NFL Playoff and Tiebreaker Breakdown: Eagles Alive, AFC South Wide Open


The early afternoon schedule for Week 16 turned into chaos and comebacks. The Colts rallied back to win after trailing all game. The Texans rallied to take the lead, only to have Nick Foles come up with some more heroics to keep the Eagles alive. The Cowboys, Patriots, and Vikings also came up with big wins. So let’s assess where we are [now updated to include all of Week 16].

Here’s what we know:

In the AFC, the Chiefs, Chargers, Texans, and Patriots (as AFC East champs) are in the playoffs. The Ravens, Steelers, Titans, and Colts are still alive for the remaining two slots as AFC North champs, AFC South champs, or the second wildcard.

In the NFC, all the division titles are decided, with the Cowboys winning the NFC East by beating the Bucs today. The Saints, Rams, Bears, and Cowboys will all be hosting playoff games. The Seahawks also clinched a wildcard spot with the win over Kansas City.

Two teams are battling for the NFC’s final wildcard spot. The Vikings (8-6-1) lead the Eagles (8-7) entering Week 17, so a Minnesota win puts them in.

Here’s what remains:

AFC West: Kansas City wins the division and gets the #1 seed by beating Oakland at home. The Chargers would need the Chiefs to lose to Oakland, and beat Denver in Week 17, or they will be the #5 seed. The AFC West champ is guaranteed the #1 seed as long as they finish better than 11-5.

AFC North: The Ravens win the North if they beat the Browns. Pittsburgh needs to beat Cincinnati and have Baltimore lose to Cleveland.

AFC South: The Texans clinched a playoff spot with the Pittsburgh loss but have not clinched the division. The Colts and Titans are both at 9-6 and play each other next week. The Texans win the division by winning or tying against the Jaguars, or having the Colts/Titans end in a tie.

If the Texans lose next week, they will lose out to the Colts/Titans winner based on the division record tiebreaker. The Colts or Titans need to win and have the Texans lose to be the division champs.

AFC Byes: The AFC West winner gets a bye with one more win, so either the Chargers or Chiefs get to 12 wins they are the #1 seed. The Patriots get the bye (thanks to their head-to-head win over the Texans in Week 1) if they win next week against the Jets. The Texans get the bye with a win, and a Patriots loss (or with the Chiefs losing out, the Chargers losing, and then winning the “strength of victory” tiebreaker). The Patriots could still get the #1 seed with a win, coupled with the Chargers and Chiefs both losing.

But hold on, there’s more. The AFC North champ can still get a bye if it’s the Ravens. They need to win, and they can get a bye if the Patriots lose and the AFC South winner is 10-6. The Colts cannot get a bye because they would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Patriots at 10-6, and lose a three-way involving the Ravens as well. The Titans could still get a bye if they win, and if the Pats lose, the Texans lose, and the Ravens lose.

Wildcard Slot: The Titans/Colts winner will get the second wildcard. The only way that neither of them makes the playoffs is by tying the game combined with a Pittsburgh win.

The Steelers cannot get the wildcard unless the Colts/Titans game ends in a tie. The Colts would win the tiebreaker over the Titans at 9-6-1 in that event, and the Steelers would win a tiebreaker at 9-6-1 with the Colts based on the common games tiebreaker.

NFC Byes: The Saints clinched the #1 seed with their win over Pittsburgh on Sunday.

The Rams get a bye if they win in Week 17 against San Francisco, or if the Bears lose to the Vikings. The Bears need to win and have the Rams lose a game. The Cowboys cannot get a bye and are now locked in to the #4 seed.

NFC Wildcards: Seattle is in, so it comes down to Minnesota and Philadelphia. That means the Eagles only make it if they beat Washington and the Vikings lose to the Bears in Week 17. Minnesota is in with a win or an Eagles loss or tie.