The NFL Playoff Picture is almost set, but there are a handful of teams fighting for playoff spots in the final week of the season.
It’s finally here, the NFL season finale.
A full season is almost in the books, but there’s a ton of unfinished business to be handled on the final Sunday of the regular season. Playoff tickets remain unpunched, seeding is still largely undecided, and the NFL Playoff Picture is still coming into focus.
The dust will have officially settled after Sunday Night Football, and at that point, we’ll know what the bracket is and what the matchups for Wild Card Weekend will be.
But to get to that point, a lot of loose ends must be tied up and there are a ton of teams still fighting for playoff positioning in the final week of the season.
NFL Playoff Picture: NFL teams fighting for playoffs in Week 18
Entering Week 18, there are two tickets left unpunched and six teams still alive in the playoff race — three in the AFC and three in the NFC.
These NFL teams are fighting for the playoffs entering the final week of the season:
- New New England Patriots (AFC)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC)
- Miami Dolphins (AFC)
- Green Bay Packers (NFC)
- Detroit Lions (NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (NFC)
Only two of those teams will make the playoffs and only one from either conference.
Peak Drama can be found in the AFC, where things are a lot messier when it comes to who can win the final playoff spot and how. Things are much cleaner over in the NFC where two of the teams play each other — the Packers and Lions — with the Seahawks having a chance to set themselves with a win in the afternoon window.
New England plays Buffalo, Miami plays the Jets, and Pittsburgh plays Cleveland — all games against divisional opponents who would love nothing more than to close out their season by ruining things for their rival.
Are the Dolphins in the playoffs?
No, but Miami has the second-easiest route to the playoffs on paper.
If the Dolphins beat the Jets, Miami would need a New England loss to clinch the No. 7 seed. That’s easier said than done, as Mike McDaniel needs to trot his third-string quarterback out against a Robert Salah defense looking to end the season on a high note.
The Jets were once the cinderella darling of the AFC but fell off a cliff around the middle of the season. Now eliminated from the playoffs, the only thing New York has to play for is spoiling the Dolphins season and dragging them into the offseason abyss with them.
Miami needs to win to get into the playoffs, and a loss renders all scenarios moot and eliminates the Dolphins on the spot.
What do the Steelers need to make the playoffs?
Pittsburgh has perhaps the most complicated path to the playoffs in Week 18. It all starts with a win, as the Steelers need to beat the Browns in order to trigger any of the possible scenarios to make the postseason.
If the Steelers win, they’d need losses by both the Dolphins and Patriots in order to clinch the No. 7 seed. All three things need to happen, otherwise, Pittsburgh will finish the season on the outside of the playoff picture.
While it’s not going to soothe any wounds created by missing the playoffs, Steelers fans should know that the team had a less than 5 percent chance of making the playoffs entering last Sunday and are now in a position to sneak in — which is miraculous given where the team was earlier in the year.
How do the Patriots make the playoffs?
New England has the clearest and easiest path to the playoffs — at least on paper.
A win on Sunday by the Patriots would lock up the No. 7 seed for Bill Belichick’s crew. That win, though, will need to come on the road in Buffalo. It’s already a tough game to bet on the Patriots in, but the energy at Orchard Park will be unprecedented after the events of this past week.
This will mark Buffalo’s first home game since Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest during Monday Night Football and nearly died. Hamlin appears to be on the road to recovery, and his remarkable story of survival will be something that everyone in Buffalo will be feeding off of.
That’s hard to quantify in X’s and O’s, but it’s an impossible factor to ignore, in addition to the fact that Buffalo would probably like to end its season with a win that doubles as a knife twist to a division rival that keeps them out of the playoffs.
NFL teams fighting for playoffs in the NFC
Things are a little bit calmer over in the NFC, albeit chaos could still reign.
Three teams are fighting for the No. 7 seed: Green Bay, Seattle, and Detroit — in that order.
Green Bay is in a win-and-in situation against Detroit. The Lions will have to wait and see what happens with the Seahawks to fully determine the stakes of their Sunday Night showdown against the Packers.
If the Seahawks lose to the Rams, the winner of the Lions-Packers game would secure the No. 7 seed. If Seattle wins, then Detroit would be eliminated but would be playing to keep Green Bay out of the playoffs.
What about the NFC seeding situation?
There’s potential chaos even among teams that have already clinched.
The Eagles need to beat the Giants on Sunday to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC or hope the 49ers lose to the Cardinals. Jalen Hurts is playing after missing the last two games with an injury, which makes clinching the top spot and a first-round bye even more critical. Giving Hurts another week to rest and heal seems rather essential to Philly’s hopes of reaching the Super Bowl.
San Francisco is still in play for the No. 1 seed and can storm into the top spot with a win over the Cardinals coupled with an Eagles loss. The 49ers can’t drop any lower than the No. 3 seed but would do so if Arizona wins and the Vikings beat the Bears.
Speaking of the Vikings, Minnesota’s loss last week to the Packers ended any hopes of sneaking into the No. 1 seed. However, the Vikings are at the bottom of the proverbial playoff barrel as Minnesota can’t sink any lower than the No. 3 seed (Tampa Bay could end the season with as many as five more losses than Minnesota). The No. 2 seed is still in play, though, as a Niners loss and a Vikings win would flip seeds.
How about the seeding situation in the AFC?
With the NFL changing rules on the fly after needing to rule last Monday’s Bengals-Bills game a ‘no contest’, things could get weird in the AFC.
Kansas City has already clinched the No. 1 seed and will have a bye next weekend. Buffalo and Cincinnati are fighting for the No. 2 seed, with the Bills controlling their own destiny. A win over the Patriots would lock up the No. 2 seed for Buffalo and lock the Bengals into the No. 3 seed. Neither team can fall into the No. 4 seed as the 8-8 Jacksonville Jaguars can’t climb any higher than that seed.
Cincinnati can win the No. 2 seed if it beats Baltimore and New England beats Buffalo. Where things get complicated is if the Bengals and Ravens matchup in the playoffs. Due to the NFL rule change, a coin flip would be used to decide where to play the game on Wild Card weekend, despite the Bengals being declared winners of the AFC North.
Here’s how that situation could happen:
- Cincinnati beats Baltimore, Buffalo beats New England, and Los Angeles beats Denver. This would mean the Bengals are locked into the No. 3 seed and the Ravens are locked into the No. 6 seed, thus setting up a Wild Card matchup between the two teams.
In order to avoid that situation, the Bengals need a win and a Buffalo loss, or a loss coupled with a Chargers loss.
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