All the NFL Playoff Scenarios After a Wild and Crazy Sunday Afternoon With Three Huge Upsets


It was a wild Sunday afternoon in the NFL, where some games that looked like mismatches turning out to be anything but. The Kansas City Chiefs managed to hold off a late attempt by Cleveland, who were big underdogs, but three other teams lost as favorites of a touchdown or more:

  • Carolina’s perfect season came to a crashing halt with a loss at Atlanta, and as a result, the Panthers still have work to do in week 17, and the Falcons’ slim hopes remain alive;
  • Pittsburgh lost at Baltimore, flipping the AFC wildcard race as the Jets beat the Patriots. Now, it is Pittsburgh that needs lots of help next week;
  • Seattle lost at home to St. Louis, getting swept by the Rams this year. As a result, they no longer control their own destiny in getting the 5th seed, and Atlanta stayed alive heading into tonight.

Those three upsets match the following December weekends of the last decade when there were three huge upsets in one weekend (via

  • Week 16, 2013
  • Week 15, 2013
  • Week 16, 2010
  • Week 16, 2009
  • Week 15, 2009 (4 upsets of 7+ point favorites)
  • Week 15, 2007

Let’s go through all the playoff scenarios heading into the Sunday Night Game between the Vikings and Giants (and tomorrow’s Cincinnati-Denver game).


A Minnesota Vikings win over the Giants would clinch a playoff spot for the Vikings and eliminates the Falcons, cementing the identity of all six teams who are in the NFC postseason.

#1 Seed/#2 Seed– Carolina and Arizona have both clinched first round byes. Carolina is the #1 seed with a win over Tampa Bay, or an Arizona loss to Seattle next week. Arizona needs to win and have Carolina lose.

# 3 Seed/NFC North Champ– Minnesota clinches the playoff spot with a win tonight, but regardless of tonight’s result, next week’s game between the Vikings and Packers will be for the NFC North and the #3 seed. Green Bay would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with a sweep, while the Vikings would hold the division tiebreaker if they split and finish with same record.

#4 Seed– Washington is locked in as NFC East champion.

#5 Seed and #6 Seed-– Green Bay can fall no further than the 5 seed, with a loss at home to Minnesota because of the win over Seattle earlier this year.

Seattle gets the 5 seed with a win over Arizona, and a Minnesota loss to Green Bay (regardless of tonight’s result). Seattle can also get the 5 seed if Minnesota loses both games.

Minnesota can only get the 5 seed with a win tonight, a loss to Green Bay, and a Seattle loss to Arizona.

Atlanta can get the 6 seed with a win next week, two Minnesota losses, and Seattle losing at Arizona.


#1 Seed/#2 Seed– New England (East) and Cincinnati (North) have clinched divisions. New England is also assured a bye, and can still clinch the #1 seed with a win over Miami next week. New England wins any tiebreaker over Cincinnati, and a three-way tiebreaker at 12-4 with Denver at Cincinnati, but would lose a tiebreaker to Denver alone at 12-4.

Cincinnati and Denver is likely for a bye. Cincinnati clinches the bye with a win directly. Denver would still need to win the AFC West with a week 17 win to get the bye.

AFC West– The winner will be no worse than the #3 seed. Denver wins the division by winning out. If Kansas City wins in week 17 at home to Oakland, and Denver loses one of the last two games, the Chiefs win the division. A Kansas City loss also gives Denver the division, unless they lose both. The AFC West will not be clinched before week 17.

#4 Seed/AFC South– Houston has not officially clinched. But they do so with ANY of these results, because of Strength of Victory or Strength of Schedule tiebreakers: Bengals over Broncos, Titans over Colts, Texans over Jaguars, Chiefs over Raiders, Bengals over Ravens, Chargers over Broncos, Saints over Falcons, Jets over Bills, Browns over Steelers, Patriots over Dolphins.

So yeah, it’s basically over.

#5/#6 Seeds– Kansas City is in the playoffs. The remaining two spots come down to Denver (in with a win tomorrow), the Jets, and the Steelers.

New York is in with a win at Buffalo. Pittsburgh needs to win and have the Jets lose, or have Denver lose twice. Denver is in with one more win.