for. Along with an impressive running, Joe Mixon will secure his third 1,000 yard rushing season. And you can't forget about pass catchers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins who each have posted 1,000 yards receiving this season.
That defense is playing very solid all around as well and CBS Sports has predicted this team as one of the top six teams to make the Super Bowl this year! This team has a chance to not only move up in the standings but potentially other playoff incentives...
The Bengals can clinch a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the postseason with:
A win over the Browns, plus a Chiefs loss to the Broncos, plus a Titans loss to the Texans, plus a Patriots loss/tie against the Dolphins
A win, plus a Chiefs loss, plus a Titans loss, plus a Bills win over the Jets
4. Buffalo Bills (10-6) (1st in the AFC East)
C/O to NFL.com
It's been a strange season if you're a Bills fan, started off the year with a close lose to Big Ben and the Steelers 23-16 at home. But then that followed a four game win streak which showed the Bills completely dominate Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs 38-20. But this was just the beginning off some midseason blues for the Bills Mafia. Following a close loss to the Titans, Jacksonville shows them up with a final score of 9-6, and getting absolutely embarrassed as Johnathan Taylor rushed all over them at home for 5 touchdowns.
Then to put the cherry on top, the Patriots come to Orchard Park on a windy night and win 14-10 on night where Mac Jones went 2-3 on passing attempts for only 13 yards! And yes they did lose to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers but Sean McDermott and Josh Allen proved this team could still be competitive. This lead to a three game win streak plus a win in Foxborough over the tough New England Patriots to hold the tie breaker for the AFC East. The Bills Mafia is still here to stay and they've got a lot of punch for this postseason!
The Bills cannot be the number 1 seed, however, the Bills can win the AFC East with:
A win over the Jets
A Patriots loss to the Dolphins
Tie against the Jets, plus a Patriots tie
The Bills can clinch the number 2 seed with:
A win over the Jets, plus a Chiefs loss to the Broncos, plus a Bengals loss/tie against the Browns
5. New England Patriots (10-6) (2nd in the AFC East)
C/O to bostonglobe.com
With Tom Brady hoisting a Lombardi trophy on a different team and a failed Cam Newton experiment in 2020, the Patriots turned to the 2021 NFL Draft. With the 15th overall pick in the NFL Draft the Patriots selected quarterback Mac Jones from the University of Alabama. On top of that, many major additions were added to the team, such as Matt Judon, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor and several other solid players. This team started off slow with close loses to the Dolphins, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in a thrilling reunion and a huge blowout from the New Orleans Saints.
The Patriots stared at a 2-4 record by week 6 after a close loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Backs to the wall, this team suddenly turned itself around, won 7 straight games and by their bye week, were the number one seed in the AFC. This team humbled itself after back to back losses to the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills pushing themselves back down to the 5th seed. But even after all was said and done against Jacksonville last Sunday, the Patriots have proven that with their solid run game, Mac Jones smart and simplistic passing style, and that stout Patriots defense, this Patriots team has a good chance to make a run for it all this year!
The Patriots can clinch a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with:
A win over the Dolphins, plus a Bills lose or tie to the Jets, plus a Kansas City loss to the Broncos, plus a Titans loss to the Texans
The Patriots can win the AFC East with:
A win over the Dolphins, plus a Bills loss or tie to the Jets
A tie with the Dolphins, plus a Bills tie with the Jets
6. Indianapolis Colts (9-7) (2nd in the AFC South)
C/O to Justin Casterline/Getty Images
After a poor start to their season, questions of Carson Wentz's health and the offenses efficiency, this team suddenly became one of the hottest teams in football. Complimenting this team was their second year tailback, Jonathan Taylor who as of Week 18 leads the league in rushing attempts (318), rushing yards (1,734), and rushing touchdowns (18). Carson Wentz has had a career renaissance here in his first season in Indy and the emergence of Michael Pittman Jr. as an elite wide receiver has other teams questioning themselves. Frank Reich has proven that this Colts team can be elite and competitive against any team in the National Football League.
