What Every NFL Playoff Contender Is Playing for in Week 17
Plenty of NFL teams still have skin in the game heading into Sunday
When the Bengals take the field against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in Cincinnati, they will have literally nothing on the line. At 1-14 entering their Week 17 finale against the Browns, the Bengals have already clinched the worst record in the NFL and the right to draft LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick in April’s draft if they so choose.
Though their record is better than Cincinnati’s, the Browns (6-9) are also not playing for anything other than pride, as they’re officially out of the playoff race and, despite entering the season with Super Bowl aspirations, will end this campaign with a worse record than last season’s 7-8-1 mark.
Though it’s a poor position to be in, it’s far from a unique one in the NFL: plenty of teams, including the Falcons, Buccaneers, Jets and Colts, are already eliminated from the playoffs and don’t have much to play for in Week 17.
But, there are also plenty of teams that still do have a little, or a lot of, skin in the game heading into Week 17. So you know who they are and what they’re playing for, here’s a breakdown of every NFL playoff scenario entering Week 17.
Baltimore Ravens (13-2), No. 1 in AFC
With their win over the Browns in Week 16, the Ravens locked up the top seed in the AFC, which gets them a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. All they need to do in Week 17 is to stay healthy, so it’s likely many of Baltimore’s best players, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, will sit out of the Ravens’ season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
New England Patriots (12-3), No. 2 in AFC
The Patriots will lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye with a win over Miami. The Patriots can also secure a first-round bye if they lose and the Chiefs also lose, but they’ll likely treat their season finale like it’s a playoff game, so don’t expect Bill Belichick to rest anyone on Sunday.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4), No. 3 in AFC
Taking on the Chargers in Week 17, the Chiefs can move up to the No. 2 spot and secure a first-round bye if they win and the Patriots lose. If they win and New England does as well, Kansas City will remain in the No. 3 spot. And if the Chiefs lose and the Texans beat the Titans, Kansas City will fall to No. 4, while Houston will move up to No. 3. If things hold as is, the Chiefs will host the Titans, Steelers or Raiders in the first round of playoffs.
Houston Texans (10-5), No. 4 in AFC
Unless Kansas City loses and Houston beats Tennessee, the Texans are locked into the No. 4 spot as AFC South champions. If that position holds, they will host the Buffalo Bills on wildcard weekend.
Buffalo Bills (10-5), No. 5 in AFC
Win or lose in Week 17 against the New York Jets, the Bills are locked into the No. 5 spot in the AFC and will take on either the Texans or Chiefs to open the postseason.
Tennessee Titans (8-7), No. 6 in AFC
Despite losing two in a row, the Titans have actually improved their chances of making the playoffs over the past two weeks. To lock down the No. 6 slot and a game against the Chiefs to open the playoffs, the Titans need to beat the Texans in Week 17. Even if they lose, the Titans can still get in if the Steelers and Colts lose, as they own the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh based on strength of victory.
Pittsburgh Steelers, (8-7), Still Alive
Thanks to a loss to the Jets in Week 16, the Steelers no longer control their own destiny. To qualify for the postseason, the Steelers will need to beat the Ravens and have the Titans lose to the Texans. It’s complicated, but Pittsburgh can also get into the playoffs if they lose as long as the Titans, Bears, Lions, Chargers and Patriots all lose and the Colts win.
Oakland Raiders (7-8), Still Alive
It’s unlikely, but the Raiders can still make the playoffs based on strength of victory if they win over the Broncos on Sunday and the Steelers and Titans both lose. Oakland would also need the Colts to win over Jacksonville to create a four-way tie at 8-8 and give the Raiders the playoff spot based on a tiebreaker.
San Francisco 49ers (12-3), No. 1 in NFC
If the 49ers win in Seattle against the Seahawks, they’ll win the NFC West as well as lock up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Niners lose their finale, they will lose the division as well and fall all the way to the fifth or sixth seed in the NFC, meaning they’ll play on the road on wild-card weekend.
Green Bay Packers (12-3), No. 2 in NFC
With their win over the Vikings on Monday night in Minnesota, the Packers remained the No. 2 seed in the NFC. If Green Bay beats Detroit in Week 17, they could move as high as the No. 1 slot (if the Seahawks beat the 49ers). If they lose and the Saints win, they’ll fall out of the top 2 seeds and host a rematch against the Vikings on wild-card weekend.
New Orleans Saints (12-3), No. 3 in the NFC
Thanks to the Packers winning on Monday Night Football, the Saints remained the No. 3 spot in the conference for now, as Green Bay holds a better conference record. If they win against the Panthers in Week 17 and the Packers lose to the Lions, New Orleans will move back up to No. 2 spot and could move as high as No. 1 if the Seahawks beat the 49ers.
Philadelphia Eagles (8-7), No. 4 in NFC
Thanks to their win over the Cowboys in Week 16, the Eagles only have to beat the Giants in New York on Sunday to lock up their playoff spot by winning the NFC East. Even if they lose, the Eagles will still get in if the Cowboys lose to the Redskins in Dallas.
Seattle Seahawks (11-4), No. 5 in NFC
To win the NFC West, the Seahawks only need to defeat the 49ers at home in Week 17. To get the second seed and a first-round bye, the Seahawks need the Packers to lose to the Lions in Week 17. They cannot jump ahead of the Saints by virtue of losing to them in Week 3.
Minnesota Vikings, (10-5), No. 6 in NFC
With their loss to the Packers on Monday Night Football, the Vikings lost any shot to win the crown in the NFC North and will enter the playoffs as the sixth seed in the conference.
Dallas Cowboys (7-8), Still Alive
To make the postseason, the Cowboys need to win against the Redskins in Dallas in Week 17 and hope the Eagles lose to the Giants in New York. If both of those things don’t happen, they’re done.
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