Jonathan Dyer - USA TODAY Sports

NFL Playoff Picture: Week 15

Mark Menard
December 12, 2018 - 3:27 pm

AFC North


1) Pittsburgh somehow lost to Oakland. 2) Baltimore got nipped in overtime by Kansas City. 3) Cleveland beat Carolina. 4) Cincinnati fell to the LA Chargers.


#1 Pittsburgh (7-5-1), #2 Baltimore (7-6), #3 Cleveland (5-7-1), #4 Cincinnati (5-8)

When was the last time the Browns were the only team in the North to notch a win in any given week? Related question: When was the last time the Browns were anywhere other than last place in December? Credit Cleveland for making some serious strides this year. But what a rapid descent the Steelers have suddenly found themselves in. They could have had this division wrapped up in a neat little bow under the tree already and yet, with three games to go, everyone in the division is still alive somehow and Pittsburgh is in very real danger of missing the playoffs altogether.

Currently, Baltimore trails Pittsburgh by just a half-game. Cleveland is 2 games back while Cincinnati sits 2.5 games back with three games left to play.


Pittsburgh hosts New England. Baltimore hosts Tampa Bay. Cleveland travels to Denver on Saturday night. Cincinnati hosts Oakland.


AFC West


1) Kansas City slipped past Baltimore in overtime. 2) Los Angeles beat Cincinnati. 3) Denver stumbled against San Francisco. 4) Oakland upset Pittsburgh.


#1 Kansas City (11-2), #2 Los Angeles (10-3), #3 Denver (6-7), #4 Oakland (3-10)

We'll know in just a couple of days whether this division will be put to bed or in play right up until the final week of the season. With the Broncos and Raiders long gone, this is a two-team race, and those two teams are on a collision course on Thursday night. The Chargers trail Kansas City by just a game and can erase that deficit with a win in Arrowhead Stadium, ensuring that no one will lock the West up until all the games are played. A win for the Chiefs would give them the season sweep of the Bolts, a two-game edge, and the crown thanks to an insurmountable lead when factoring in the tiebreaker. We should be in for a great one on Thursday night.

One thing we do know: Kansas City clinched at least a playoff spot by winning this past weekend.


Kansas City hosts the LA Chargers. Denver hosts Cleveland. Oakland travels to Cincinnati.


KANSAS CITY can clinch the AFC East title with a win.


AFC East


2) Miami stunned 1) New England on a last-second miracle. 4) New York evened up the season series against 3) Buffalo.


#1 New England (9-4), #2 Miami (7-6), #3 Buffalo (4-9), #4) New York (4-9)

The warm weather doldrums tripped up the Patriots again. Tom Brady has always had December difficulties in Miami, and the Dolphins capitalized yet again, even if they needed a shocker of a play to do it. That means the Fins are still alive for the division title. They trail the Pats by 2 games with three to play.

The Bills hold the edge over the Jets thanks to a 1-3 divisional mark compared to 1-4 for New York, but both teams are already ousted from the race for the East.


New England travels to Pittsburgh. Miami travels to Minnesota. Buffalo hosts Detroit. New York hosts Houston.


NEW ENGLAND can clinch their 10th straight divisional title with

A win AND a Miami loss or tie

A tie AND a Miami loss.


AFC South


2) Indianapolis snapped 1) Houston's nine-game winning streak. 3) Tennessee took down 4) Jacksonville.


#1 Houston (9-4), #2 Indianapolis (7-6), #3 Tennessee (7-6), #4 Jacksonville (4-9)

Houston could have clinched the AFC South with a win over Indy and a Titans loss last week. They got neither. Now the South has tightened back up again. The Colts and Titans both sit just 2 games back of Houston with three to play. Indianapolis holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee after their Week 11 win over the Titans. The two will play the rematch in the season finale.


Houston travels to the NY Jets. Indianapolis hosts Dallas. Tennessee travels to the NY Giants. Jacksonville hosts Washington.


HOUSTON can clinch the AFC South title with

A win AND losses or ties by both Indianapolis AND Tennessee

A tie AND losses by both Indianapolis AND Tennessee




#1 Kansas City (11-2), #2 New England (9-4), #3 Houston (9-4), #4 Pittsburgh (7-5-1)

The Chiefs did themselves a huge favor by surviving in overtime over Baltimore, because all three other division leaders got upset in Week 14. Now it's a three-team race to the top of the conference since Pittsburgh can no longer catch K.C.