The Colts can clinch a playoff berth with:
A win/tie against the Jaguars
A Chargers loss to the Raiders, plus a Steelers-Ravens tie
A Chargers loss, plus a Patriots loss to the Dolphins, plus a Steelers loss to the Ravens
7. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) (Second in the AFC West)
C/O to chargers.com
It's been nothing but a solid year for Justin Herbert and the Loss Angeles Chargers. From Herbert's strong arm and field general smarts, to Austin Ekler's strong run performances, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams as a wideout tandem and a solid Chargers defense has brought them to the final seed in the AFC Playoffs. But it's been a series of ups and downs and flat out embarrassments in certain games they should've played competitive in.
From their 34-6 loss against the Baltimore Ravens and their 41-29 loss against the Houston Texans, these are games they should've played competitive in. Yet they had some impressive outings like their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a decisive win over the Kansas City Chiefs back in Week 4 and blowout over Joe Burrow and his tough Bengals. The Chargers are a solid football team and deserve a chance to prove their worth in the postseason.
The Chargers can clinch a playoff berth with:
A win/tie over the Las Vegas Raiders
8. Las Vegas Raiders (9-7) (3rd in the AFC West)
C/O to Las Vegas Review Journal
In their second season in Las Vegas, these Raiders have put on quite a performance each week. Although they aren't the best team in the AFC, they've proven that they are a force to be reckoned with. Starting off the year at 3-0 after a thrilling victory back in Week 1 over the Baltimore Ravens 33-27, this team was truly feeling itself. However, the rest of the NFL was not fooled by this September Raiders club. Back to back losses brought back to back wins which then lead to three straight losses and everyone slowly began to write off Derrick Carr and Vegas...
Until Thanksgiving when the Raiders showed up Dallas in a shootout that resulted in a 36-33 victory! And then two more losses, but after a win streak and a great win over Indy last week this team has brought itself right back into the fold. Derrick Carr has been solid, as has Josh Jacobs, but the biggest story has to be Hunter Renfrow who is putting up career highs in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Despite all the controversy that has surrounded this team all season, they are one game away from punching their ticket to the postseason!
The Las Vegas Raiders can clinch a playoff berth with:
A win over the Chargers
A tie, plus a Colts loss to the Jaguars
A Colts loss, plus a Steelers loss/tie to the Ravens
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1) (2nd in the AFC North)
C/O to Bleacher Report
Now this is what I call a ride off into the sunset, if successful that is. But no one can criticize the coach that is Mike Tomlin, who has yet to have his first losing season as an NFL coach. Pittsburgh walked into Buffalo Week 1 and defeated them 23-16 but lost the next 3, only to win their next four and tie in what would've been their fifth straight win of the season. It's been a tough go ahead for this football team, Ben Roethlisberger has seen some of his worst career numbers this season, followed by losing JuJu Smith-Schuster to a season ending injury.
On the bright side though, rookie tailback Najee Harris has really established himself as the franchises next running back and that Steelers steel curtain defense still holds strong and keeps them in games. And even though they've had their butts handed to them, the Steelers managed to sneak away with wins over the Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans to keep their hopes of returning to the postseason alive!
The Steelers can clinch a playoff berth with:
A win over the Ravens, plus a Colts loss to the Jaguars, plus the Raiders-Chargers game not ending in a tie
11. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)* (3rd in the AFC North)
*The Ravens are behind the Miami Dolphins in the overall standings but still have a chance to make the postseason
C/O to ravenswire.usatoday.com
Talk about a fall from grace, sheesh! This team coming into the thick of things in the 2021 season was ranked as one of the top teams to win the conference, now they are on the outside looking in and are going to need a lot of help moving forward.
But let's look back, starting off the season the Ravens suffered a close loss to the Las Vegas Raiders 33-27. But after a huge comeback win against Kansas City in a 36-35 victory this team turned on the jets. Soaring high above the AFC they had the most comebacks out of any team in the AFC. Lamar Jackson looked like a prime candidate to win the MVP, Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews were a proven combo for Jackson to rely on and the run game was still devastating despite losing both their starting backs to season ending injuries. By Week 12 the Ravens were 8-3 and the number 1 seed in the AFC, however this would not last.
Injuries continued to pile up on both sides of the ball offense and defense until it even consumed their starter Lamar Jackson. Even with backup Tyler Huntley coming into the thick of things and good coaching from John Harbaugh it was not enough to save this team. What really sealed this teams doom was going for two-point conversions within two weeks of each other to win the game fell short against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. It led to 5 straight losses and with that here we are, in Week 18, everything on the line and odds not in this teams favor...
