Playoff scenarios for Week 16 of the NFL season

With the 49ers’ loss to the Titans on Thursday night, the Cowboys clinched their first playoff spot since 2018, giving us a bit of postseason clarity in a season that has been very short on same. As we head into Week 16 in bunches, no AFC team has clinched a playoff spot, and only the Packers (who wrapped up the NFC North last week) and Cowboys have guaranteed options in the NFC.

Think it could get even weirder than that? You are absolutely correct, Dear Reader. Only three AFC teams (the Jaguars, Texans, and Jets) are eliminated from postseason contention in the AFC, and only the Lions and Bears (oh, my) are out in the NFC. With 27 teams examining their possibilities this week, here’s how the following teams can grab playoff berths and/or division titles.

New England Patriots

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

This one’s pretty simple. If the 9-5 Patriots beat the 8-6 Bills on Sunday, and the Dolphins lose to or tie with the Saints on Monday night, New England wins the AFC East and has an obvious playoff berth as a result.

The Patriots can also clinch a playoff berth in the following ways without a Miami loss or tie:

  1. NE win + LV loss or tie + LAC loss OR

  2. NE win + IND loss or tie + CIN loss OR

  3. NE win + IND loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie OR

  4. NE win + IND loss or tie + LAC loss OR

  5. NE win + BAL loss + CLE loss or tie + PIT loss or tie

Tennessee Titans

(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

The 10-5 Titans did their part in beating the 49ers on Thursday night. Now, if the Colts lose to the Cardinals on Christmas night, Tennessee wins the AFC South. Even if the Colts prevail, the Titans can enter the playoffs under the following scenarios:

  1. TEN win + MIA loss or tie + BUF loss + DEN loss or tie + CLE loss or tie + PIT loss OR

  2. TEN win + MIA loss or tie + BUF loss + DEN loss or tie + CLE loss or tie + BAL loss or tie

NOTE: There are other scenarios in which Tennessee can clinch a playoff berth that involve a Titans win, a Dolphins loss or tie, a Bills loss and a combination of other teams losing and various strength-of-victory clinchings.

Arizona Cardinals

(Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports)

If the 10-4 Cardinals beat the 8-6 Colts on Christmas night, not only do the Titans wrap up the AFC South, but Arizona also gate s playoff berth. The Cards also get a playoff berth if their game with the Colts ends in a tie.

Other playoff possibilities for Kliff Kingsbury’s team, which have been augmented by San Francisco’s loss to the Titans on Thursday night:

  1. PHI loss or tie + SF loss OR

  2. PHI loss or tie + MIN loss or tie OR

  3. PHI loss or tie + NO loss or tie OR

  4. MIN loss or tie + SF loss OR

  5. MIN loss or tie + NO loss or tie OR

  6. NO loss or tie + SF loss

Los Angeles Rams

(Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

If the 10-4 Rams beat the 7-7 Vikings on Sunday, they’re in the playoffs. They also get in if the Eagles lose to or tie with the Giants, and the Saints lose to or tie with the Dolphins.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The 10-4 defending champs, as injury-depleted as they are, can wrap up the NFC South if they beat or tie with the 5-9 Panthers, or if the Saints lose to or tie with the Dolphins.

Other playoff possibilities for the Bucs, without a division title:

  1. MIN loss or tie + PHI loss or tie OR

  2. MIN loss or tie + DAL win or tie OR

  3. MIN loss or tie + DAL clinches at least a tie in strength-of-victory tiebreaker over PHI

1

1