What a thrilling Week 15! 5 teams punched their tickets to the postseason while 3 others were eliminated from contention.
We learned a lot last week. For example, Lamar Jackson with a sore quad is still better than 11 men dressed in hunter green.
We learned that when Drew Brees is playing in primetime and has a chance to set a record – you don’t bet against him!
▪️ 29/30, a single-game completion % record
▪️ 307 yards from 9 different receivers
▪️ 4 touchdowns, becoming the all-time TD leader
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 17, 2019
All those eagerly anticipating the demise of the Patriots dynasty will have to wait another week as New England put up 34 points on the road. Same goes for Jason Garrett’s time in Dallas – he survives for 7 more days.
The Bills and Texans are good – each won their biggest game of the year in Week 15 and could wreak some havoc in a wide-open AFC.
The AFC North, AFC West, and NFC South division races are locked up. The other 5 titles are up for grabs.
5 AFC teams remain in contention – battling for 2 open spots. In the NFC, 4 contending teams are duking it out for the final 2 spots.
With 32 regular season games remaining, there are 4.3 billion ways the final 2 weeks could play out.
Which of those 4.3 billion scenarios will see your favorite team getting into the playoffs? Who should you cheer for? Which teams should you bet? What needs to happen?
Buckle in. This is the Week 16 version of NFL Playoff Scenarios.
NFC Playoff Scenarios
The Saints have clinched the NFC South. San Fran, Seattle, and Green Bay are all guaranteed postseason berths. Minnesota, Dallas, Philly, and the Rams are all “in the hunt”.
First, let’s talk Wild Card Weekend byes. No team has locked up a bye in either conference. Here is the current NFC seeding after Monday night’s Saints win.
4 teams are deadlocked at 11-3 atop the NFC, but Seattle and Green Bay would get the byes if the season ended today due to tiebreakers.
5 teams – the Seahawks, Packers, Saints, 49’ers, and Vikings – are all still in contention for the top 2 seeds.
I will break down what needs to happen for each team to capture a first-round bye. I’ll start with the most unlikely candidate to receive a bye – just a 2% chance according to 538 – the Minnesota Vikings.
Vikings First-Round Bye Scenarios
At 10-4 and one game behind Green Bay in the North, chances are very slim that Minnesota snags a first-round bye. Here is the long list of things that need to occur for the Vikings to climb up 4 spots in the NFC standings. All of these must happen:
- Minnesota must beat Green Bay in Week 16
- You have to win your division to earn a bye. The Packers clinch the NFC North with either a win or tie against Minnesota. The Vikings are currently 4.5-point favorites on Bovada. The game is Monday night in Minneapolis. Minnesota has won their last 3 home games both SU and ATS versus GB.
- Detroit must beat or tie Green Bay in Week 17
- In other words, the Packers cannot win again. One more win clinches the North for GB.
- Minnesota must beat or tie Chicago in Week 17
- Winning out would put the Vikings at 12-4 and give them a 5% shot at a bye, but they could still sneak into the 2 seed with an 11-4-1 record.
- New Orleans needs to lose or tie in Week 17 at Carolina
- The 49’ers and Seahawks each have 11 wins. They play each other in Week 17. Barring a tie, one of them is guaranteed to get to 12 wins. The most wins Minnesota could get is also 12. The Vikings would lose tiebreakers with both SEA and SF, meaning one of those 2 teams is going to finish ahead of MIN. Because the NFC West leader is going to finish ahead of MIN, the Vikings would have to beat out NO for the 2nd seed. A win in Week 17 for New Orleans guarantees they finish ahead of Minnesota.
