What the NFL Playoff Picture Looks Like

via CBS Sports

The murky AFC playoff picture got cleared up quickly on Sunday — there were all kinds of wild possibilities for how the NFL playoff bracket might shake out coming into Week 17, but things got clear quickly thanks to the Patriots and Texans winning handily against inferior opponents.

Houston’s win secured the AFC South for the Texans, locking them into a top-three seed. The Patriots’ victory gave them something they covet: a first-round bye.

Now the two teams can sit and wait and hope for the Raiders and Broncos to throw them a bone and create some real chaos. The NFC saw almost nothing happen in the early games — the only two potential teams involved in the 1 p.m. games were the Saints and Cowboys and neither had anything to play for in their respective games.

Here’s how the rest of the NFL playoff picture looks, as well as a snapshot of what could impact how it looks after Week 16 and beyond.

AFC: Who’s in

1. (x) Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)

The Chiefs need to beat the Raiders at home on Sunday to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and to keep the Chargers from stealing the division.

2. (z) New England Patriots (11-5)

The Patriots clinched the AFC East last week and snuffed out the Jets to clinch a first-round bye for what feels like the 50th year in a row. It’s a huge win for them — the Pats have never won a Super Bowl without having a first-round bye. They can secure the No. 1 seed if both the Chiefs and Chargers lose on Sunday afternoon.

3. (x) Houston Texans (11-5)

The Texans hammered the Jaguars and Blake Bortles, which shouldn’t have been surprising unless you’re Pete Prisco and Nick Kostos putting in the Jaguars as a best bet on the Pick Six Podcast (subscribe here the world’s greatest and maybe only daily NFL podcast). The Texans are likely to end up as the third seed now: if the Chiefs and Chargers both lose on Sunday afternoon, the Texans would move up to the No. 2 seed.

4. Baltimore Ravens (9-6)

The Ravens are in a great spot, but have to beat the Browns at home on Sunday to guarantee themselves a playoff spot.

5. (x) Los Angeles Chargers (11-4)

The Chargers are in the playoffs but can still win the AFC West if they beat the Broncos in Denver on Sunday and the Chiefs lose to the Raiders on Sunday.

6. Indianapolis Colts (9-6)

The Colts play the Titans on Sunday night, with the winner getting in the playoffs.

AFC: Who’s out

7. Tennessee Titans (9-6): The Titans need to beat the Colts on Sunday to get in the playoffs, but it seems like they’ll be doing so without Marcus Mariota, who is unlikely to start against Indy.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1): Tough spot for Pittsburgh. The Steelers have to beat the Bengals Sunday and have the Browns beat the Ravens in Baltimore in order for the Steelers to win the AFC North. Pittsburgh can also get in with a win, a Ravens win and the Colts-Titans game ending in a tie, which is, um, a little less likely.

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AFC: Who’s Eliminated

9. Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) 
10. Miami Dolphins (7-8)
11. Denver Broncos (6-8)
12. Cincinnati Bengals (6-9)
13. Buffalo Bills (5-10)
14. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10)
15. New York Jets (4-11)

16. Oakland Raiders (3-11)

NFC: Who’s in

1. (*) New Orleans Saints (13-3)

The Saints didn’t play any of their starters and got smashed by the Panthers and backup quarterback Kyle Allen. The NFL is weird, man.

2. (y) Los Angeles Rams (12-3)

The Rams locked up the NFC West weeks ago but have to win against the 49ers at home on Sunday in order to lock up a first-round bye. They cannot catch the Saints but could fall behind the Bears.

3. (y) Chicago Bears (11-4)

Very interesting setup for the Bears: they can catch the Rams if they beat the Vikings on Sunday and the Rams lose to the 49ers. The Bears could also end the Vikings’ playoff hopes by beating them and help get Philly in. Do the Bears definitely want that? Matt Nagy will be scoreboard watching.

4. (y) Dallas Cowboys (10-6)

The Cowboys had nothing to play for — at all — and played their starters the entire game. Good for the playoff momentum, bad for anyone who teased the Giants down to a pick. Sigh. Congrats on the 10 wins, Jason Garrett.

5. (x) Seattle Seahawks (9-6)

The Seahawks are in the playoffs, but could fall as far as the No. 6 pick if they lose to the Cardinals at home on Sunday and the Vikings win.

6. Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1)

The Vikings have a win/in situation against the Bears at home on Sunday. They would also get in if they lose and the Eagles lose.

NFC: Who’s out

7. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7): The Eagles need serious help to get in the playoffs — if they win and the Vikings lose, they are in, but otherwise will be sitting at home in January.

NFC: Who’s Eliminated

8. Washington Redskins (7-8)
9. Green Bay Packers (6-8-1)
10. Atlanta Falcons (6-9)
11. Carolina Panthers (6-9)
12. New York Giants (5-10)
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10)
14. Detroit Lions (5-10)
15. San Francisco 49ers (4-10)
14. Arizona Cardinals (3-11) 

Legend:
(x) – clinched playoff berth
(y) – clinched division
(z) – clinched first-round bye
(*) – clinched home-field advantage

SOURCE: CBS Sports, Will Brinson