Sports

N.F.L. Playoff Picture: Mapping the Paths That Remain for Each Team


Three of 14 N.F.L. postseason slots remain unclaimed heading into the final weekend of regular-season games.



In the A.F.C., five teams — the Steelers, Ravens, Colts, Chargers and Raiders — are vying for two playoff spots, and the No. 1 seed remains open, a contest mostly between the Titans and the Chiefs.


In the N.F.C., the Packers have clinched the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. The last N.F.C. spot in the playoffs will go to the Saints or the 49ers.


As the games unfold, the various scenarios could get quite confusing, even for the people trying to explain them to you live on television. So we created these charts that 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 then list the potential outcomes of the games that might matter to them, 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


Best possible outcome:
No. 3


Worst possible outcome: No. 7


The Bills are in the playoffs but need a win to guarantee their second consecutive division title and home-field advantage in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Luckily for them, they face the 4-12 Jets. If the Bills win, they win the division and can finish as high as the No. 3 seed. If they lose, they could fall all the way to No. 7 as the last A.F.C. team in the playoffs, visiting the No. 2 seed.

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Best possible outcome:
No. 2


Worst possible outcome: No. 7


The Patriots have clinched a playoff berth. They can win the A.F.C. East, but only if the Jets don’t lose to the Bills. Otherwise they’d be a wild-card team — as the fifth, sixth or seventh seed — depending on the outcome of the other games. They face the Dolphins, who were eliminated from postseason contention last week. The Chiefs’ victory over the Broncos on Saturday means the Patriots cannot get the No. 1 seed.

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AFC North


Best possible outcome:
No. 2


Worst possible outcome: No. 4


The Bengals have won the A.F.C. North and have clinched a playoff berth. Their best-case scenario is gaining the No. 2 seed, which requires a Bengals win, a Titans loss, and a win by either the Bills or the Dolphins.

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Best possible outcome:
No. 7


Worst possible outcome: Out


The Steelers’ chances are slim: They must win and hope the Colts lose to the Jaguars. If that happens, the Steelers will be the No. 7 seed, the last team in the A.F.C. playoffs. (In the extremely unlikely event of a Jaguars win and a Chargers-Raiders tie, however, the Steelers will be eliminated.)

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Best possible outcome:
No. 7


Worst possible outcome: Out


As with the Steelers, the Ravens’ postseason hopes depend on a victory and an unlikely win by the Jaguars over the Colts. But they would need more help yet, in the form of a Patriots win and a Raiders win. These things could happen, making the Ravens the No. 7 seed, but it’s much more likely that they’ll be eliminated whether or not they beat the Steelers on Sunday.

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AFC South


Best possible outcome:
No. 1


Worst possible outcome: No. 4


With the Chiefs’ victory over the Broncos on Saturday, the Titans must win to get the No. 1 seed, which comes with a bye week and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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Best possible outcome:
No. 5


Worst possible outcome: Out


The Colts are a likely wild-card team as the No. 5, No. 6 or No. 7 seed. All they need to do is not lose to the Jaguars, one of the worst teams in the N.F.L. (and a team with incentives of its own — the Jaguars would gain the 2022 No. 1 draft pick with a loss). If the Colts lose, they’re probably out, but they could squeeze in if the Steelers, Patriots and Chargers all lose.

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AFC West


Best possible outcome:
No. 1


Worst possible outcome: No. 2


By beating the Broncos on Saturday, the Chiefs ensured that they cannot do worse than the No. 2 seed. They will be the No. 1 seed if the Titans lose to the Texans.

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Best possible outcome:
No. 5


Worst possible outcome: Out


The Chargers must win or tie on Sunday to clinch a playoff berth. If they lose, they are eliminated. They face the Raiders, who are in a nearly identical position.

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Best possible outcome:
No. 5


Worst possible outcome: Out


Like the Colts, Ravens and Chargers, the Raiders must win to clinch a playoff berth. They could also lose and slip into the No. 7 seed, but that would require, among other things, a Jaguars victory, an event that has not occurred in two months.

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NFC East


Best possible outcome:
No. 2


Worst possible outcome: No. 4


The Cowboys’ decisive victory over the Eagles on Saturday night has kept alive their (slim) hopes of a No. 2 or No. 3 seed. They have won the N.F.C. East and will probably host the No. 5 seed as the No. 4 seed. Their Week 18 opponents, the Eagles, had also clinched a playoff berth, as a wild-card team, regardless of the game’s outcome.

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Best possible outcome:
No. 6


Worst possible outcome: No. 7


The Eagles will be the No. 6 or No. 7 seed. There’s still a slim chance the Eagles and the Cowboys will meet in the playoffs next week.

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NFC North

NFC South


Best possible outcome:
No. 2


Worst possible outcome: No. 4


The Bucs are in the playoffs, either as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed if they win, or as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed if they lose.

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Best possible outcome:
No. 7


Worst possible outcome: Out


The Saints need a victory and help: Their only path to the playoffs is if they win and the 49ers lose to the Rams.

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NFC West


Best possible outcome:
No. 2


Worst possible outcome: No. 5


The Rams have clinched a postseason berth, but can go as high as No. 2 or fall as low as No. 5 depending on the outcome of the weekend’s games. A win clinches a division title and home-field advantage for at least the first two playoff games.

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Best possible outcome:
No. 2


Worst possible outcome: No. 5


Like the Rams, the Cardinals are in the postseason and have a chance to win the division on Sunday. For that to happen, they must beat the Seahawks and hope the Rams lose. Otherwise, they would be a wild-card team and the No. 5 seed, visiting the No. 4 seed — most likely the Cowboys — in the first round of the playoffs.

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Best possible outcome:
No. 6


Worst possible outcome: Out


A win would make the 49ers the third N.F.C. West playoff team, after the Rams and the Cardinals, but they’d still advance with a loss if the Saints also lost.

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