Every Thursday down the stretch of the 2018 NFL season, we’ll look at how the playoff picture is shaping up — who’s in, who’s out, and who’s ready to make a move.
Here’s what the league looks like heading into Week 14.
UPDATE: All scenarios have been updated to reflect the Titans’ win over Jacksonville Thursday night.
If the playoffs started today…
AFC: No. 1 Chiefs (10-2), No. 2 Patriots (9-3), No. 3 Texans (9-3), No. 4 Steelers (7-4-1), No. 5 Chargers (9-3), No. 6 Ravens (7-5)
NFC: No. 1 Rams [xy] (11-1), No. 2 Saints (10-2), No. 3 Bears (8-4), No. 4 Cowboys (7-5), No. 5 Seahawks (7-5), No. 6 Vikings (6-5-1)
[x] = Clinched Playoff Berth
[y] = Clinched Division Title
Teams that can clinch in Week 14
The L.A. Rams became the first team to clinch a playoff berth in Week 13, and they can secure a first-round bye with a win against the Bears Sunday night. Meanwhile, five teams started the week with a shot at clinching post-season spots of their own but only three remain after the Titans’ win over Jacksonville sent a few ripples through the league.
The Houston Texans and L.A. Chargers both needed the Titans to lose or tie Thursday night in order to set them up to clinch the division (Texans) or a playoff spot (Chargers), but Tennessee’s victory means neither club can clinch anything this week.
New Orleans Saints, 10-2 (at Buccaneers, Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
After failing to clinch last week, the Saints have another shot Sunday in Tampa Bay. The NFC South leaders can clinch the division with a win/tie against the Buccaneers, OR a loss/tie for the Panthers (at Browns).
New Orleans can still clinch with a loss and Panthers win Sunday if the following unfolds: A loss for the Vikings (at Seahawks) PLUS a loss/tie for the Eagles (at Cowboys) AND a loss/tie for Washington (vs. Giants).
Kansas City Chiefs, 10-2 (vs. Ravens, Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
The Chiefs will officially be playoff-bound with a win or tie Sunday against Baltimore. They could have also gotten there if all three of the Titans (vs. Jaguars), Dolphins (vs. Patriots) and Colts (at Texans) were to lose or tie their respective matchups, but the Titans’ victory Thursday night means it’s all up to the Chiefs to get it done now.
New England Patriots, 9-3 (at Dolphins, Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
It’s so simple, it’s basically routine at this point: A win or tie in Miami this Sunday means Tom Brady & Co. are crowned division champs for the 10th straight year.
Teams that can be eliminated in Week 14
Week 13 losses for the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers officially ruled those two teams out of contention, and the Jacksonville Jaguars were the first team to fall in Week 14 after losing to the Titans on Thursday night — and they took the Jets down with them.
(Massive shoutout once again to Reddit user NFLPlayoffScenarios for breaking down every elimination scenario in great — and in Buffalo’s case, extremely pain-staking — detail. Give ’em a follow on Twitter here.)
Jacksonville Jaguars, 4-9 (loss at Titans, Thursday 8:20 p.m. ET)
After shutting out the Colts on Sunday, the Jaguars needed another W to mathematically remain in the running. A lop-sided loss to Tennessee makes them the third team to be officially eliminated from the post-season.
New York Giants, 4-8 (at Washington, Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
The Giants’ elimination scenario was pretty complicated last week, but it was all for naught as they wound up defeating the Bears in one of the biggest upsets of the season. This week, their situation is much simpler: Lose, and you’re out.
Green Bay Packers, 4-7-1 (vs. Falcons, Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
It kind of feels like the Packers pulled the plug on the season, doesn’t it? The club fired head coach Mike McCarthy and some of his staff following Sunday’s dismal loss to the Cardinals. While we typically know better than to ever count Aaron Rodgers out, we’ll have no choice but to do just that if Green Bay loses to the Falcons AND the Redskins win (vs. Giants) AND the Dallas-Philadelphia matchup ends in a tie.
Atlanta Falcons, 4-8 (at Packers, Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
The Falcons-Packers game has a lot riding on it as both clubs are in desperation mode. Matt Ryan has been having an incredible season on the stat sheet, but the club has just four wins to show for it. Atlanta will officially be out of contention with a loss to the Packers PLUS a Washington win AND a Cowboys-Eagles tie.
