NFL playoff picture 2021 – Standings, brackets, scenarios after Chiefs-Chargers, plus Week 15 outlook


The daybreak of Week 15 introduced us one other shake-up within the AFC playoff picture. The Chiefs’ thrilling extra time victory Thursday night time over the Chargers elevated them to the conference’s No. 1 seed. The Patriots can regain that place with a victory Saturday over the Colts, however for just a few days at the very least, the Chiefs have returned to the spot they spent a lot of the earlier three seasons in.

Regardless, the NFL’s playoff area is extensive open with 4 weeks remaining within the common season. Of the league’s 32 groups, 26 are both in a playoff spot or inside one sport of a berth. There are 24 groups with at the very least six wins, probably the most in NFL historical past by 14 weeks of a season.

What follows is a preview of our weekly snapshot of the NFL’s playoff picture, incorporating ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) and a little bit of our personal instincts to present you a way of short- and lengthy-time period stakes. We’ve threaded playoff and/or division clinching scenarios for a handful of groups, and we’ll replace the way it all labored out on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Jump to: AFC | NFC


The Chiefs’ seventh consecutive win accomplished their journey from a shedding document to the highest spot within the AFC, even when it is short-term. Just as importantly, in addition they eradicated the opportunity of the Chargers holding a head-to-head tiebreaker within the AFC West race. That’s a very good factor, as a result of it is not just like the Chiefs have a straightforward schedule the remainder of the best way. They’re taking part in three AFC wild-card contenders, none of whom are more likely to be taking part in out the string: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Denver. Regardless, that is going to be enjoyable.

Next up: vs. Steelers (Week 16)

The Patriots acquired knocked out of the AFC’s prime spot by Thursday night time’s end result, however they’ll regain it with a win on Saturday. Now the Patriots head right into a two-week stretch that would effectively resolve the AFC East title. They may clinch the division in the event that they win Saturday at Indianapolis after which beat the Bills at dwelling in Week 16. To clinch a playoff berth in Week 15, the Patriots would want to win after which get losses from the Dolphins and Browns, after which losses from two of those groups: Ravens, Steelers, Bengals and Broncos.

Next up: at Colts

Tennessee may clinch the AFC South as early as this week with a win over the Steelers and a Colts loss to the Patriots. And the Titans will proceed to be in place to re-take the highest spot within the AFC. The Patriots at the moment maintain a bonus in convention document, however the Titans have the top-to-head tiebreaker with the Chiefs. Remember, the Titans have the NFL’s best energy of schedule the remainder of the best way; their remaining video games are towards the Steelers, 49ers, Dolphins and Texans.

Next up: at Steelers

The Ravens have had two consecutive AFC North losses and have fallen from the AFC’s prime seed to its fourth over the previous two weeks. Baltimore’s remaining schedule — towards the Packers, Bengals, Rams and Steelers — is among the many league’s hardest. Their lead within the AFC North is down to at least one sport, and whereas the FPI remains to be bullish on their playoff possibilities, it certain does not really feel just like the Ravens are a playoff staff in the meanwhile.

Next up: vs. Packers

The Chargers misplaced the largest sport they’ve performed in years on Thursday night time, however they’re again the place they began the night time: in a very good place for a wild-card playoff berth. It can be simply their second journey to the postseason previously eight years. They had a authentic probability to overhaul the Chiefs within the AFC West, and it stays a statistical risk, but it surely’ll require assist from a staff that has developed a bunch of expertise in closing out postseason place throughout the previous few years.

Next up: at Texans (Week 16)



Justin Herbert rips a cross to Keenan Allen for the landing late within the fourth quarter.

The AFC South title is likely to be past their grasp — the Titans are primarily up three video games with 4 remaining due to their head-to-head sweep — however the Colts at the moment are in good place for one of many AFC’s three wild-card spots. They’ll must run a tough gauntlet over the following two weeks, nevertheless, with video games towards the Patriots and Cardinals, earlier than ending with matchups towards the Raiders and Jaguars. A 2-2 cut up in these video games is likely to be sufficient.

Next up: vs. Patriots

In a matter of weeks, the Bills have gone from the highest of the AFC East to barely clinging to a playoff spot. They’re definitely not getting the outcomes you’d anticipate for a staff with designs on a deep playoff run, however solely one in all Buffalo’s losses has been by multiple rating. The Bills have just one sport remaining towards a staff with a profitable document — the Patriots in two weeks — and the FPI remains to be giving Buffalo a very good probability to hold onto one of many wild-card spots.

Next up: vs. Panthers

In the AFC hunt

Cleveland Browns (7-6)

The Browns managed a season cut up with the Ravens, eliminating a head-to-head tiebreaker with them if it had been to return to that for an AFC North title. Yes, the Browns are in each the divisional and wild-card combine. They get the Raiders on Saturday at dwelling.

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)

The Bengals’ playoff possibilities have taken an enormous hit with consecutive losses to the Chargers and 49ers. They’ll face one other contending staff (Denver) on Sunday.

