NFL playoff scenarios: What’s at stake in Week 16


Kevin SeifertNFL Nation

Two weeks. Seven spots. Twelve teams, realistically speaking.

These are the stakes for the remainder of the NFL’s 2017 playoff race. To this point, only five teams have qualified for the playoffs, four through division titles. Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs remains up for grabs in both conferences, as do three of the four first-round byes.

Answers will become clearer starting with two games Saturday, 12 games Sunday and two more Monday. Let’s set up the highlights, keeping in mind my confusion-minimizing rule of skipping over scenarios that involve a tie. (Tie-lovers can see this post for all of their tie-related needs.)

Go to: Week 16 schedule | Playoff picture | Full standings

Crazy but true: Jaguars in play for top AFC seed

Yup. The team that just qualified for its first playoff berth since the 2007 season — and still hasn’t clinched the AFC South — can keep its chances for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs alive with a win Sunday at the suddenly competitive San Francisco 49ers. They’ll eventually need a loss by both the Patriots and Steelers, but neither would have to be in Week 16. The Jaguars would win the tiebreaker with either or both teams at 12-4, according to the ESPN Playoff Machine. That said, the Jaguars will clinch their division with a win over the 49ers, or if the Titans lose to the Rams. (Los Angeles would also clinch the NFC West in that scenario.)

Patriots can’t clinch home field with a win alone

Even after their wild Week 15 victory in Pittsburgh, the Patriots would need help to lock up the AFC’s home-field advantage this week — and we wouldn’t even be able to call the race until Monday evening. They’ll need a home victory over the Bills, of course, coupled with a Jaguars loss to the 49ers on Sunday and then a Steelers loss in Houston on Monday (4:30 p.m. ET kickoff). Go ahead and settle in for a while on that one. The Patriots would, however, clinch a first-round bye (no worse than the No. 2 seed) with a victory along with a loss by either the Jaguars or Steelers.

The Eagles are thissssss close …

We have two potential opportunities to crown the Eagles as the NFC’s top seed, starting Saturday night when the Vikings play at Green Bay. If the Vikings lose, the Eagles are the No. 1 seed. But even if the Vikings win, the most they can clinch is a first-round bye. The Eagles could still secure the top spot on their own with a victory at home over the Raiders (Monday 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff).

… and so are the Chiefs

A victory Sunday over the Dolphins or a Chargers loss at the Jets — or both — would clinch the AFC West for the Chiefs. If neither happens, the teams will be back in the same position for Week 17: One Chiefs win or one Chargers loss would decide the AFC West. In fact, Kansas City could clinch the division, even if it doesn’t win again and finishes 8-8, if the Chargers also lose their remaining two games. That’s why ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) is giving the Chiefs a 99 percent chance to make the playoffs.

An NFC South showdown!

We have the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans for the two teams’ second meeting in the past three weeks. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Falcons, and they’ll seal the NFC South if the Buccaneers also beat the Panthers. Carolina would clinch a playoff spot with a win. So would the Falcons, if they defeat the Saints. In that scenario, the Saints would be eliminated from the division race, and the NFC South would be determined by the winner of a Week 17 game between the Panthers and Falcons.

Bills could drop with a win

Yup, you read that right. Buffalo could upset the Patriots and still fall from its current spot as the AFC’s No. 6 seed if the Ravens win at home Saturday night against the Colts. The Ravens and Bills would both have 9-6 records, but the Ravens would have the advantage based on the common-games tiebreaker (minimum four games) that wouldn’t kick in until this week. That tiebreaker quirk is a big part of why FPI gives the Bills a 28 percent chance to make the playoffs, while the Ravens are at 92 percent. Another reason: the Ravens finish with home games against the Colts and Bengals, while the Bills play at the Patriots and then at Miami in Week 17.

Half a dozen teams out with a loss

Six teams will be eliminated if they lose in Week 16: the Chargers, Lions, Seahawks, Cowboys, Dolphins and Raiders. All but the Raiders would be home in time for Christmas.