- IF Minnesota ties vs Chicago in Week 17, then New Orleans must either lose or tie vs Tennessee in Week 16 AND Green Bay must lose to Detroit in Week 17
Packers First-Round Bye Scenarios
At 11-3 and leaders of the NFC North, Green Bay controls their own destiny. The Packers clinch a first-round bye in the following scenarios:
- Green Bay wins out
- This would put GB at 13-3 and guarantee at least the 2 seed
- The Saints lose in Week 17 to Carolina AND Green Bay wins 1 more game OR ties each of their last 2 games
- This would guarantee the Packers beat New Orleans in a tiebreaker
- GB beats MIN in Week 16 AND SF beats SEA in Week 17 AND New Orleans loses to Carolina in Week 17
- This scenario could potentially put New Orleans, Seattle, and Green Bay in a tie for the 2 seed, which Green Bay would win
- GB beats MIN in Week 16 AND SF beats SEA in Week 17 AND New Orleans beats Carolina in Week 17 but loses to Tennessee in Week 16 AND Green Bay ties with Detroit in Week 17
- This would put GB at 12-3-1. Even with NO winning another conference game to improve to 12-4, the Vikings would sneak into the 2 seed
49’ers First-Round Bye Scenarios
At 11-3, the 49’ers are tied atop the NFC West with Seattle. This division race will likely come down to Week 17 when the two collide. Here is what needs to happen for SF to earn a first-round bye:
- The 49’ers win out
- This would give SF the division and a first-round bye.
- The 49’ers beat Seattle in Week 17 AND the Seahawks lose out AND either the Saints or Packers lose one game
- Since SF has beaten both the Saints and Packers, the 49’ers would win any tiebreaker involving those teams
- The 49’ers beat Seattle in Week 17 AND Green Bay beats Minnesota in Week 16 AND Green Bay beats or ties with Detroit in Week 17 OR the Saints and Redskins combine for at least 2 wins in the final 2 weeks
- If the 49’ers lose to the Rams in Week 16 but then beat Seattle in Week 17, the two will be tied at 12-4 (assuming Seattle beats Arizona in Week 16). SF and SEA would have identical H2H records, divisional records, records against common opponents, and conference records. The 5th tiebreaker is strength of victory. SF would need GB, NO, and WAS to play well to gain the edge in strength of victory over SEA.
Seahawks First-Round Bye Scenarios
Also at 11-3, the Seahawks are more likely to win the NFC West and get a bye due to their Week 10 victory over San Francisco. Here is what needs to happen for SEA to earn a first-round bye:
- The Seahawks win out
- This would give SEA the division and a first-round bye.
- The Seahawks beat the 49’ers in Week 17 AND Green Bay loses at least 1 game OR New Orleans loses out
- The Seahawks would win the West even if SF also finished 12-4 because Seattle won both H2H matchups. The Seahawks would win a tiebreaker with the Packers. The Seahawks lost to the Saints earlier this season so a tie would go to New Orleans. This is why New Orleans must lose out if the Packers win out.
- The Seahawks beat ARI in Week 16 but lose to SF in Week 17 AND the 49’ers lose to LAR in Week 16 AND a bunch of other stuff
- It would be quite unlikely (13% chance) for Seattle to nab a bye in this scenario. In the 49’ers section, I explored this exact scenario from the Niners’ perspective. The opposite would need to occur for Seattle to emerge with the bye.
Saints First-Round Bye Scenarios
Despite being seeded 3rd entering Week 16 and not controlling their own destiny for a bye, the Saints have the best chances (60%) of receiving a first-round bye of any team in the NFC. Here is what would need to happen for New Orleans to grab that bye:
- The Saints win out AND the Packers lose or tie at least 1 of their remaining 2 games
- The Saints beat Seattle earlier this season and would win a H2H tiebreaker with them. New Orleans would lose H2H tiebreakers to both San Francisco and Green Bay.
- The Saints beat Carolina in Week 17 AND Green Bay loses to Minnesota in Week 16
- This would put the Saints at 12-4 and ensure at least the 2 seed
- The Saints win one of their remaining 2 games and tie the other AND Green Bay loses at least 1 of their remaining 2 games
- The Saints beat Carolina in Week 17 AND Seattle beats SF in Week 17 AND Seattle loses to Arizona in Week 16
- Assuming the Packers win out and finish 13-3, GB would receive the 1 seed. NO and SEA would be tied at 12-4. The bye would go to New Orleans because of their H2H win.
