Week 18 N.F.L. Playoff Picture Preview: A Team-by-Team Guide


After one of the most uncertain periods in modern N.F.L. history, with a game suspended and then canceled, Week 18 will go on as planned with the good news that Bills safety Damar Hamlin is making rapid progress after a life-threatening injury.


On Thursday, the league announced that games would go on as scheduled and that the Bills-Bengals game would not be made up. The No. 1 seed in the A.F.C. will be awarded based on winning percentage, and the conference championship game may be played on a neutral site, depending on which teams are involved.


As the N.F.L. noted in its announcement, any decision it could have made would have come with “competitive inequities.” But for most teams, the playoff picture is unchanged. In the N.F.C., three teams — the Lions, Packers and Seahawks — are vying for the last conference spot in the postseason. And in the A.F.C., the Patriots, Dolphins and Steelers are vying for the remaining wild-card berth.


In both conferences, the No. 1 seed remains up for grabs, with the Chiefs and the Bills competing for the top spot in the A.F.C, and the Eagles, Cowboys and 49ers battling for it in the N.F.C.


The charts below map the playoff paths that remain for each team. They list all the ways a team can make the playoffs — or be eliminated from them. The tree diagrams start with a given team and list the potential outcomes of the games that might matter to that team, in chronological order from left to right.


We’ll update them throughout the weekend, and they’ll all link back to our interactive playoff simulator, which lets you explore any scenario.


One note: The text does not account for ties. But we have included a button with each tree if you’d like to explore how ties affect each team’s playoff path.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills (12-3)

Remaining game: Patriots

The Bills host the Patriots, and can get either the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the A.F.C. Since there was no result from the Bills-Bengals game on Monday night, the Bills need help to get the No. 1 seed. A win coupled with a Raiders win on Saturday will give the Bills the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.

New England Patriots (8-8)

Remaining game: at Bills

The Patriots are hoping to get the No. 7 seed, the last spot in the A.F.C. playoffs. They visit the Bills and need to win. (If they do, they may play them again a week from now if the Bills end up as the No. 2 seed.) If the Patriots lose, they can still advance if the Titans, Dolphins and Steelers lose as well.

Miami Dolphins (8-8)

Remaining game: Jets

The Dolphins’ Week 17 loss to the Patriots has put them on the outside of the playoff picture, but they still have a path to the No. 7 seed. They must beat the Jets and hope the Patriots lose to the 12-3 Bills at Buffalo. Otherwise they are out.

AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)

Remaining game: Ravens

Because there was no result in Cincinnati’s game against Buffalo, the Bengals cannot get the No. 1 seed or a bye week. If they win and the Bills lose, the Bengals will be the No. 2 seed, hosting the Patriots, Dolphins, Steelers or Jaguars. Otherwise they will be the No. 3 seed and host the Ravens or the Chargers.

Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

Remaining game: at Bengals

The Ravens are in the playoffs, but cannot catch the Bengals in the A.F.C. North. They’ll enter the playoffs as the No. 5 or No. 6 seed.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)

Remaining game: Browns

Like the Patriots and Dolphins, the Steelers have a path to the last spot in the A.F.C., representing the No. 7 seed at 9-8. But of all the teams on the edge of elimination, the Steelers’ path is the narrowest. They must win — they host the 7-9 Browns — and hope for Dolphins and Patriots losses.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)

Remaining game: Titans

The Jaguars will play for the A.F.C. South title when they host the Titans on Saturday. A win gives them the No. 4 seed and a home wild-card game against the Ravens or Chargers. They can still make the playoffs if they lose, as the No. 7 seed, if the Dolphins, Steelers and Patriots all lose their games.

Tennessee Titans (7-9)

Remaining game: at Jaguars

The Titans are playing for the division title and a playoff berth. If they beat the Jaguars, they are in and will host the Ravens or the Chargers in the wild-card round. If they lose, they are eliminated.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs (13-3)

Remaining game: at Raiders

The Chiefs can do no worse than the No. 2 seed in the A.F.C. and can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Raiders. If they lose, they can still get the No. 1 seed if the Patriots win on the road against the Bills.

Los Angeles Chargers (10-6)

Remaining game: at Broncos

The Chargers are in as a wild-card team. A win against the Broncos on Sunday would give them the No. 5 seed and a playoff opener against Jacksonville or Tennessee. On the other hand, a loss and a Ravens win would relegate the Chargers to the No. 6 seed, leaving them to face a tougher opponent — the Bengals or Bills — in the first round.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

Remaining game: Giants

For weeks, the Eagles have been on the cusp of clinching the division and the No. 1 seed in the N.F.C., with a bye week and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But they have lost two in a row, leaving open several possibilities.

A win or a tie against the Giants gives them the No. 1 seed. A Cowboys loss gives the Eagles the division title and at least the No. 2 seed. A loss and a Cowboys win would relegate the Eagles to the No. 5 seed; they would visit Tom Brady and the Bucs at Tampa Bay in the wild-card round.

Dallas Cowboys (12-4)

Remaining game: at Commanders

The Cowboys kept alive their hopes of winning the division with a win last week. If they win again and the Eagles lose, they’ll clinch the N.F.C. East title and can get a first-round bye if the 49ers lose as well. If the Cowboys lose, they’ll be the No. 5 seed, visiting Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs.

New York Giants (9-6-1)

Remaining game: at Eagles

The Giants will be the No. 6 seed no matter what happens in Week 18. They’ll visit the No. 3 seed — either the 49ers or the Vikings — in the first round of the playoffs.

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings (12-4)

Remaining game: at Bears

After a disastrous loss to the Packers on Sunday, the Vikings are likely to fall to the No. 3 seed, hosting the Giants in the wild-card round. If they win and the 49ers lose, they will be the No. 2 seed, hosting the No. 7 seed (the Packers, Lions or Seahawks).

Green Bay Packers (8-8)

Remaining game: Lions

It’s simple for the Packers: A win makes them the No. 7 seed. They would visit the 49ers, Vikings, Eagles or Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs. A loss or tie eliminates them. They host the 8-8 Lions, who are hoping for their first playoff berth since the 2016 season.

Detroit Lions (8-8)

Remaining game: at Packers

By the time their game against the Packers starts on Sunday night, the Lions might already be out of playoff contention. But if the Rams beat the Seahawks and the Lions beat the Packers in Green Bay, the Lions will get their first playoff berth since the 2016 season.

NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)

Remaining game: at Falcons

The Bucs have clinched the N.F.C. South division title and will host the No. 5 seed — probably the Cowboys — in the first round. Nothing that happens in Week 18 will change that.

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers (12-4)

Remaining game: Cardinals

The 49ers have won the N.F.C. West. A win and a Giants win against the Eagles on Sunday would give them the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. Otherwise, they’ll be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed and will open the playoffs against either the Giants, Seahawks or the winner of the Lions-Packers game.

Seattle Seahawks (8-8)

Remaining game: Rams

The Seahawks do not control their playoff path, but they still have a shot at snagging the last wild-card spot in the N.F.C. They’ll need to win at home against the Rams and then hope for a Lions win over the Packers on Sunday night.



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