NFL Playoff Picture: Week 16 upsets shake up the playoff standings

Week 16 provided some shocking outcomes that will surely have a massive impact on the final standings around the NFL. While the New York Jets haven’t had much to play for all season, they’ve relished the opportunity to mess up other team’s playoff hopes. The Pittsburgh Steelers finally regained their footing, after going on an unexpected three game losing streak. And the Seattle Seahawks were able to wrap up the NFC West. Let’s dive in and take a league-wide look at the current playoff bracket, and the Week 17 matchups that could change everything. (To see last week’s standings, click here)


  1. Kansas City Chiefs: 14-1, 1st in AFC West, Clinched #1 Seed (-)

The Chiefs barely scraped by with a win against the Atlanta Falcons, and were able to lock up the #1 seed in the AFC for good. The Chiefs were certainly not in top form against Atlanta, but they will have two weeks to rest up and recover before their first matchup, as they can rest their starters next week, and get a bye week in the first round. The Chiefs are in good position to become the first repeat champions since the 2003-04 Patriots.

2. Buffalo Bills: 12-3, 1st in AFC East, Clinched Division (-)

The Bills have successfully kept the Steelers at bay for another week, as they were able to dispatch the New England Patriots with ease. The Bills now head into a Week 17 matchup against the Dolphins, and will just have to win to stay in the #2 seed. The Steelers have a difficult matchup against the Browns as well, so that could play a factor in who ends up with the #2 seed. The Dolphins are also going to be playing for a playoff spot of their own, so it won’t necessarily be easy for the Bills to stay in the #2 seed. The Bills can only fall as low as the #3 seed, but they would ideally like to find themselves in the #2 seed after Week 17.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers: 12-3, 1st in AFC North, Clinched Division (-)

The Steelers looked like they were headed for their fourth consecutive loss, but staged a furious rally in the second half against the Colts to avoid a potential catastrophe. They will play the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 in a matchup that is sure to have massive playoff implications. Pittsburgh is locked in a seeding battle with the Bills, as they would have to beat Cleveland and have Buffalo lose to the Dolphins in order for them to get the #2 seed. Regardless of the results of Week 17 play, the Steelers also cannot fall lower than the #3 seed, and will look to gather some momentum as they head into the playoffs.

4. Tennessee Titans: 10-5, 1st in AFC South (-)

The Titans didn’t play like a playoff team in their loss to the Packers, but fortunately for them, it didn’t come back to bite them…yet. The Colts lost earlier in the day to the Steelers, which would have allowed the Titans to clinch the AFC South had they won. The Colts result ultimately made the Titans loss to the Packers insignificant for the time being. The Titans wrap up their season against the Houston Texans, and the stakes are relatively high. If the Titans win, they are in. If not, they could end up swapping spots with the Colts, and be out of the playoffs.

5. Miami Dolphins: 10-5, 2nd in AFC East (+2)

The Miami Dolphins miraculously escaped their matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders with a win, and were rewarded by moving up two spots in the wild card standings with the Browns and Colts losing their games. The Dolphins face a tough task against the Bills in Week 17, and the Bills will be playing for the #2 seed. The Dolphins hold the tiebreaker over all the other wild card teams, so if they do lose, they would only need one of the other teams to lose in order for them to stay in the playoffs. The Dolphins padded their standing in the wild card race for now, but could see it be for nothing if they don’t win against the Bills.

6. Baltimore Ravens: 10-5, 2nd in AFC North (+2)

The Ravens have been under the impression they would have to win out in order to make playoffs for some time now, and it finally paid of this past week. Facing a depleted Giants squad, the Ravens controlled the game throughout, and were also able to move up two spots due to the Browns and Colts losing. The Ravens finish off the season against the Cincinnati Bengals, and they should be able to win and hold onto their wild card spot, while also potentially moving up in the standings again.

7. Cleveland Browns: 10-5, 3rd in AFC North (-2)

The Browns were hit hard by COVID protocols, and subsequently coughed up a supposed easy victory over the New York Jets. The Browns playoff hopes are on life support now as a result. The Browns take on the Steelers next week, and will need to pull out a win in order to be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. The Browns have arguably the most difficult matchup of the AFC wild card teams, and their loss against the Jets could cost them their spot in the playoffs.