Detroit Lions, 4-8 (at Cardinals, Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET)
The Lions will miss the post-season for the second straight year if the following happens:
• DET loss to ARI + MIN win OR
• DET loss + PHI win/tie OR
• DET loss + WSH win/tie OR
• DET tie + SEA win/tie + WSH win + DAL/PHI tie
Arizona Cardinals, 3-9 (vs. Lions, Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET)
The Cardinals pulled off a pretty huge upset last week when they defeated the Packers in Green Bay. They’ll need another win to stay in contention. Here are Arizona’s elimination scenarios:
• ARI loss OR
• ARI tie + PHI win/tie OR
• ARI tie + WSH win/tie OR
• ARI tie + MIN win/tie OR
• ARI tie + CAR win OR
• WSH win + DAL/PHI tie
Buffalo Bills, 4-8 (vs. Jets, Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
Honestly, this might be the most complicated elimination scenario ever — as in, If the Bills are eliminated this week, it’ll be because the Football Gods wanted it so. The craziest part? This is the simple version of Buffalo’s elimination scenario (see the insanely complicated, tie-filled breakdown here). The Titans made things a little simpler, however, as now the Bills are in lose-and-you’re-out territory.
• BUF loss + BAL win OR
• BUF loss + TEN win* OR
• BUF loss + IND win OR
• BUF loss + MIA win OR
• BUF loss + CLE loss + CIN win OR
• BUF loss + CLE win + DEN win OR
• BUF loss + CIN win + DEN win OR
• PIT win + BAL win + DEN win + TEN win + IND win
New York Jets, 3-9 (at Bills, Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
The Jets’ playoff hopes were hanging on by the thinnest of threads, and the Titans’ victory over Jacksonville Thursday night was enough to sever them. They’re out.
It’s worth noting here that the odds weren’t exactly in their favour. For the record, here were their elimination scenarios:
• NYJ loss OR
• MIA win OR
• BAL win OR
• CLE loss + CIN win OR
• CLE win + DEN win OR
• CIN win + DEN win OR
• TEN win* OR
• IND win
Cleveland Browns, 4-7-1 (vs. Panthers, Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
It’s been 15 years since the Browns got any kind of taste of the post-season football – they lost to the Steelers in 2002 in their one and only wild-card appearance since returning to Cleveland – and it looks like Browns faithful will have to wait a little longer before the Browns are back in the playoffs. They will officially be eliminated from contention with a loss to the Panthers on Sunday AND a Ravens win (at Chiefs).
Race to the bottom
Just like last week, if the draft order was locked in right now the 49ers would have pick No. 1, followed by the Raiders. But a new team — the Jets — breaks into the top three on the draft board, pushing the Cardinals to fourth.
Three matchups to watch
Eagles (6-6) at Cowboys (7-4), Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET
Considering the state of the Redskins right now, this division will come down to the Eagles and Cowboys. Dallas took the first head-to-head between these NFC East rivals and currently sit in the No. 4 seed, but the Eagles can push them out of the playoff picture with a win in Round 2 this Sunday.
No berth is up for grabs just yet, but the winner of this one will be in prime position to pounce once it is. The result of this game will have far-reaching consequences around the league entire conference – just look at the various clinching and elimination scenarios above. If the contest ends in a tie? All hell breaks lose in the playoff picture.
Rams (11-1) at Bears (8-4), Sunday 8:20 p.m. ET
This is a huge test for both contenders, with one of the league’s most dynamic offences meeting one its fiercest defences. This game would be must-watch material even without the playoff implications. The playoff-bound Rams are looking to clinch a first-round bye while Da Bears can’t clinch anything just yet but can confidently make plans to watch football in the new year.
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s likely return from a shoulder injury makes this one extra enticing for Chicago faithful. A win on the Sunday night stage keeps the Vikings at an arm’s length, while a loss would leave a little window of opportunity for Minnesota to claim the division down the stretch.
Speaking of the Vikings…
Vikings (6-5-1) at Seahawks (7-5), Monday 8:15 p.m. ET
Three straight wins has the Seahawks in the post-season picture with plenty of momentum heading into Monday night’s showdown at home. Minnesota needs to rebound from a disappointing outing against New England if they want to hang onto that sixth seed or have any hopes of catching up to the Bears. Vikings fans should be watching the Panthers (at Browns) closely, as Carolina will be in a position to pounce on that No. 6 spot should the Vikings lose Monday night.