As N.F.L. teams prepare for the newly added 17th regular-season game this weekend, some are safely in the playoffs, some are out and some are really, really out. Some are jockeying for postseason seeding. And most intriguingly, a handful of teams are facing the highest stakes of all: playing in win-or-go-home games. Here are the stakes of this weekend’s games for the teams still in the playoff mix.
N.F.C. Playoff Scenarios
Six of the seven playoff teams have been determined. But one divisional race and a wild-card spot are still up in the air.
The Packers (a league-best 13-3) have clinched the top seed in the conference, and the only bye, behind yet another great season by Aaron Rodgers, 38. It’s their third straight season at 13-3 (although this year they have one more game to play). In each of the last two seasons they lost in the conference championship game.
The Super Bowl champion Buccaneers (12-4) and the Cowboys (11-5) have clinched their divisions — the N.F.C. South and East, respectively — although they won’t get a bye. At age 44, Tom Brady seems to lead the league in almost everything, including yards, completions and touchdowns.
The veteran-laden Rams (12-4) are in the driver’s seat to win the N.F.C. West. Los Angeles will take the prize with a win against the 49ers at home or a loss by the Cardinals (11-5) to the Seahawks. But should the Rams lose and the Cardinals win, Arizona would get the crown based on a better divisional record. Whichever team does not win has still clinched one of the three wild-card spots. The Cardinals will be returning to the playoffs after a five-season absence.
2021 N.F.L. Season News and Analysis
- Week 17 Takeaways: What we learned this week in the N.F.L.
- Antonio Brown’s Bizarre Exit: Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians indicated the team would cut the troubled receiver.
- The Dolphins Come Back to Earth: Miami’s seven-game winning streak ended with a 34-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
- Giants, Jets Overshadowed in Losses: Mike Glennon was sacked four times in a loss to the Bears, and the Jets got Tom Brady’ed.
- Playoff Simulator: Explore every team’s path to the postseason, updated live.
The Eagles (9-7) have also clinched a wild-card spot, bouncing back after a 4-11-1 season.
The third and final wild-card spot comes down to the 49ers (9-7) and the Saints (8-8), and the Saints have a solid chance to sneak in. If the Saints beat the already-eliminated Falcons and the 49ers lose at the Rams, then New Orleans will grab the spot with a better conference record. With the Rams still looking to clinch the division, it seems likely they will play their starters and take the game seriously, which could be bad news for the Niners.
Every other N.F.C. team is out.
A.F.C. Playoff Scenarios
The situation is a little messier in this conference, with the No. 1 seed still undetermined and several teams holding long-shot playoff hopes.
The Titans and the Chiefs are both 11-5, but the Titans are in pole position for the top seed and the lone bye. The Titans hold the tiebreaker after beating Kansas City head-to-head, 27-3, in Tennessee in October. Kansas City could still grab the No. 1 seed and the bye by winning at Denver on Saturday if the Titans blow their game at the Texans the next day. Tennessee and Kansas City are assured of winning the A.F.C. South and West, respectively, no matter what happens.
The Bengals (10-6) have clinched the A.F.C. North. Cincinnati does have a very, very long-shot chance for the bye: They would have to beat the Browns and have both Kansas City and Tennessee lose to sub- .500 opponents. Even if all that happened, the Bengals would also need either the Bills to beat the Jets (at least that one is likely), or the Dolphins to beat the Patriots. The New York Times’s Playoff Simulator gives them a 4 percent chance.
Both the Bills and the Patriots will make the playoffs, and either could still win the A.F.C. East division. The Bills (10-6) are heavy favorites, though. To take the title, they must only beat the Jets at home, as 17-point favorites. The Patriots (also 10-6, but with a worse divisional record) must beat the Dolphins at Miami and have the Bills somehow lose.
That leaves two more wild-card spots.
The Sunday night game between two 9-7 teams, the Chargers and the Raiders, is a pure playoff qualifier; the winning team is in. The Raiders have a backdoor way in as well, if both the Steelers and the Colts lose. The Chargers don’t have that option.
The Colts (9-7) are in a good position, needing just a win over the hapless Jaguars to get in the playoffs as a wild card.
The Steelers (8-7-1) must beat the Ravens on the road and have the Colts somehow lose to the Jaguars.
And Ravens fans shouldn’t give up hope. Though just 8-8, the team could sneak into the playoffs with an unlikely parlay of a win over the Steelers plus losses by the Colts and the Chargers, and wins by the Bengals and the Patriots. So we’re saying there’s a chance!