The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth with:
A win over the Steelers, plus a Chargers loss to the Raiders, plus a Colts loss to the Jaguars, plus a Dolphins loss/tie to the Patriots
Teams Eliminated: Miami Dolphins (8-8), Cleveland Browns (7-9), Denver Broncos (7-9), New York Jets (4-12), Houston Texans (4-12), Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)
Green Bay Packers (13-3) (Clinched NFC North)
C/O to Sports Illustrated
This may be it folks, the final curtain call, the last dance, ride off into the sunset! After last offseason there was a lot of controversy coming between Aaron Rodgers and the Packers organization that was beyond fixing. This will likely be Rodgers last season in a Packers uniform, and what a show they've put on. Except when the season started, this team was blown out 38-3 against the New Orleans Saints, and that was that. This team put all the doubts to rest and won the next 7 straight games, they haven't looked back since. This team throughout the regular season has proven that they are the best team in football and in the NFC.
Rodgers is having another MVP caliber season, Devante Adams is still one of the top wideouts in football, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillion have proven to be a lethal tandem. Matt Lafleur has truly been blessed to come and coach for the Green Bay Packers but he's also proven that he may be up for coach of the year. They are the number one seed in the NFC and the postseason will once again go through Lambeau Field. But as all of us football fans know, the Packers like to do a whole lot of choking in the postseason, maybe this year will be a different story.
The Packers have clinched a first round bye and control home field advantage throughout the playoffs
2. Los Angeles Rams (12-4) (1st in the NFC West)
C/O to Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Talk about putting all the chips on the table, this team is all in on making the ultimate push at immortality. After tons of trades for players this team made a splash last offseason when they shipped Jarrod Goff off to Detroit in exchange for quarterback Matthew Stafford. There truly was never a question if he'd fit into this system here, because he's having one of the best seasons of his long career.
Throwing for over 4,500 passing yards and 38 touchdowns is just a very respectable stat line. Not to mention that offense is seeing full steam ahead from Cooper Kupp, who after battling injuries the last two years is having a career year. Going for the triple crown he leads the league in receptions (138) receiving yards (1,829) and touchdowns (15), it's almost unfair. A balanced rush attack all season long, and that defense, my god! Being led by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, this is without a doubt one of the most scariest defenses in all of football. This is truly a year where this team can make a push for all the marbles, and they'll be one of the most dangerous teams in the NFC.
The Rams will clinch the NFC West with:
A win or tie over the 49ers
A Cardinals loss/tie against the Seahawks
*Rams hold tie breaker over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to their head-to-head victory
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4) (Clinched NFC South)
C/O to Getty Images
What's that I see over the horizon? It's the defending Super Bowl Champions of the 2020 NFL Season being led by their ship captain Tom Brady and his first mate Rob Gronkowski! Once again, if you doubted Tom Brady up until now, just give up because he's just gonna prove us all wrong one way or another. At age 44 he's leading the league in passing yards (4,990), passing touchdowns (40) and second in QBR (66.7) just play till you're 50 for crying out loud.
That offense is still churning forward and that defense still strong despite a depleted secondary, they're ready to go and make another push for the championship. However, we'll see how Brady fairs in the playoffs, back in Week 15 the Saints swept the Bucs in a 9-0 win. In the process the Buccaneers lost Chris Godwin (torn ACL, season over) and Leonard Fournette (hamstring injury, should be back for playoffs) as well as losing Antonio Brown (released after stunt). It's caused a lot of controversy for this team in recent weeks, but they're ready to put that aside and once again make another push for a chance at immortality. Could Brady win his 8th Super Bowl?
4. Dallas Cowboys (11-5) (Clinched NFC East)
C/O to dallasmorningnews.com
HOW BOUT THEM COWBOYS?? Despite having a season ending leg injury last year, Dad Prescott has taken the league by storm and has proven he's still one of the best at his position. This Cowboys squad has easily one of the best chances to make a run for the whole enchilada this postseason. With beautiful dimes being dropped by Day, a powerful run game from Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard, as well as a strong receiving game from wideouts Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. this offense is one of the most potent in football.
