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NFL Playoff Clinching Scenarios: Week 18

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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.


  1. 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:

  1. A win over the Texans

  2. Chiefs loss/tie over the Broncos

  3. A Chiefs loss, plus a Bengals loss/tie to the Browns, plus a Patriots loss/tie to the Dolphins

  4. A Chiefs loss, plus a Bengals loss/tie, plus a Bills wins against the Jets

2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) (Clinched AFC West)

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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:

  1. A win over the Broncos, plus a Titans loss/tie against the Texans

  2. 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

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:

  1. 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

  2. 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)

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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:

  1. A win over the Jets

  2. A Patriots loss to the Dolphins

  3. Tie against the Jets, plus a Patriots tie

The Bills can clinch the number 2 seed with:

  1. 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)

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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:

  1. 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:

  1. A win over the Dolphins, plus a Bills loss or tie to the Jets

  2. 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:

  1. A win/tie against the Jaguars

  2. A Chargers loss to the Raiders, plus a Steelers-Ravens tie

  3. 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)

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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:

  1. 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:

  1. A win over the Chargers

  2. A tie, plus a Colts loss to the Jaguars

  3. 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:

  1. 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

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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: