Image of the NFL playoffs: mapping the paths that remain for each team


Three of the 14 NFL playoff slots go unclaimed heading into the final weekend of regular season games.


In the AFC, five teams – the Steelers, Ravens, Colts, Chargers and Raiders – vie for two postseason spots, and the No.1 seed remains open, a competition mostly between the Titans and the Chiefs.

In the NFC, the Packers clinched the seed and home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs. The last NFC place in the playoffs will go to the Saints or the 49ers.

As the games unfold, the different scenarios can get quite confusing, even for people trying to explain them to you live on TV. So we’ve created these charts that map out the playoff paths that remain for each team. They list all the ways a team can advance to the playoffs – or be knocked out. Tree diagrams start with a particular team and then list potential game outcomes that might be important to them, in chronological order from left to right.

We’ll update them throughout the weekend, and they’ll all tie into our interactive playoff simulator, which lets you explore any storyline.

A note: the text does not take into account the links. But we’ve included a button with each tree if you’d like to explore how ties affect each team’s playoff path.



AFC East

Best possible result: N ° 3

The worst possible outcome: n ° 7

The Bills are in the playoffs but need a win to secure their second straight division title and field advantage in the playoff wildcard round. Lucky 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 drop all the way to No.7 as the AFC’s last team in the playoffs, visiting the seeded n ° 2.

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Best possible result: n ° 2

The worst possible outcome: n ° 7

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

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AFC North

Best possible result: n ° 2

The worst possible outcome: Number 4

The Bengals won the AFC North and clinched a playoff berth. Their best case scenario is to earn the No.2 seed, which requires a Bengals win, a Titans loss, and a Bills or Dolphins win.

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Best possible result: n ° 7

The worst possible outcome: Outside

The Steelers’ chances are slim: they have to win and hope the Colts lose to the Jaguars. If that happens, the Steelers will be the No.7 seed, the AFC’s final playoff team. (In the extremely unlikely event of a Jaguars victory and a Chargers-Raiders tie, the Steelers will be eliminated.)

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Best possible result: n ° 7

The worst possible outcome: Outside

As with the Steelers, the Ravens’ playoff hopes hinge on a victory and an unlikely victory for the Jaguars over the Colts. But they would still need help, in the form of a Patriots win and a Raiders win. Those things could happen, making the Ravens the No.7 seed, but they’re much more likely to be eliminated whether or not they beat the Steelers on Sunday.

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AFC South

Best possible result: n ° 1

The worst possible outcome: Number 4

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

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Best possible result: N ° 5

The worst possible outcome: Outside

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

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AFC West

Best possible result: n ° 1

The worst possible outcome: n ° 2

By beating the Broncos on Saturday, the Chiefs made sure they couldn’t 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 result: N ° 5

The worst possible outcome: Outside

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

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Best possible result: N ° 5

The worst possible outcome: Outside

Like the Colts, Ravens and Chargers, the Raiders must win to land 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 hadn’t happened for two months.

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NFC East

Best possible result: n ° 2

The worst possible outcome: Number 4

The Cowboys’ decisive victory over the Eagles on Saturday night kept their (slim) No.2 or No.3 seeded hopes alive. They won the NFC East and will likely host the No.5 seed as the No.4 seed. Their Week 18 opponents, the Eagles, also landed a playoff berth, as a team. wild-card, regardless of the outcome of the match.

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Best possible result: Number 6

The worst possible outcome: n ° 7

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

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NFC North

The Packers clinched the No.1 seed and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Their game against the Lions hardly makes sense to them. (However, the Lions are still in contention for the No. 1 draft pick. If they lose and the Jaguars win, the Lions will own the worst record in the NFL.)

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NFC South

Best possible result: n ° 2

The worst possible outcome: Number 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 result: n ° 7

The worst possible outcome: Outside

The Saints need a win 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 result: n ° 2

The worst possible outcome: N ° 5

The Rams clinched a playoff berth, but can reach No.2 or drop as low as No.5 depending on the outcome of the weekend’s games. A win earns a division title and a field advantage for at least the first two games of the playoffs.

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Best possible result: n ° 2

The worst possible outcome: N ° 5

Like the Rams, the Cardinals are in the playoffs and have a chance to win the division on Sunday. For that to happen, they have to 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 result: Number 6

The worst possible outcome: Outside

A win would make the 49ers the third team in the NFC West playoffs, after the Rams and Cardinals, but they would still advance with a loss if the Saints lost as well.

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