Analzing the playoff picture in the AFC and NFC ahead of Week 17

Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are fighting for playoff positioning. Photo from USA Today.

The NFL Playoff picture for Week 17 is as clear as it’s been all season. Granted, that’s not saying much, but if you want the NFL postseason explained, things are finally coming into focus.

The top teams are starting to separate and even in the crowded Wild Card races, we can see what teams are a long shot and what teams are looking good. 

NFL Playoff picture for Week 17

Of course, the NFL postseason bracket looks a little different in the AFC than it does in the NFC. Each conference has its own storylines as we look ahead to the best Week 17 games.

The good news for fans is that almost every game this week is meaningful for at least one of the teams. More importantly, we should have plenty of clarity for the NFL playoff picture after Week 17. Let’s take a close look at everything that’s brewing heading into this weekend’s action.

AFC Playoff race

The Chiefs currently sit alone at the top of the AFC at 11-4. But because they lost to Tennessee earlier this season, the 10-5 Titans could catch them for the top seed if Kansas City slips up. The Titans are also one win away from clinching their division, which the Chiefs have already done. 

Meanwhile, the Bengals and Bills both lead their divisions at 9-6 with the Colts and Patriots occupying two of the Wild Card spots with the same record. All four teams are in good shape to at least make the playoffs. However, the Colts were thrown through a loop this week with Carson Wentz being ruled out for Week 17 after being put on the COVID list.

With Wentz out, the door is ajar for the four 8-7 teams in the AFC.

The Dolphins currently own the four-way tiebreaker, giving them the final playoff spot on the heels of seven straight wins.


But the Ravens, Chargers, and Raiders are all just a game back. Las Vegas will play the Colts head-to-head this week, giving the Raiders a huge opportunity to make a move. Of course, a loss by any of the 8-7 teams this week could crush their playoff hopes.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Browns and Broncos at 7-8, as well as the 7-7-1 Steelers, are still alive with two weeks left. But all three teams will need two wins and a ton of help to end up in the playoffs.

NFC Playoff race

There are five teams in the NFC with at least 10 wins (compared to two in the AFC) with all five clinching a playoff spot. The question is whether anybody can catch the 12-3 Packers for the top seed. The Cowboys, Rams, and Buccaneers are all 11-4 and still in the running. Finally, the 10-5 Cardinals know that they’re in the playoffs, but they need to get back on track quickly.

As for the other two Wild Card spots, they are currently occupied by the 49ers and Eagles, who are both coming on strong and are 8-7. That puts both teams a game ahead of the Vikings, Falcons, and Saints, who are all 7-8.

Even with a losing record, those three teams are still in contention. Naturally, they will need to win both of their remaining games and get help to sneak into the playoffs. 

In terms of tiebreakers, the Eagles own head-to-head tiebreakers against both the Falcons and Saints.

Meanwhile, the 49ers have the head-to-head tiebreaker against both the Vikings and Falcons. That has both Philadelphia and San Francisco well positioned to reach the playoffs if they can just win one of their final two games.

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About Bryan Zarpentine 130 Articles
Bryan Zarpentine is a freelance writer and editor with most of his work focusing on the world of sports. He is a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University and still resides in upstate New York.

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