Week 15 NFL playoff picture: Eight teams in, four more spots up for grabs

Five teams clinched spots in the NFL playoffs on Sunday, bringing the total to eight and leaving four spots remaining to be filled over the final two weeks of the regular season.

The Bills were the latest entrant, as their victory Sunday night at Pittsburgh guaranteed their second trip to the postseason in three years and their first 10-win campaign since 1999. Also clinching berths were the Patriots, Packers, 49ers and Seahawks. The 49ers got in despite a last-second loss to the Falcons, but the defeat bumped the Niners from the top spot in the NFC to No. 5.

Here is a look at the NFL playoff picture and standings after Sunday night’s game, using ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) where appropriate.

Note: X denotes a team that has clinched a playoff berth, Y shows a team that has clinched its division and Z indicates a team that has secured a first-round bye. An asterisk shows home-field advantage.

Jump to: AFC | NFC


The Ravens clinched the AFC North title on Thursday night by defeating the Jets, and they need one more victory to ensure the AFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. FPI gives them a 98.1% chance to do it. On the other hand, losses in their final two games could drop the Ravens to the No. 3 seed, provided the Patriots and Chiefs both win out.

Next up: at Cleveland

The Patriots are in the playoffs for the 11th consecutive year, courtesy of Sunday’s win in Cincinnati. Their likeliest seed is No. 2, which comes with a first-round bye. FPI projects an 85.7% chance of that scenario. But they could be bumped down to No. 3 if they lose one (or both) of their final two games and the Chiefs win out.

Next up: vs. Buffalo

The Chiefs entered Week 15 having already secured the AFC West title, but Sunday’s victory over the Broncos preserved the possibility of moving into one of the top two seeds over the final two weeks. Because they have defeated both the Ravens and the Patriots, the Chiefs would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker if they finish tied at 11-5 with the Patriots or at 12-4 with either the Patriots or Ravens, or both. FPI still gives the Chiefs a better chance to fall to No. 4 (18.3%) than to jump to No. 2 (13.2%) or No. 1 (1.3%), but stranger things have happened.

Next up: at Chicago

After dispatching the Titans on Sunday, the Texans are now one victory away from winning the AFC South. In that scenario, FPI projects a 72.2% chance of the Texans keeping the No. 4 seed. They do hold a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chiefs, however, and could overtake Kansas City at No. 3 if they win one more game than the Chiefs the rest of the way.

Next up: at Tampa Bay

The Bills clinched a playoff spot Sunday night by defeating the Steelers. And Buffalo isn’t out of the AFC East race, either. As unlikely as it might seem, the Bills could overtake the Patriots by winning their final two games — including next Saturday at New England — and having the Patriots lose again in Week 17 to the Dolphins. But for now, the Bills will celebrate their second trip to the playoffs in the past three seasons.

Next up: at New England

The Steelers lost Sunday night for only the second time in their past nine games. But they remained in the No. 6 seed because of the Titans’ loss to the Texans. The Steelers hold the tiebreaker over the Titans because of one fewer conference loss.

Next up: at N.Y. Jets

In the hunt

Eliminated: Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals


Few people expected the Seahawks back up here, at least in Week 15. Their victory at Carolina clinched a playoff spot, but the 49ers’ unexpected home loss to the Falcons allowed Seattle to leapfrog once again to the top of the NFC West — and therefore the entire conference. (The Seahawks hold an edge on Green Bay because they have a better record against common opponents.)

What happens next? It could get complicated. The Seahawks can ensure an NFC West title by winning their final two games, including a Week 17 matchup against the 49ers. But Seattle would need help to hold on to the No. 1 seed. In part because the Saints hold the head-to-head tiebreaker between the teams, FPI is giving the Seahawks a 33.5% chance to secure home-field advantage.

Next up: vs. Arizona

The Packers clinched a playoff spot on Sunday in defeating Chicago, and they can win the NFC North with a victory next Monday night in Minnesota. But the Packers are in good shape regardless. Even if they lose to the Vikings, they can clinch the NFC North by beating the Lions in Week 17. To maintain the No. 2 spot in that scenario, the Packers would need the Saints to lose two of their final three games. FPI gives the Packers a 41.1% chance to wind up with a first-round bye.

Next up: at Minnesota

The 49ers’ loss was only a marginal help to the Saints’ chances to move back into the top spot in the conference. While New Orleans holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Seahawks, the Saints would lose a three-way tie with the Seahawks and Packers because of conference record. In other words, the Saints are going to need help from the Packers — perhaps a loss to the Vikings in Week 16 — to get back into the conversation for home-field advantage. But first, the Saints must keep pace Monday night against the Colts.

Next up: vs. Indianapolis (Monday night)

The Cowboys finally gave us a performance that suggests they are ready — and willing — to make the playoffs. Their resounding victory over the Rams sets up the opportunity to clinch the NFC East in Week 16. If the Cowboys defeat the Eagles in Philadelphia, they’ll win the division based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. FPI is giving the Cowboys a 65.1% chance to finish the season as the division champions.

Next up: at Philadelphia

The 49ers clinched a playoff spot despite an unexpected letdown at home to the previously 4-9 Falcons. The loss temporarily set back their path to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but the 49ers still can get there by winning their final two games. That includes a Week 17 matchup in Seattle.

Next up: vs. L.A. Rams

The Vikings are one win away from clinching a playoff spot — and they have a chance to move up to the No. 5 seed if they win one of their final two games and the 49ers lose their final two contests, according to the ESPN Playoff Machine. FPI is giving the Vikings an 18.3% chance of doing that.

To win the NFC North, Minnesota will need to win out and have the Packers lose in Week 17 to the Lions. FPI is giving the Vikings a 17.1% chance of overtaking the Packers.

Next up: vs. Green Bay

In the hunt

Eliminated: Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Washington Redskins

Published at Mon, 16 Dec 2019 00:47:58 +0000

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