NFL Playoff Scenarios for Week 17 in the AFC and NFC

Earlier this week we ran down the playoff scenarios for Week 17 of the NFL season in both the AFC and NFC. Here is the recap to get you ready for the final day of regular season football.

AFC Playoff Scenarios

Let’s start in the AFC, where there is far more up in the air and where all but one game has potential playoff implications.

Houston Texans

The NFC playoff scenarios started out with an easy one – the Cowboys-Giants winner is the #4 seed, the loser goes home – and the AFC playoff scenarios start out with an even simpler one:

The Houston Texans are the #3 seed in the AFC playoffs, regardless of what happens in Week 17.

While Houston could finished in a three-way 11-5 tie with Baltimore and Pittsburgh, here is a quick explanation for why they could not vault over either for the #2 seed, via

If the Texans, Ravens and Steelers all finish 11-5, the Steelers would be eliminated from a tiebreaker because the Ravens beat them twice and would be AFC North champions. The Ravens would win a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Texans because they beat them in Week 6.

New England Patriots

The Patriots have clinched the AFC East as well as a first round bye. In Week 17, they have home field advantage on the line.

If the Pats can beat Buffalo at home, they will be the #1 seed in the AFC. If they lose to Buffalo, the Patriots will still nab the #1 seed if Pittsburgh and Baltimore lose.

If New England loses and either or both of Baltimore/Pittsburgh win, they would have identical 12-4 records. New England loses the tie-breaker with both the Steelers and Ravens.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have clinched at least a wild card spot, along with Pittsburgh. With both teams sitting at 11-4, the AFC North (and more) remains up in the air.


If Baltimore beats Cincinnati, the Ravens clinch the AFC North and a first round bye because they beat Pittsburgh twice and thus own the tie-breaker. The Ravens also clinch the AFC North if they lose to Cincy and Pittsburgh loses to Cleveland. However, if Baltimore loses to Cincy and Pittsburgh beats Cleveland, then the Ravens get the wild card.

As mentioned above, the Ravens also can clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if they win and New England loses to Buffalo.

Pittsburgh Steelers

If Pittsburgh beats Cleveland and Baltimore loses to Cincinnati, the Steelers are AFC North champions and will host a first round playoff game. Should the Steelers lose, or if they win and Baltimore wins, the Steelers are the wild card.

If the Steelers win and both Baltimore and New England lose, the Steelers become the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs and will have home field advantage throughout as well as a first round bye.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos clinch the AFC West title and the #4 seed by beating Kansas City in Week 17. If the Raiders lose to the Chargers, then the Broncos win the AFC West regardless of if they win or lose against Kansas City.

In the unlikely even that Denver and Kansas City tie, Denver still goes to the playoffs if Oakland loses or ties.

And now let’s run down the many, many, many possibilities for what could happen with the #6 seed in the AFC:

AFC Playoff Scenarios for #6 Seed

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have, theoretically, the best chance at securing the #6 seed because they have a “win and in” scenario (though it does come against Baltimore). If Cincinnati beats Baltimore, or ties, they are in as the #6 seed.

Cincinnati can still make the playoffs with a loss if one of the following scenarios play out:

  • The Jets lose or tie and Oakland loses or ties
  • The Jets lose or tie and Denver loses or ties

Oakland Raiders

If Oakland wins and Denver wins, Oakland cannot win the AFC West and host a first round playoff game. However, the Raiders could still earn the #6 seed if they win and the following happens:

  • Cincinnati loses and Tennessee loses or ties
  • Cincinnati loses and the Jets win

New York Jets

Yes, the Jets can still make the playoffs. They need a lot of help to do it though.

First, New York needs to beat Miami in Miami. That will be no easy task. If New York loses, they are out no matter what.

If they win, the Jets will make the playoffs if one of the following two scenarios play out:

  • Cincinnati loses, Tennessee loses or ties, and Oakland loses or ties
  • Cincinnati loses, Tennessee loses or ties, and Denver loses or ties

Tennessee Titans

The Titans also still have a shot at the playoffs, but a lot has to happen. Of course, they have to beat Houston. If they do, they will make the playoffs if one of the following scenarios play out:

  • Cincinnati loses and the Jets win and Oakland loses or ties
  • Cincinnati loses and the Jets win and Denver loses or ties
  • Cincinnati loses and the Jets lose or tie and Oakland wins and Denver wins

Whew, that’s a lot of help the Titans need…

And now let’s go to the NFC, where mostly everything has been decided except for the NFC East champion and whether San Francisco or New Orleans will be enjoying a week of rest during the wild card round.

NFC Playoff Scenarios

Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants

This one is pretty easy.

The Cowboys and Giants play Sunday night. Whichever team wins becomes the NFC East champion and will get a first round home game. Neither team can make the playoffs any other way.

nfc-playoff-scenarios-predictions-giants-cowboys-49ers-packers-falcons-lions-saintsImage credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via Wyld About Pro Football

Green Bay Packers

This one is also pretty easy. The 14-1 Packers clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs with their win over the Bears last night.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers clinched the NFC West a while ago, so they will host a first round home game at a minimum. They are still alive for a first round bye as well, and in fact are in the driver’s seat.

The 49ers are 12-3, and the Saints already have three losses. Because the 49ers own the tic-breaker with the Saints, all San Fran has to do is beat woeful St. Louis next week to clinch the first round bye and #2 seed in the NFC playoffs. (Or, if New Orleans loses tonight to Atlanta, the 49ers don’t even have to beat St. Louis next week.)

New Orleans Saints

The Saints have a clinched a playoff spot, but they are playing for a lot more than just a chance at the #2 seed when they face Atlanta tonight.

New Orleans hasn’t even yet clinched the NFC South division, nor a first round home game. They can do that tonight if they beat Atlanta. Even if the Saints don’t beat Atlanta tonight, they would still clinch the NFC South and a first round home game by winning their Week 17 game against Carolina or if Atlanta were to lose its Week 17 game to Tampa Bay.

If the Saints win both this week and next week, and San Francisco falls to St. Louis next week, the Saints would lock up the #2 seed in the NFC, a first round bye, and a second round home game.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons clinched at least a wild berth last night when Chicago lost to Green Bay. If they beat the Saints tonight, the Falcons maintain a shot at the NFC South title and a first round home game. As mentioned above, Atlanta would need to defeat the Bucs (should be easy) and New Orleans would need to lose to Carolina (not so easy).

Detroit Lions

The Lions clinched a playoff spot with their win over San Diego in Week 16. Because they play in the NFC North with Green Bay, they do not have a shot at anything more than a wild card road game in round one of the playoffs, regardless of what happens in Week 17. All that is still to be determined is who they will play.


Now that you know all of the scenarios, what do you think will happen? Comment below with your Week 17 predictions for how the playoff brackets will end up.

About Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.


  1. great article. AFC 6 seed well-explained. very tricky. one of cowboys/giants can get in with a tie, i forget which. this is highly unlikely but one team may actually play for a tie if it gets deep into overtime which makes it theoretically a bit more likely than usual.

  2. I don't think you meant to say that the Falcons could catch the Saints for the NFC South. I think you meant to say that they could take the #5 seed with a win and a Detroit loss (they win the tiebreaker since they beat Detroit head to head). Isn't that rignt?

  3. Something is missing in the AFC talk. You cannot deduce what happens if OAK, DEN, NYJ and CIN all lose but TENN wins.

  4. @math, it would be Bengals in the 6 seed, Broncos in the 4 seed. It's covered in the Bengals' section.


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