NFL playoff picture: Projecting the seeds & matchups for AFC, NFC brackets in Week 17

NFL playoff picture: Projecting the seeds & matchups for AFC, NFC brackets in Week 17

The NFL playoff picture is coming into focus as the 2022 regular season comes to a close. As it stands, more than half of the 14-team field has booked its passage to the postseason.

Nine teams have clinched playoff spots entering Week 17. Four more — one division and three wild-card spots — could be clinched by the week’s end.

The only division that cannot be clinched until Week 18 is the AFC South, which will come down to a final-week battle between the Jaguars and Titans.

Of course, just because four playoff spots can be clinched in Week 17 doesn’t mean that they will be. There are still six teams vying for one wild-card spot in the AFC while five are fighting for two in the NFC, so the path for team clinching is complicated.

And given the wild way that this season has gone to date, it’s fair to expect that the NFL season will have within it another twist before its postseason begins.

The Sporting News makes game picks every week, so those can help you see whether your favorite team’s chances of making the playoffs will increase or decrease in Week 17. There will be a lot of competition for playoff spots either way, especially with seven teams from each conference now making the NFL postseason.

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Below is a breakdown of the playoff picture in each conference as it stands entering the penultimate week of the 2022 NFL season.

NFL playoff picture: AFC projections

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  • No. 1 seed: Buffalo Bills

Games remaining: at Bengals, vs. Patriots

The Bills continued to win in Week 16, as they stomped the Bears 35-13 en route to a sixth consecutive win. Buffalo remains in the No. 1 spot in the AFC, and its matchup with the Bengals in Week 17 will go a long way toward determining whether the Bills remain there to close the regular season.

In fact, Buffalo’s final two games will be of importance, as it can get a further grasp on the AFC’s No. 1 seed and may be positioned to knock the Patriots out of the playoff race. So, to call this two-week stretch for the Bills important would be an understatement.

  • No. 2 seed: Kansas City Chiefs

Games remaining: vs. Broncos, at Raiders

The Chiefs continue to keep pace with the Bills in the race for the No. 1 seed, but their head-to-head loss against Buffalo is holding them back. Kansas City will be rooting for Cincinnati in Week 17, but it will also need to take care of business against the Broncos, who have strangely given the Chiefs problems even during their recent down years.

Kansas City is playing two teams with a combined 10-20 record to close the season. They are, however, divisional rivals, so the Chiefs can’t be caught sleeping in either game if they want to overtake Buffalo for the No. 1 seed.

  • No. 3 seed: Cincinnati Bengals

Games remaining: vs. Bills, vs. Ravens 

The Bengals are a game back of the Bills and the Chiefs in the battle for the 1-seed, and they will need to beat the Bills in Week 17 to have a shot at it. Even still, they aren’t in control of their own destiny when it comes to that race, so it may be more prudent for them to focus on beating the Ravens in Week 18, as that game will probably decide the AFC North. Still, they won’t ignore the Bills in a potential playoff preview.

  • No. 4 seed: Jacksonville Jaguars

Games remaining: at Texans, vs. Titans

The Titans lost five consecutive games, and that allowed the Jaguars to leapfrog them in the AFC South race after beating the Jets on “Thursday Night Football.” The Jaguars now face two divisional opponents to close the season, but either way, their playoff chances will come down to a Week 18 game against the Titans. The winner of that game will win the division while the loser will likely go home.

  • No. 5 seed: Baltimore Ravens

Games remaining: vs. Steelers, at Bengals

The Ravens won another game without Lamar Jackson to stay in the AFC North race. They will go to the playoffs either way, but the question is about whether Jackson will be able to return from his PCL sprain during the regular season.

With a playoff spot already clinched, Baltimore can afford to be cautious with Jackson. But can Tyler Huntley win for a second time against the Steelers and in a key battle for AFC North supremacy against the Bengals? The Ravens won’t want to risk finding out if Jackson is healthy enough to get back on the field.

  • No. 6 seed: Los Angeles Chargers

Games remaining: vs. Rams, at Broncos

The Chargers clinched a playoff spot for the first time in Justin Herbert’s career via their 20-3 victory over the Colts on “Monday Night Football.” They are now closing the season with games against the five-win Rams and four-win Broncos, so they will have a chance to move up to the No. 5 seed. They cannot, however, win the AFC West over the Chiefs.

  • No. 7 seed: Miami Dolphins

Games remaining: at Patriots, vs. Jets

The Dolphins have continued to stumble down the stretch and have now lost five games in a row. They are still clinging to the No. 7 seed in the AFC playoff race with an 8-7 record, but they could fall out of it with losses to either the Patriots or Jets in Week 17 or 18.

Also, Tua Tagovailoa is dealing with a concussion for the second time this season. As such, the Dolphins are on a precarious perch, and even with a win against the Patriots, they could still face a win-and-in scenario against the Jets in Week 18 if New York can beat Seattle on the road this week.

