Week 17 is here and there’s still a lot on the line in the NFL playoff picture.
Aside from the Chiefs locking up the AFC’s No. 1 seed a week ago, there’ll still be movement everywhere else on a 16-game Sunday. Four teams that enter the final day with a chance will miss out. Two divisions are still up for grabs. The NFC’s lone first-round bye is still in play for three clubs. And there’s a Sunday Night Football game to decide one of the worst division winners (by record) in the modern playoff era.
Thankfully, the Sporting News experts are here to try and make some sense of things. Two of our writers have made NFL picks every week of the season, and they’re back in Week 17 with their straight-up and against-the-spread picks. Using those predictions, we can begin to paint a picture of what the expanded, 14-team playoff bracket will look like.
NFL playoff picture: AFC projections
Games remaining: vs. Chargers
Kansas City locked up the No. 1 seed and the only first-round bye in the AFC with a Week 16 win against Matt Ryan and the Falcons. With that seed clinched in Week 16, expect some stars to rest in Week 17 for Kansas City. It could be a heavy dose of backup quarterback Chad Henne against the Chargers. The Chiefs will play the winner for the No. 4 vs. No. 5 game in the second round.
Games remaining: vs. Dolphins
Buffalo fell temporarily to the No. 3 seed after Pittsburgh won Sunday, but the Bills moved back up with a Monday night win over the Patriots. Our picks are split on who will win between Buffalo and Miami, with the Dolphins’ strong defense providing a firm test in Week 17. Buffalo’s only loss since the start of November was on the “Hail Murray” play, so it’s very possible Josh Allen’s squad just keeps streaking. The Bills clinch the No. 2 seed with a win or a Pittsburgh loss.
Games remaining: at Browns
Losers of three-straight games, the Steelers had fallen from contention for the bye, but they bounced back with a Week 16 comeback win against the Colts. That clinched the AFC North for Pittsburgh. Now the Steelers play a Cleveland team that’ll get in with a win. The Steelers can only move up to the No. 2 seed with a win and Bills loss, but Pittsburgh can’t drop below the 3-seed.
Games remaining: at Texans
The Titans were handled by Green Bay on Sunday night, leaving Tennessee needing a win or Colts loss to secure the AFC South title. Our picks predict Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry to pull it off. Even if they don’t, there are a lot of ways for Tennessee to clinch a playoff spot in Week 17.
Games remaining: at Bills
The Dolphins can lock up a playoff spot with a Week 17 win over Buffalo. That’s thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s magic in Week 16 to comeback and beat the Raiders, a game in which a loss would’ve been devestating for Miami. Brian Flores did turn back to Tua Tagovailoa for this one, but our straight-up picks believe in Tua enough to anticipate a win and a first-round matchup with the AFC South champion.
Games remaining: at Bengals
The Ravens ascended from outside the playoff spots to the No. 6 seed thanks to losses by the Colts and Browns. The Bengals had a surprising win in Week 16 over the Texans, but Baltimore will be favored to make the postseason now for sure. Both our picks predict that to be the case, with Baltimore then finishing either as the No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
Games remaining: vs. Steelers
Now that Pittsburgh has locked up the AFC North, this game will be all about the Browns hanging on to their first playoff berth since 2002. Closing with two losses to miss the postseason would be very Browns. The Steelers will start Mason Rudolph, which gives our picks confident that Cleveland will sneak into the postseason.
NFL playoff picture: NFC projections
Games remaining: at Bears
The Packers looked dominant in beating the Titans on Sunday night, setting them up with a win and claim the bye scenario in Week 17. Our picks are predicting that Green Bay knocks Chicago out and claims that first-round bye for itself.
Games remaining: at Panthers
A win on Christmas behind six touchdowns from Alvin Kamara was enough to keep the Saints in the No. 2 seed, although there’s still some movement that could happen in the NFC. The Saints can still get the No. 1 seed if the Packers slip up, so expect a full effort chasing the lone bye against the Panthers.
Games remaining: at 49ers
Seattle clinched the NFC West by beating the Rams in Week 16. Seattle can’t fall below the No. 3 seed, but it has an outside chance at the No. 1 seed and the first-round bye. For that reason, expect full playing time from the Seahawks at least until it hears news of blowouts in another game ahead of them.
Games remaining: at Eagles
Washington was handled by Carolina in Week 16, and now the only way Washington makes the playoffs is with a Week 17 win against Jalen Hurts and the eliminated Eagles. If Washington loses, the winner of Cowboys-Giants will make the playoffs. It all comes down to a Sunday night game for the WFT’s playoff lives, and our straight-up picks predict they’ll get it done.
Games remaining: vs. Falcons
Tampa Bay can’t move up from the No. 5 seed, but Bruce Arians has already said he sees value in staying at No. 5 (hint: the 5-seed plays the NFC East winner in the first round). The Buccaneers got to sit Tom Brady in the second half of Week 16, anyway, and if he lights up a bad Atlanta secondary, he could get some rest time late again.
Games remaining: vs. Cardinals
The Rams can no longer win the NFC West. The Cardinals are still competing for a postseason spot, too. So this will be a must-win game for the Rams in Week 17 against Kyler Murray and company. Our picks predict the Rams won’t get the job done. If L.A. loses, it needs Chicago to also lose to remain in the postseason.
Games remaining: vs. Packers
The Bears control their own destiny in Week 17 after a Cardinals loss to the 49ers and a Chicago win over the Jaguars. If Mitchell Trubisky can lead an upset of the Packers, he’ll also get a chance to quarterback the Bears in the playoffs (and maybe beyond). But our picks expect Green Bay to win, and in that scenario, Chicago would need a Cardinals loss to get in.
Current NFL playoff picture
Here’s how the standings in both conferences break down entering Week 17, along with the other teams that have yet to be mathematically eliminated.
In the hunt: Colts (10-5)
In the hunt: Cardinals (8-7), Giants (5-10), Cowboys (6-9),
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