Denver Broncos (7-6)

The Broncos have now received 4 of their previous six video games and have an opportunity to leap one other playoff contender once they tackle the Bengals on Sunday afternoon.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)

The Steelers’ remaining schedule is fairly brutal, with video games towards the Titans, Chiefs, Browns and Ravens awaiting. The solely factor left now, it seems, is their inevitable elimination from playoff rivalry.


The Cardinals’ loss to the Rams on Monday elevated the Packers to the highest of the NFC, courtesy of the top-to-head tiebreaker. And the excellent news can proceed this week. The Packers will clinch the NFC North in the event that they beat the Ravens or if the Vikings lose to the Bears. And if the Vikings beat the Bears, the Packers can nonetheless clinch a playoff spot if the Saints and 49ers lose. The Packers have just a few areas to shore up, most notably their particular groups, however in a flawed league, they’ve nearly as good of an opportunity as any staff to make a deep playoff run.

Next up: at Ravens

The Cardinals’ loss Monday night time allowed the Buccaneers to maneuver up a spot, and Week 15 brings some clinching scenarios for Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers may safe each a playoff berth and the NFC South with a win at dwelling towards the Saints. They can also clinch a playoff berth with losses by the Vikings and 49ers. It’s value noting, after all, that the Saints have received all three common-season matchups between these two groups since Tom Brady signed with the Buccaneers final season. (The Bucs did beat the Saints within the divisional playoffs final season, although.)

Next up: vs. Saints

Monday night time’s outcome was a disappointment however not a catastrophe for the Cardinals. Yes, they might have clinched a playoff spot with a win over the Rams, and that may have given Arizona an opportunity to safe the NFC West title as quickly as this week. But all that stands between the Cardinals and a playoff spot now could be a sport on the hapless Lions. The loss to Los Angeles definitely threatened the Cardinals’ hopes for having dwelling-area benefit within the playoffs, but it surely’s value noting that they’re undefeated on the highway this season. Even in the event that they lose to the Lions, the Cardinals can clinch that postseason spot with losses by the Vikings and Saints, losses by the Vikings and 49ers or a Packers victory mixed with losses by the Falcons and Saints.

Next up: at Lions



Damien Woody believes Kyler Murray can lead the Cardinals to postseason success even when DeAndre Hopkins misses time with accidents.

The Cowboys have a 3-sport lead within the division, and so they can clinch it as early as this week, although it is a bit of sophisticated. First, they’re going to must beat the Giants and have the Eagles lose to Washington. Then Dallas would want to win a energy-of-victory tiebreaker with the Eagles, which might require wins by all 5 of those groups: Cardinals, Bengals, Dolphins, Vikings and Patriots, in keeping with ESPN Stats & Information analysis.

Whether it occurs this week or not, the Cowboys’ pending division title seems inevitable. To clinch a playoff berth, the Cowboys want a win over the Giants and a loss by both the Buccaneers or 49ers, or losses by the Vikings, Falcons, Saints and a clinching of the energy-of-victory tiebreaker over the Eagles.

Next up: at Giants

The Rams at the moment are inside one sport of the NFC West lead. The Cardinals are nonetheless the heavy favourite, because the Rams have a ten.3% probability to seize the division, per the FPI, however the win elevated Los Angeles’ possibilities of making the playoffs to just about 99%. The Rams’ remaining schedule is hard and contains three opponents who’re pushing for playoff spots (Vikings, Ravens and 49ers), however Monday night time’s effort confirmed they’re as much as the problem.

Next up: vs. Seahawks

The 49ers’ extra time victory in Cincinnati in Week 14 allowed them to place a sport’s value of distance between them and the 5 NFC groups with 6-7 information, and the FPI has their playoff odds at 77.3%. They may put away a type of groups this week in the event that they defeat the Falcons, but it surely will not be straightforward sledding. The Niners nonetheless have video games remaining on the Titans and Rams, with a presumably gimme matchup towards the Texans in between.

Next up: vs. Falcons

Washington missed an opportunity to make the NFC East a bit extra fascinating in Week 14, however let’s face it: The actual deal for Washington is the wild card, and Sunday’s loss did not knock it out of the highest seven. Now, in an NFC area that features 5 6-7 groups, the FPI is giving Washington a 22.6% probability to seize one of many wild-card spots. It’ll play one in all its opponents for these berths (Eagles) twice within the subsequent three weeks.

Next up: at Eagles

In the NFC hunt

Minnesota Vikings (6-7)

Two of Minnesota’s 4 remaining video games are towards the Bears, together with Monday night time, so something’s potential.

Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

The Eagles return from their bye week very a lot nonetheless within the playoff race, largely as a result of they’ve two video games remaining towards Washington. The first will come Sunday.

Atlanta Falcons (6-7)

All credit score to the Falcons for staying within the race with an undermanned staff within the first yr of coach Arthur Smith’s tenure. But video games remaining towards the 49ers, Bills and Saints is likely to be too massive of an impediment.

New Orleans Saints (6-7)

The Saints have just one sport remaining towards a staff with a profitable document — Sunday on the Buccaneers — however the one staff they’ve defeated because the begin of November is the woeful Jets.

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