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2020 NFL playoff scenarios heading into Week 17

Jason Owens
·6-min read

We’re one Sunday away from the regular-season finish line and the race for the final NFL playoff spots remains tight.

Still unclaimed in the NFC: the No. 1 seed, the East champion and two wild-card berths.

Still unclaimed in the AFC: the South champion, and all three wild-card berths.

Here’s a look at the playoff field, and who needs what to get in the tournament for the Lombardi Trophy:

AFC

Kansas City Chiefs (14-1): The defending Super Bowl champions will be the No. 1 seed for the second time in three postseasons. The Chiefs are the lone AFC team to get a Round 1 bye. Head coach Andy Reid has the option of resting his key starters in the regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Buffalo Bills (12-3): The Bills are East champions and will host a playoff game for the first time since 1995. As the No. 2 seed, Buffalo would face the last team to get into the playoffs. They can clinch the No. 2 spot with a win Sunday against Miami or a Pittsburgh defeat against Cleveland.

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3): The Steelers are North champions and will host a playoff game in Round 1. They will be either the No. 2 or 3 seed in the AFC. If they land at No. 2, they will host the last team to get into the postseason. They can secure the higher seed with a Week 17 win against Cleveland and a Buffalo loss to Miami.

Tennessee Titans (10-5): The Titans finish the regular season against the Texans. To win the South and clinch the No. 4 seed, they need to: win or have Indianapolis lose to Jacksonville or tie Miami and have the Colts tie too.

The Titans can also clinch a playoff berth with: a Ravens defeat to the Bengals or a Dolphins defeat vs. the Bills.

The other playoff-clinching scenarios for Tennessee involve these combinations involving ties: Titans draw + Browns defeat; Titans draw + Dolphins draw; Titans draw + Ravens draw.

Miami Dolphins (10-5): The Dolphins can secure a playoff berth with a victory Sunday against the East champion Bills.

They can also get in if any of these teams lose: Baltimore, Indianapolis and Cleveland.

The four tie scenarios that will also get the Dolphins into the postseason: Miami + Baltimore draws; Miami + Cleveland draws; Miami + Indianapolis draws; and Miami draw + a Tennessee defeat.

Baltimore Ravens (10-5): Last season’s No. 1 AFC seed can clinch a wild-card berth with a victory against Cincinnati on Sunday.

The Ravens can also get in if any of these teams lose Sunday: Cleveland or Indianapolis.

The four tie scenarios that will get the Ravens in are: Baltimore draw + Miami defeat; Baltimore draw + Tennessee defeat; Baltimore + Cleveland draws; and Baltimore + Indianapolis draws.

Cleveland Browns (10-5): The postseason drought that has lasted since a 2003 wild-card game ends for the Browns with a victory against the North champ Steelers on Sunday.

They can also clinch with an Indianapolis defeat against Jacksonville.

A more complicated clinching scenario: Tennessee defeat + Miami win/draw + Baltimore win or draw.

The Browns also have five clinching scenarios that involve ties: Cleveland draw + Baltimore defeat; Cleveland draw + Miami loss; Cleveland draw + Tennessee loss; Cleveland + Indianapolis draws; and Cleveland draw + Tennessee draw + Baltimore win + Miami win.

Indianapolis Colts (10-5): They’re on the outside looking in, but the Colts can still win the South if they defeat Jacksonville and Tennessee loses or ties Houston.

Indy’s three wild-card clinching scenarios are: Colts win + Ravens loss/tie; Colts win + Browns loss/tie; Colts win + Dolphins loss/tie.

The Colts also have three wild-card clinching scenarios involving ties: Indianapolis draw + Baltimore loss; Indianapolis draw + Cleveland loss; and Indianapolis draw + Miami loss.

Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (24) sprints to the end zone past Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) for a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)
Can the Cowboys overtake Washington for an unlikely NFC East title? (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

NFC

Green Bay Packers (12-3): The Packers have clinched the North and will play Sunday for the NFC’s No. 1 seed amid Aaron Rodgers’ return to MVP form. A win against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and they secure the conference’s only first-round bye. They can also clinch with a Seattle Seahawks loss or tie against San Francisco 49ers. A loss otherwise leaves them relegated to hosting a first-round game.

New Orleans Saints (11-4): The Saints have clinched the South and enter Week 17 against the Carolina Panthers as the No. 2 seed and still alive for the No. 1 seed. The Packers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a Week 3 win over the Saints. But the Saints would hold the three-way tiebreaker and win the No. 1 seed in the event of: Saints win + Packers loss + Seahawks win.

Seattle Seahawks (11-4): The Seattle Seahawks have clinched the NFC West title and remain alive for the NFC’s No. 1 seed with their Week 17 matchup against the 49ers. They would secure the first-round bye with: Seahawks win + Packers loss + Saints loss or tie.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5): The Bucs have clinched a wild-card berth and cannot catch the Saints for the South title. They enter a Week 17 game against the Atlanta Falcons as the No. 5 seed, which would mean a first-round road game against the yet-to-be-determined NFC East champion.

Washington Football Team (6-9): Washington takes on the Philadelphia Eagles holding the inside track to the East title and the No. 4 seed. It makes the playoffs with: Washington win; or Washington tie + Cowboys loss or tie.

Los Angeles Rams (9-6): The Rams can’t win the West, but they have multiple paths to a wild-card berth with a Week 17 game against the Arizona Cardinals. They’re in with: Rams win; or Chicago Bears loss or tie.

Chicago Bears (8-7): After a midseason six-game losing streak, the Bears find themselves in control of their playoff path with a Week 17 matchup against Green Bay. The Bears will clinch a wild-card berth with: Bears win; or Cardinals loss; or Bears tie + Cardinals tie.

Arizona Cardinals (8-7): The Cardinals are technically on the outside looking in, but remain in control of their playoff path thanks to a Week 17 matchup with the Rams. They will secure a playoff berth with: Cardinals win; or Cardinals tie + Bears loss.

Dallas Cowboys (6-9): After largely being written off as playoff contenders, the Cowboys enter Week 17 as one of three teams still alive for the East title. They’ll need help. The Cowboys will win the division with: Cowboys win + Washington loss or tie; or Dallas tie plus Washington loss.

New York Giants (5-10): Like the Cowboys, the Giants still have a shot at the East thanks to their head-to-head tiebreaker with Washington. They have one route to the division and the postseason: Giants win + Washington loss.

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