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NFL Playoffs: Every Possible Scenario Heading Into Week 17

Bryan Altman

We have arrived, folks.

It's Week 17 of the NFL season and as usual some of the drama surrounding who's in and who's out of the NFL playoffs has been wrapped up nice and neatly with a bow on top.

However, there's plenty that remains to be determined in Week 17 and many fans will have to wait until the final clock strikes zero to know their team's fate.

Some teams' chances at the playoffs are quite simple: win and you're in.

Others, basically need everything short of the Earth to start turning in the opposite direction to happen for them to get into the playoffs.

Here's how it all looks for each of the teams that still have a chance at getting into the NFL playoffs this year.


Overall the AFC playoff picture is actually a pretty neat one. All six playoff spots are already accounted for and the only thing that can really change is whether the Raiders or the Chiefs get a first-round bye or are forced to play the Houston Texans at NRG Energy Stadium in the Wild Card round.

The Steelers are already locked in as the No. 3 seed, while the Dolphins are locked in as either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed -- a win and a Kansas City loss to San Diego gets them the No. 5 seed, while any other result in either game sends them to Pittsburgh for a date with the Steelers as the No. 6 seed.

Here's what else is at stake.

New England Patriots (13-2) 

Week 17 - @ Miami Dolphins (10-5)

Clinch home-field advantage throughout playoffs with either:

  • WIN/TIE 
  • Raiders LOSS/TIE

Oakland Raiders (12-3)

Week 17 - @ Denver Broncos (8-7)

Clinch AFC West and first-round bye with:


Clinch home-field throughout playoffs with:

  • WIN + Patriots loss. 

Will face No. 4 seeded Houston Texans if they don't win AFC West.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)

Week 17 - @ San Diego Chargers (5-10)

Clinch AFC West and first-round bye with:

  • WIN + Raiders loss

Will face No. 4-seeded Houston Texans if they don't win AFC West.

Boring. Let's get to the fun conference where the 'you know what' can really hit the fan in Week 17.


Ok, so this isn't the MOST exciting Week 17 in recent memory, but hey, it's much more exciting than the AFC.

The Cowboys have locked up home-field throughout the playoffs and have absolutely nothing to play for. Here's what Week 17 has in store for the rest of the conference.

Atlanta Falcons (10-5) 

Week 17 - @New Orleans Saints

Clinch No. 2 seed and first-round bye with:

  • WIN 
  • TIE or Seahawks loss or tie
  • Seahawks loss + Lions loss or tie
  • Seahawks tie + Lions loss

If the Falcons lose to the Saints, assuming the Seahawks beat the two-win 49ers, the Falcons' opponent will depend on the winner of the Lions-Packers game. If the Packers win and as a result, win the NFC North, the Falcons hold onto the No. 3 seed thanks to their head-to-head victory over the Packers in Week 8.

If the Lions win, things get a bit messier and will come down to one of the more obscure tie-breaking rules to determine seeding as both teams would have the same conference record and record against common opponents.

Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1) 

Week 17 - @San Francisco 49ers (2-13)

Clinch No. 2 seed and first-round bye with:

  • WIN + Falcons loss or tie
  • TIE + Falcons loss + Packers/Lions tie

If the Seahawks win but can't pass Atlanta for a first-round bye, they'll remain in the No. 3 seed and will face either the Lions, Packers, Redskins, or (a real longshot, as you'll soon see) the Buccaneers.

Detroit Lions (9-6) 

The Lions-Packers game is the linchpin that either enables dream scenarios for some teams to come to fruition, or unravels them completely. The Lions' possibilities run the gamut, from possibly clinching a first-round bye with some help, versus being eliminated from the playoffs completely.

Week 17 - vs. Green Bay Packers (9-6)

Clinch NFC North and playoff berth with:

  • WIN

Clinch first-round bye with:

  • WIN + Seahawks loss + Falcons loss

Clinch playoff berth with:

  • Redskins loss/tie

Green Bay Packers (9-6) 

Week 17 - @Detroit Lions (9-6)

Clinch NFC North and playoff berth with:


Clinch playoff berth with:

  • Redskins loss
  • Redskins tie + Buccaneers win 

Washington Redskins (8-6-1) 

Week 17 - @New York Giants

The Redskins have controlled their own destiny and squandered it multiple times throughout the 2016 season. Now, thanks to their arch-rivals -- the Dallas Cowboys -- they once again control it barring an unlikely tie between the Lions and Packers.

Clinch playoff berth with:

  • WIN + no tie in Packers/Lions game
  • Tie + Packers loss + Buccaneers loss or tie

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7) 

Week 17 - @ Carolina Panthers (6-9)

It's been an impressive year for the Bucs whether they receive a retroactive Christmas miracle or not. They've progressed as a team, Jameis Winston has matured and their defense has proven it can keep its offense in games when necessary.

So, Bucs fans, what I'm trying to say is, don't get too disappointed when your playoff scenario -- that necessitates a tie -- doesn't come to fruition.

Clinch playoff berth with:

  • WIN + Redskins tie + Packers loss. 

But that's not all. Here's what else Tampa Bay needs, courtesy of

"GB clinches at least a tie in strength of victory tiebreaker over TB if one of the following teams win or tie: Seattle, Houston, Jacksonville or Philadelphia. GB has already clinched strength of schedule tiebreaker over TB in this scenario.

TB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over GB if all of the following teams win: Tennessee, Indianapolis, Dallas and San Francisco."

As I said, it's been a great run.

That's all, football fans. Enjoy a great final regular season of football Sunday and get pumped for the 2016-17 NFL postseason less than two weeks from now.


Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the Dolphins are locked in as the No. 6 seed.

Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he'd gladly trade them for a championship for any of his other three teams.

Questions or comments? Feel free to follow Bryan on Twitter or send him an email.

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