- The Saints beat Tennessee in Week 16 AND Minnesota loses or ties at least 1 of their remaining 2 games AND the Packers lose out
- The Saints beat Tennessee in Week 16 AND Minnesota loses or ties at least 1 of their remaining 2 games AND Seattle loses to Arizona in Week 16 AND Seattle beats San Francisco in Week 17
- In this scenario, Green Bay would score the 1 seed. It is very important that the Saints tie with Seattle and not SF. If Seattle and New Orleans finish tied 12-4, the Saints get the bye. New Orleans would lose a H2H tiebreaker with SF.
Vikings – Rams Wild Card Chase
Either Philly or Dallas will mercifully host a playoff game – probably at 8-8. Other than the NFC East, Rams/Vikings is the only NFC playoff battle.
538 gives Minnesota a 97% chance to make the playoffs while LAR has just a 3% chance. The Vikings are 10-4 and even have a slim shot at the NFC North title. The Rams are 8-6 and need a lot of help to sneak into the 6 seed.
The scenario is simple. Here is what needs to happen for the Rams to play playoff football:
- The Rams win out AND the Vikings lose out
- This would put each team at 10-6. Since the Rams and Vikings did not meet this year, the tie would be broken by conference record. Losing out would put the Vikings at 7-5 in NFC play. Winning out would put the Rams at 8-4 – winning the tiebreaker.
AFC Playoff Scenarios
The Ravens have clinched the AFC North. The Chiefs have clinched the AFC West. New England and Buffalo have both clinched playoff berths and Houston has a 99% chance. Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Oakland are all “in the hunt”.
First, let’s talk Wild Card Weekend byes. No team has locked up a bye in either conference. Here is the current AFC seeding after Week 15.
Baltimore is extremely likely to grab a first-round bye. The Ravens just need to win or tie at least 1 of their remaining games. The other bye is still very much up for grabs – although the Patriots are the favorite to get it.
New England controls their own destiny. If the Pats slip up, the door is open for the other 3 bye contenders – Buffalo, KC, and Houston. Let’s start with the most unlikely scenarios – those that see Houston (<1% chance of getting bye) earning a bye.
Texans First-Round Bye Scenarios
At 9-5, 1st place in the AFC South, and 4th in the conference – Houston has a very slim chance of earning a first-round bye. A lot of things need to break the Texans’ way. Here they are:
- Houston wins out AND New England loses out AND Buffalo loses to the Jets in Week 17 AND Kansas City loses at least 1 of their remaining games
- Winning out is going to be a challenge in itself for Houston. The Texans are in Tampa this week. Jameis Winston has thrown for 450 yards in 2 straight games – the first QB in NFL history to ever do this. Bovada currently has Houston -3 (-120), but it’s not going to be a cakewalk at Raymond James.
- The most improbable aspect of this scenario is that New England must lose out. The Pats are favored by 6.5 points in Foxboro against the visiting Bills this week. You have to figure the Hoodie will be favored by at least 2 TDs against the Fins in Week 17.
- The Ravens would earn the 1 seed in this scenario. The Texans would be 2nd. It is impossible for Houston to pass Baltimore.
Bills First-Round Bye Scenarios
At 10-4, 2nd in the AFC East, and 5th in the conference, the Buffalo Bills have marginally better odds (2%) than Houston at grabbing a first-round bye. Remember, you must win your division to earn a bye. This means Buffalo needs to pass New England and get some extra help to snag a bye. Here is what needs to happen:
- The Bills win out AND New England loses or ties with Miami in Week 17 AND Kansas City loses or ties at least 1 of their remaining games
- Winning out is far easier said than done for Buffalo who travels to New England as 6.5-point dogs this weekend. Not only does Buffalo need to beat the Pats this weekend but the Dolphins need to rise up and knock off Brady as well. Not very likely …
- The Bills win out AND New England loses or ties with Miami in Week 17 AND Baltimore loses out
- This would put Baltimore and Buffalo both at 12-4. If Kansas City wins out, the Chiefs would also be 12-4. The Ravens beat Buffalo H2H this year. KC beat the Ravens H2H. The Bills and Chiefs did not play in 2019. If it is just Baltimore and Houston tied atop the conference, Baltimore would get the 1 seed, Houston the 2. If KC joins to make it a 3-way tie, Buffalo and KC would get the 2 byes and Baltimore would be the odd team out.