New England and Houston both now sit 2 games back of the Chiefs. The Patriots get the nod for the #2 seed and the first-round bye that goes with it thanks to a Week 1 head-to-head win over the Texans. Both teams likely need to win out to have any hope of grabbing the top slot, though the Chargers, with the second-best record in the conference, could help make things interesting and possibly even insert themselves into this race if they can take down the Chiefs on Thursday night.


KANSAS CITY can clinch a first-round bye with a win.

KANSAS CITY can clinch home-field advantage with a win AND a Patriots loss or tie.


NEW ENGLAND can clinch a playoff berth with

A win AND a Tennessee loss or tie

A tie paired with losses by Baltimore AND Tennessee AND an Indianapolis loss or tie


HOUSTON can clinch a playoff berth with:

            A win AND a Miami loss or tie AND a Pittsburgh loss

            A win AND a losses or ties by Miami AND Baltimore

            A tie AND an Indianapolis loss or tie AND losses by Baltimore AND Miami

            A tie AND an Indianapolis loss or tie AND losses by Pittsburgh AND Baltimore AND a Miami


            A tie AND a Tennessee loss or tie AND losses by Pittsburgh AND Baltimore AND a Miami tie

            A tie AND an Indianapolis loss or tie AND losses by Pittsburgh AND Miami AND a Baltimore


            A tie AND a Tennessee loss or tie AND losses by Pittsburgh AND Miami AND a Baltimore win




#1 Los Angeles (10-3), #2 Baltimore (7-6), #3 Indianapolis (7-6), #4 Miami (7-6), #5 Tennessee (7-6)

The Chargers have a major opportunity ahead of them on Thursday night. Not only can they pull into a tie atop the AFC West with the Chiefs with a win in Kansas City. They’d also secure their first playoff berth since 2013, ending a five-year postseason drought in their first season in the City of Angels.

Below the Bolts, there’s quite the jumble of teams all tied for the AFC’s final wild-card spot. The Ravens’ loss combined with wins by the Colts, Dolphins and Titans to leave four teams knotted up for one available seat at the table.

Baltimore still holds the spot for now, thanks to a 6-4 conference record and the always-exciting “common opponents” tiebreaker they hold over Miami, who also sit at 6-4 in AFC play. The Ravens and Dolphins each hold wins over the Bills, Titans and Raiders as well as a loss to the Bengals. But Baltimore, by virtue of playing Cincinnati twice, also holds a win over the Bengals. That 4-1 mark against common opponents, as opposed to simply 3-1 for Miami, is what puts Baltimore in the playoffs for now. (Note: The “common opponents” tiebreaker only comes into play when teams share four or more common opponents.)

By losing that tiebreaker to the Ravens, Miami gets pushed down another spot, thanks to their head-to-head loss to the Colts back in Week 12, which trumps the fact that they are just 6-5 in conference play and allows Indy to sit just behind Baltimore.

As for Tennessee, they’re ultimately hurt by their 5-6 conference record when compared to the other three teams.


LOS ANGELES can clinch a playoff berth with:

            A win or tie

            A Miami loss or tie AND a Pittsburgh loss

            Losses or ties by Miami AND Baltimore

            Losses or ties by Miami AND Indianapolis AND Tennessee

            Losses or ties by Indianapolis AND Tennessee AND a Pittsburgh loss

            Losses or ties by Indianapolis AND Tennessee AND Baltimore



#6 Denver (6-7) #7 Cleveland (5-7-1), #8 Cincinnati (5-8), #9 Buffalo (4-9)

#10 Jacksonville (4-9), #11 New York (4-9), #12 Oakland (3-10)

The only tie among teams below .500 is broken first by Buffalo’s divisional dominance over the Jets. From there it’s simple. Buffalo beat Jacksonville. Jacksonville beat the Jets. That gives you the order.

However, Oakland remains the only team mathematically eliminated in the AFC overall.


NFC North


1) Chicago shut down the LA Rams. 2) Minnesota got silenced by Seattle. 3) Green Bay overwhelmed Atlanta. 4) Detroit beat Arizona.


#1 Chicago (9-4), #2 Minnesota (6-6-1), #3 Green Bay (5-7-1), #4 Detroit (5-8)

Chicago made a statement this week with their defensive dominance over the Rams, then got gifted a Vikings loss that puts them on the brink of their first division title in eight years. The Bears win eliminated both the Packers and Lions from the divisional race and gives them a 2.5 game lead over their only remaining competition, Minnesota, with just three games left to play.


Chicago hosts Green Bay in divisional action. Minnesota hosts Miami. Detroit travels to Buffalo.


CHICAGO can clinch the North title with:

            A win

            A Minnesota loss

            A tie AND a Minnesota tie


NFC West


1) Los Angeles got humbled by Chicago. 2) Seattle beat Minnesota. 3) Arizona fell to Detroit. 4) San Francisco stunned Denver.


