NFL Playoff Picture: AFC and NFC race and clinching scenarios

As we enter Week 18, the NFL playoff picture is in sharp focus as the race for those all-important spots reaches its conclusion. Which teams can clinch playoff spots in the AFC and NFC this week, and which teams could lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs? Let’s examine the full playoff picture and clinching scenarios this week.

NFL Playoff Picture

What was once a convoluted playoff picture in the NFL just a few weeks ago, suddenly has a lot of clarity. There are now just three playoff spots up for grabs in Week 18. With seven teams competing for those spots, there is still plenty of excitement to come this week.

Additionally, there are still races for the AFC East and NFC West, as well as for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Let’s examine the current NFL playoff picture for the 2022 postseason.

Current AFC Playoff Picture

*x — clinched playoff berth, z — clinched division

1. z — Tennessee Titans (11-5)
2. z — Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
3. z — Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
4. x — Buffalo Bills (10-6)
5. x — New England Patriots (10-6)
6. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
7. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)

AFC: In the Hunt

8. Las Vegas Raiders (9-7)
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7-1)
10. * — Miami Dolphins (8-8)
11. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)

*In a quirk of the standings and playoff tiebreakers, the Dolphins are eliminated but the Ravens are not. However, the Dolphins are technically 10th in the NFL standings.

AFC clinching scenarios in Week 18

What are the clinching scenarios for the AFC teams this week? This includes playoff spots, division titles, or the No. 1 overall seed.

How the Kansas City Chiefs can clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed

The Chiefs will clinch the No. 1 seed if the following happens:

  • Chiefs win (vs. Broncos) and a Titans loss or tie
  • Chiefs tie (vs. Broncos) and a Titans loss

How the Tennessee Titans can clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed

The Titans have four potential paths to the No. 1 seed:

  • Titans win (vs. Texans)
  • Titans tie and a Chiefs loss or tie
  • Chiefs loss, Bengals loss or tie, and Patriots loss or tie
  • Chiefs loss, Bengals loss or tie, and Bills win

How the Cincinnati Bengals can clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed

The Bengals need a few things to go their way if they are to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Bengals need the following to happen:

  • Bengals win (vs. Browns), Titans loss, Chiefs loss, and Patriots loss or tie
  • Bengals win (vs. Browns), Titans loss, Chiefs loss, and Bills win

How the Buffalo Bills can clinch the AFC East

The Bills have the opportunity to clinch their second-straight division title in their hands. Here are the scenarios that will see it happen:

  • Bills win (vs. Jets)
  • Patriots lose
  • Bills tie and Patriots tie

How the New England Patriots can clinch the AFC East and the No. 1 seed

The Patriots have two different sets of clinching scenarios. However, winning the AFC East is the more important as obviously, they cannot clinch the No. 1 seed without the division. Here are the scenarios for New England.

To clinch the division:

  • Patriots win (vs. Dolphins) and Bills lose
  • Patriots tie and Bills lose

To clinch the No. 1 seed:

  • Patriots win, Bills lose or tie, Chiefs lose, and Titans lose

How the Baltimore Ravens can clinch a playoff berth

The Ravens need the following series of results to clinch a playoff berth:

  • Ravens win (vs. Steelers), Chargers lose, Colts lose, and Dolphins lose or tie

How the Indianapolis Colts can clinch a playoff berth

The Colts have a few ways in which they can clinch a playoff spot. Here are their scenarios:

  • Colts win or tie (vs. Jaguars)
  • Chargers lose and a tie between the Steelers and Ravens
  • Chargers lose, Steelers lose, and Dolphins win

How the Las Vegas Raiders can clinch a playoff berth

The Raiders also have a few scenarios that could see them clinch a playoff spot. Here are the three scenarios for them:

  • Raiders win (vs. Chargers)
  • Raiders tie and Colts lose
  • Colts lose and Steelers lose or tie

How the Los Angeles Chargers can clinch a playoff berth

The Chargers have just one way in which they can make the playoffs this week.

  • Chargers win (vs. Raiders)

How the Pittsburgh Steelers can clinch a playoff berth

The Steelers need a couple of things to go their way if they are to make the playoffs. Here are the scenarios:

  • Steelers win, Colts lose, and Raiders-Chargers does not end in a tie

Current NFC Playoff Picture

*x — clinched playoff berth, y — clinched No. 1 seed, z — clinched division

1. y — Green Bay Packers (13-3)
2. x — Los Angeles Rams (12-4)
3. z — Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)
4. z — Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
5. x — Arizona Cardinals (11-5)
6. San Francisco 49ers (9-7)
7. x — Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

NFC: In the Hunt

8. New Orleans Saints (8-8)

NFC clinching scenarios in Week 18

What are the clinching scenarios for the NFC West and the final playoff spot in the NFC?

How the Los Angeles Rams can clinch the NFC West

The Rams can clinch the NFC West with:

  • Rams win or tie (vs. 49ers)
  • Cardinals lose or tie

How the Arizona Cardinals can clinch the NFC West

The Cardinals have only one scenario that will see them clinch the NFC West in Week 18.

  • Cardinals win (vs. Seahawks) and Rams lose

How the San Francisco 49ers can clinch a playoff berth

The 49ers can clinch the final NFC playoff spot with:

  • 49ers win or tie (vs. Rams)
  • Saints loss or tie

How the New Orleans Saints can clinch a playoff berth

The Saints have a specific scenario that will see them clinch the final NFC playoff spot:

  • Saints win (vs. Falcons) and 49ers loss

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