- This scenario is less likely than the previous one because now both NE and BAL must lose out. Chances are that neither will lose out.
Chiefs First-Round Bye Scenarios
At 10-4, winners of the AFC West, and 3rd in the conference, the Kansas City Chiefs hold a 21% chance of earning a first-round bye. KC does not control their own destiny. Here is what would need to happen:
- The Chiefs win out AND Baltimore loses out
- The Chiefs are at Chicago on SNF and at home against LAC for their final 2 games. KC is -6 (-110) for their primetime showdown with CHI. KC will also be favored in Week 17 against Old Man Rivers. Winning out will be tough but certainly doable. Baltimore losing out is the unlikely part of this scenario. The Ravens have Cleveland and Pittsburgh – two very winnable games for a club of Baltimore’s caliber.
- The Chiefs win out AND New England loses at least 1 of their remaining games
- Of all the scenarios that see the Chiefs earning a first-round bye, this one is the most probable. The Patriots don’t need to lose out – just lose to either Buffalo or the Jets.
- The Chiefs win 1 of their remaining 2 games AND New England loses out AND Buffalo loses in Week 17 to the Jets AND Houston loses at least 1 of their remaining 2 games
- If the Chiefs stumble in Week 16 in Chicago but beat LAC to finish 11-5 (or vice versa), KC can still grab a first-round bye. Andy Reid would need a whole lot of help in this scenario. Either way, it is not very likely for KC to get a bye. We will most likely see them on Wild Card Weekend.
Steelers Wild Card Scenarios
Pittsburgh cannot win their division, but the Steelers have a good shot (43%) at making the playoffs. Here is what needs to go down in the final 2 weeks to see PIT in the postseason:
- Steelers win out
- Simple as that. Pittsburgh controls their own playoff destiny. In Week 16, PIT has NYJ on the road – a very winnable game. In Week 17, Pittsburgh travels to Baltimore. The Ravens may be resting players that week if they already have home field locked up throughout the playoffs – which is a distinct possibility.
- Steelers win 1 of their remaining 2 games AND the Titans lose in Week 17 to Houston
- This scenario is relatively probable. It is important that Tennessee loses in Week 17 to Houston. If TEN loses in Week 16 to NO and then beats HOU, the Titans would win the H2H tiebreaker with Pittsburgh and take the 6 seed.
Browns Wild Card Scenarios
At 6-8, the Cleveland Browns are hanging onto their playoff hopes by an anemic thread. Everything needs to go Cleveland’s way if they are to somehow find themselves in the postseason. Here is the list:
- Cleveland wins out AND the Steelers lose out AND the Titans lose out AND the Colts win out
- Pretty bleak, but at least the Browns have a shot. I don’t think I need to convince anyone that this is an extreme longshot. The Colts must win out for tiebreaker purposes.
Raiders Wild Card Scenarios
Also at 6-8, the Raiders have the slimmest chance of reaching the postseason – even slimmer than Cleveland. CLE holds the H2H tiebreaker over OAK, meaning if each finished 8-8, Oakland would be eliminated. Here is what needs to shake out to see OAK in Wild Card Weekend:
- The Raiders win out AND the Browns lose or tie at least 1 of their remaining games AND the Titans lose out AND the Steelers lose out AND the Colts win out AND the Broncos beat or tie with Detroit in Week 16
- This scenario is very similar to the Brown’s Wild Card scenarios but includes even more criteria. If the Browns are a longshot, the Raiders are a head butt from full court while being double teamed.
The NFL season keeps getting better and better. Merry Christmas! See you on top!