And that defense is the best defense this Cowboys organization has had in years. A strong front seven and a solids secondary being lead by Trevon Diggs (11 INTs) this could be a Super Bowl caliber defense that could challenge many strong offenses in this league. However, this team has been taken down by some interesting opponents (cough cough, three AFC West teams, the super bowl champs and a broken Arizona Cardinals team) This teams been humbled on many occasions, but they're going to use that as fuel for a push towards the Super Bowl! A stage which they haven't made or won since 1996!
5. Arizona Cardinals (11-5) (2nd in the NFC West)
C/O to Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
This team was soaring atop the standings around midseason, sitting at 8-1 and first place in the NFC and the NFL. Kyler Murray's connections to his offense and on the ground were just out of this world and looked flat out easy. DeAndre Hopkins still looked like one of the best wideouts in football, James Connor and Christian Edmonds were a great running back pair. On defense Chandler Jones being complimented with JJ Watt created a stellar defense and the team to beat in the NFL.
But then disaster strikes, injuries to Christian Edmonds, Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and JJ Watt brought this team back to earth. People started to run out of hope on this team possibly making a run for the postseason, until, Kyler Murray and that strong Cardinals D put on a show in Dallas last week! With their decisive win 25-22 the Cardinals have punched their ticket to the postseason, you can't write this team off just yet. They're hungry and if they catch you off guard they're gonna make you pay!
The Cardinals can clinch the NFC West with:
A win over the Seahawks, plus a Rams loss to the 49ers
6. San Fransisco 49ers (9-7) (3rd in the NFC West)
C/O to John HeftI - Associated Press
Now this team I'm sure turned a lot of heads as the season went on, mind you they were only in the Super Bowl two years ago. Riddled with injuries last year this team slowly became one of the hottest teams in football. Although they lost games here and there, they've been competitive and kept the game close. Some great performances were shown like against Green Bay when they lost 30-28 or when they blew out the LA Rams 31-10.
Jimmy Garoppolo has been solid, that run game has one of the best running backs by committee, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle have been stellar all season long. Kyle Shanahan has to put together once again a solid football team, they've already beaten the Rams once this year, a win and they're in. Mark my words, if this team slips in they could be very, VERY dangerous this postseason!
The 49ers can clinch a playoff berth with:
A win/tie against the Rams
A Saints loss/tie against the Falcons
*49ers hold tie breakers over the Eagles due to their head-to-head victory
7. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) (2nd in the NFC East)
C/O to Monica Herndon - The Philadelphia Inquirer
It's been a strange year for the bottom seeds in the NFC, all the top seeds were so clear cut so the 6th and 7th seeds were up for grabs. I don't think anyone would've expected Jalen Hurts and the Eagles to put on a show like they did this season. Starting off the season at 2-5 they were projected to easily be one of the worst teams in football. But Jalen Hurts has turned things around since Carson Wentz's departure and in the last four weeks has won each game to secure a playoff berth. The birds are postseason bound and I'm sure they'll play tough against whoever ends up securing that Number Two Seed.
8. New Orleans Saints (8-8) (2nd in the NFC South)
C/O to neworleanssaints.com
To open the season, the Saints were one of the most surprising teams in football. In Week 1, the franchises first game without Drew Brees in over a decade, they blew out the Green Bay Packers 38-3. Followed by an impressive blowout performance in New England and a stunning victory over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this team was sitting at a 5-2 record and first place in the NFC South. However in that victory, starter Jamis Winston was forced to leave the game and later diagnosed with a torn ACL which ended his NFL season.
So not only was this team about to be judged on how they could play without Drew Brees, they needed to win without Winston leading the charge. No to mention they'd lose Alvin Kamara a week or two afterwards and lose the next 5 straight games. Playoff hopes in jeopardy and an interesting qb situation Sean Peyton turned to his defense to help save the day. With the talents of that front seven led by Cameron Jordan and a secondary led by Marshon Lattimore this team managed to hang on and stay competitive just enough to stay alive with an 8-8 record. The pesky Atlanta Falcons stand in their way but this team will need some help from the LA Rams in order to punch their ticket to the main stage!
The Saints can clinch a playoff berth with:
A win over the Falcons, plus a 49ers loss to the Rams
Teams Eliminated: Minnesota Vikings (7-9), Atlanta Falcons (7-9), Washington Football Team (6-10), Chicago Bears (6-10), Seattle Seahawks (6-10), Carolina Panthers (5-11), New York Giants (4-12), Detroit Lions (2-13-1)