#1 Los Angeles (11-2), #2 Seattle (8-5), #3 Arizona (3-10), #4 San Francisco (3-10)

The Los Angeles Rams are the NFC West champion.

Arizona holds the tiebreaker for 3rd thanks to their season sweep of San Francisco.


Los Angeles hosts Philadelphia. San Francisco hosts Seattle in divisional action. Arizona travels to Atlanta.


NFC East


1) Dallas outlasted 2) Philadelphia in overtime. 4) New York dominated 3) Washington.


#1 Dallas (8-5), #2) Philadelphia (6-7), #3 Washington (6-7), #4 New York (5-8)

The Giants exploded for 40 points against decimated Washington, and for their troubles, they found themselves officially eliminated from the divisional race thanks to the Cowboys’ win. Washington doesn’t look to be too far behind after injuries after torpedoed what had been a promising season.

As for Dallas, their win over the Eagles has them on the brink of their second division title in three years. They lead both Philly and Washington by 2 games with just three to play.


Dallas travels to Indianapolis. Philadelphia travels to the LA Rams. Washington travels to Jacksonville. New York hosts Tennessee.


DALLAS can clinch the East title with:

            A win

            A tie AND loss or ties by Philadelphia AND Washington

            Losses by Philadelphia AND Washington


NFC South


1) New Orleans avenged their season-opening loss to 3) Tampa Bay. 2) Carolina lost in Cleveland. 4) Atlanta fell in Green Bay.


#1 New Orleans (11-2), #2 Carolina (6-7), #3 Tampa Bay (5-8), #4 Atlanta (4-9)

The Saints enjoyed yet another week where they won and everyone else in the South loses. You get enough of those and you get just what New Orleans got this weekend: A Black and Gold division championship. The Saints are now division winners for two straight years for the first time in team history.


Carolina hosts New Orleans in divisional play. Tampa Bay travels to Baltimore. Atlanta hosts Arizona.




#1 New Orleans (11-2), #2 Los Angeles (11-2), #3 Chicago (9-4), #4 Dallas (8-5)

Just one week after retaking the top spot from the Saints, the Rams gave it right back, opening a window of opportunity for the Bears in the process. The Saints’ Week 9 win over Los Angeles gives them the tiebreaker for the top spot.

Chicago now trails the Saints and Rams by just 2 games in pursuit of a first-round bye and the overall #1 seed. Dallas remains a long-shot at 3 games back with three to play.


NEW ORLEANS can clinch a first-round bye with:

            A win AND a Chicago loss or tie

            A tie AND a Chicago loss


LOS ANGELES can clinch a first-round bye with:

            A win AND a Chicago loss or tie

            A tie AND a Chicago loss


CHICAGO can clinch a playoff berth with:

            A tie

            A Washington loss or tie




#1 Seattle (8-5), #2 Minnesota (6-6-1), #3 Carolina (6-7), #4 Philadelphia (6-7), #5 Washington (6-7)

Early in the season, the NFC looked dominant and now, heading into Week 15 of the season, if you’re simply at .500 or better in the conference, you’re in the playoffs. Seattle’s win over the Vikings on Monday night gave them a commanding lead in the wild-card race, an amazing turnaround for a team that was once 4-5. They lead the Vikings by 1.5 games and everyone else by a full 2 games with three to play. They can punch their postseason ticket as early as this weekend.

As for everyone else, normally I characterize anyone below .500 as an afterthought, but I was forced to bump up a trio of 6-7 teams because they are not just the closest wild-card competition to Minnesota… they also all trail the Vikings by just a half-game.

For the tiebreakers, the Eagles hold the divisional edge over Washington, but lost head-to-head to Carolina back in Week 7.


SEATTLE can clinch a playoff berth with:

            A win

            A tie AND a Carolina loss or tie AND a Minnesota loss

            A tie AND losses or ties by Philadelphia AND Washington AND a Minnesota loss

            A tie AND losses or ties by Carolina AND Philadelphia AND Washington



#6 Green Bay (5-7-1), #7 Tampa Bay (5-8), #8 New York (5-8), #9 Detroit (5-8)

#10 Atlanta (4-9), #11 Arizona (3-10), #12 San Francisco (3-10)

The three 5-8 teams are separated by conference record: Tampa Bay – 4-6; New York – 4-7; Detroit – 3-7. Arizona swept San Francisco in two matchups this season, but while they rank ahead of the Niners, they still joined them as completely eliminated from the NFC playoff chase.

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