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NFL playoff picture: NFC projections

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  • No. 1 seed: Philadelphia Eagles

Games remaining: vs. Saints, vs. Giants

The Eagles will be the No. 1 seed in the NFC if they can win one of their final two games. They nearly were able to do it despite playing backup quarterback Gardner Minshew against the Cowboys in Week 16. Now, they will look to do it in Week 17 against the 6-9 Saints.

  • No. 2 seed: Minnesota Vikings

Games remaining: at Packers, at Bears

The Vikings have clinched the NFC North and are guaranteed to be one of the top three seeds in the NFC this season. Minnesota has been buoyed by an unfathomable 11-0 record in one-possession games and will look to damage the Packers playoff chances by beating them a second time in Week 17.

Minnesota is currently on track to be the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but its résumé isn’t as strong as the average 2-seed. The Vikings have a point differential of just plus-5, which ranks 10th-best in the NFL.

  • No. 3 seed: San Francisco 49ers

Games remaining: at Raiders, vs. Cardinals

The 49ers have won eight games in a row, including three with rookie Brock Purdy starting at quarterback, en route to another NFC West title. San Francisco will likely be either the No. 2 or 3 seed, depending on whether it can catch Minnesota in the playoff picture, and should have a chance to extend its winning streak to 10 games by season’s end.

San Francisco might be the biggest threat to Philadelphia’s NFC supremacy. The 49ers have one of the league’s best defenses and haven’t allowed more than 20 points in a game during their winning streak.

  • No. 4 seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Games remaining: vs. Panthers, at Falcons

The Buccaneers (7-8) maintain a one-game lead over the Panthers and Saints in the NFC South race, and they will be able to clinch the division with a win over Carolina in Week 17. However, should Tampa Bay fall, it will be Carolina that has the inside track to win the division, as the Panthers would own a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers.

Tom Brady is facing quite a bit of pressure entering this game against the Panthers given that the Buccaneers’ offense has largely struggled this season. He found a rhythm at the end of Tampa Bay’s overtime win against the Cardinals on Christmas and will need to keep that going against a solid Panthers team.

  • No. 5 seed: Dallas Cowboys

Games remaining: at Titans, at Commanders

The Cowboys are coming off an impressive win over the Eagles and are set to face a Titans team resting a good chunk of its team on “Thursday Night Football” ahead of a winner-take-all Week 18 matchup with the Jaguars. If the Cowboys win that game, they can put some pressure on Philadelphia in the NFC East race.

However, Dallas is effectively locked into the No. 5 seed barring a major stumble from the Eagles. The Cowboys can only catch Philadelphia if they win out and the Eagles lose out. Otherwise, they will be the top wild-card team.

  • No. 6 seed: New York Giants

Games remaining: vs. Colts, at Eagles

The Giants can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Colts in Week 17. Indianapolis is playing on a short week and just scored three points against the Chargers, so things look good for Brian Daboll’s squad.

Still, a loss would set up an uncomfortable Week 18 battle with the Eagles, so the Giants will want to take care of business in Week 17 and not leave it up to the final week of the season.

  • No. 7 seed: Washington Commanders

Games remaining: vs. Browns, vs. Cowboys

Washington has now dropped two in a row since its Week 14 bye, but the Commanders remain in the playoff picture by virtue of their tie against the Giants in Week 13. The Commanders are a half-a-game ahead of the Seahawks, Lions and Packers in the NFC wild-card race in that order, and they will need to win to be guaranteed to remain there entering Week 18.

The Commanders match up well against the Browns, who have struggled to stop the run this season. That said, much of their fate will be tied to Carson Wentz, who is re-entering the lineup as a starter after Taylor Heinicke struggled in the second half of Washington’s Week 16 loss to the 49ers. As such, Washington is no guarantee to make the postseason despite being in control of its own destiny.

Current NFL playoff picture

Here’s how the playoff standings in the AFC and NFC break down entering Week 17, along with the teams that remain in the playoff hunt.

SeedTeamW-LClinched
1Bills12-3AFC East
2Chiefs12-3AFC West
3Bengals11-4Playoffs
4Jaguars7-8N/A
5Ravens10-5Playoffs
6Chargers9-6Playoffs
7Dolphins8-6N/A

In the hunt: Patriots (7-8), Jets (7-8), Titans (7-8), Steelers (7-8), Raiders (6-9)

SeedTeamW-LClinched
1Eagles13-2Playoffs
2Vikings12-3NFC North
349ers11-4NFC West
4Buccaneers7-8N/a
5Cowboys11-4Playoffs
6Giants8-6-1N/a
7Commanders7-7-1N/a

In the hunt: Seahawks (7-8), Lions (7-8), Packers (7-8), Panthers (6-9), Saints (6-9)