IN THE HUNT: Indianapolis Colts (10-5)

The Colts had everything lining up perfectly for them at the end of the first half. Had they won against the Steelers they would have boosted themselves all the way into the #3 seed. Instead, they threw away the game, and find themselves on the outside looking in. The Colts should have an easy win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, so they will be hoping one of the teams ahead of them will slip up and lose. The Colts are also in the unique position of still being able to win the AFC South, so they still have a few avenues to the playoffs.


  1. Green Bay Packers: 12-3, 1st in NFC North, Clinched #1 Seed (-)

The Packers throttled the Titans to officially claim the #1 seed in the NFC, as they hold the tie breaker over the Saints. The Packers can rest their starters for the next two weeks before they head into their first matchup after a bye week in the first round. The Packers are in a prime position to make another run to the Super Bowl in the Aaron Rodgers era.

2. New Orleans Saints: 11-4, 1st in NFC South, Clinched Division (-)

The Saints allowed Alvin Kamara and his six TD day to keep them in the #2 seed for the time being. The Saints will finish off the season with a rather winnable game against the Carolina Panthers, and if they win it, they will hold the #2 seed heading into the playoffs. The Saints can only fall to the #3 seed even if they lose, so they will look to fine tune their team as they move into the playoffs.

3. Seattle Seahawks: 11-4, 1st in NFC West, Clinched Division (-)

The Seahawks won a crucial bout against the Rams to officially secure the NFC West, and kept themselves firmly entrenched in the #3 seed. The Seahawks are going to need the Saints to lose in order for them to move up to the #2 seed, but they shouldn’t necessarily bank on it considering the nature of the Saints matchup. The Seahawks face off against the injury plagued San Francisco 49ers and should be able to win that matchup themselves, but it won’t matter if the Saints win.

4. Washington Football Team: 6-9, 1st in NFC East (-)

The Football Team lost, but still find themselves atop the treacherous NFC East. The Football Team is probably going to need Alex Smith to be healthy in order to win their upcoming game against the Eagles, as Jalen Hurts has helped the Eagles look somewhat competent as of late. If the Redskins lose, they would lose hold of the NFC East to whoever ends up winning the Cowboys-Giants contest. It is very literally win and you are in, lose and you are out for the Football Team at this stage of the season.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10-5, 2nd in NFC South, Clinched Playoff Berth (+1)

The Buccaneers destroyed the Detroit Lions, and were able to pass the Rams in the wild card standings in the process. The Bucs were able to clinch a playoff berth as a result of the win, and are locked into either the #5 or #6 seed. The #5 seed will play the winner of the NFC East, so there is an added incentive for the Bucs to win on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. The Bucs should be able to pull this one out, and would face an easier matchup than the other teams in the first round.

6. Los Angeles Rams: 9-5, 2nd in NFC West (-1)

The Rams had a huge chance to jump up in the playoff picture, but failed to seize the opportunity. Now the Rams will fight for their life against the Cardinals in what may be the biggest matchup of Week 17. If the Rams win, they are in. If they lose, they could potentially fall out of the playoffs. The Rams would lose the divisional tiebreaker to the Cardinals, and the Bears if they win too. The Rams will be without their starting quarterback in Jared Goff, but the Cardinals may be to. It is going to be a must watch matchup that will have huge implications in playoff seeding.

7. Chicago Bears: 8-7, 2nd in NFC North (+1)

The Bears continued their winning streak against the Jaguars with relative ease, and moved into the #7 seed with the Cardinals losing to the 49ers. Chicago now heads into their biggest game of the year against the Green Bay Packers. The Bears could be in luck though, as the Packers have nothing left to play for, and could rest their starters, which would make their job that much easier. If the Bears lose, they would have to hope the Rams could defeat the Cardinals in order for them to stay in the wild card. The Bears look to have good odds to be playing in the postseason after this weekend.

IN THE HUNT: Arizona Cardinals (8-7), Dallas Cowboys (6-9), New York Giants (5-10)

The Cardinals threw away a winnable game against the 49ers, and saw Kyler Murray get injured in the process. Despite all this, all the Cardinals need to do is beat the Rams and they will sneak back into the playoffs. In the NFC East, the Cowboys and Giants still find themselves alive somehow. They will both be eliminated if the Redskins win, but if they lose, all the focus shifts on this game. Whichever team wins this game would end up winning the NFC East and somehow wind up in the playoffs. A lot is up for grabs at the back of the NFC, and it will be fascinating to watch how it unfolds during Week 17.

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