NFL Playoff Picture: Projecting the Seeds & Matchups for AFC, NFC Brackets

(SN Illustration

As Week 16 arrives, nothing is set when it comes to NFL playoff seeding for the AFC and NFC postseason brackets. But based on our game picks for this week and how they will impact the playoff picture, we can project the final brackets and matchups for the postseason.

Based on the NFL playoff clinching scenarios for Week 16, one of the No. 1 seeds could be locked in by the time Sunday’s early afternoon games end. The Ravens only need to beat the Browns in order to secure the top seed in the AFC and clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. And even if they lose, they still could take the No. 1 seed with some help elsewhere.

Complete playoff picture | Clinching scenarios

That No. 1 seed in the AFC is one of several we feel comfortable projecting with the final NFL playoff picture still two weeks away from completion. In the NFC, of course, the race for the top overall seed and/or a first-round bye is a dandy.

Here is our latest projection for the seeds and matchups in the NFL playoffs, followed by a look at the current (and real) playoff picture entering Week 16.

NFL playoff picture: AFC projections

Lamar Jackson. Getty images

Games remaining: at Browns, vs. Steelers

Baltimore can lock itself into this seed with a simple Week 16 victory in Cleveland, a win we’re projecting in our picks with the road team being a 10-point favorite. If the Ravens clinch the top seed this week, chances are they’ll rest quarterback Lamar Jackson and other key starters in Week 17. Including the first-round bye in the playoffs, that would make for a two-week resting period for the best players on the NFL’s best team.

  • No. 2 seed: New England Patriots

Games remaining: vs. Bills, vs. Dolphins

We picked the Patriots to beat the Bills this week, a victory that would give New England another AFC East title. The Chiefs with a win over the Bears this week would still be alive for the No. 2 seed, but the bad news for Kansas City is New England hosts Miami in Week 17. The Pats aren’t going to slip in that game as long as a first-round bye is on the line.

  • No. 3 seed: Kansas City Chiefs

Games remaining: at Bears, vs. Chargers

As long as the Patriots win their next two games, the Chiefs are stuck with this seed at best. And because we like them to beat the Bears this week and take care of the Chargers in Week 17, they’ll keep the No. 3 seed over the Texans and host the Steelers in the wild-card round.

  • No. 4 seed: Houston Texans

Games remaining: at Buccaneers, vs. Titans

If the Texans beat the Buccaneers on Saturday — which they should — they will clinch the AFC South title. Because they’re a full game behind the Chiefs and because we don’t see Kansas City losing over the final two weeks, though, the Texans will stick in the No. 4 spot and host the Bills on wild-card weekend.

  • No. 5 seed: Buffalo Bills

Games remaining: at Patriots, vs. Jets

Buffalo is locked into the playoffs, but it needs to beat New England in order to win the division and avoid a wild-card position. We think the Bills will drop their Week 16 game against the Patriots, which would lock them into the No. 5 seed. Of course, Buffalo should welcome a matchup against Houston in the wild-card round.

  • No. 6 seed: Pittsburgh Steelers

Games remaining: at Jets, at Ravens

More than anything, this projection is about the brutal schedule ahead of the Titans, the Steelers’ primary competition for the No. 6 seed. Tennessee has to play New Orleans and Houston to end the season, and Pittsburgh draws a bad New York team before a game against Baltimore in which the Ravens likely will rest their key starters.

NFL playoff picture: NFC projections

Jimmy Garoppolo, Getty images
  • No. 1 seed: San Francisco 49ers

Games remaining: vs. Rams, at Seahawks

Because the 49ers took care of the Saints and the Packers earlier this season, they simply need to win out in order to steal back the No. 1 seed. We like their chances to beat the Rams this week, and that victory likely would set up a division championship game against the Seahawks. We like San Francisco’s chances in Seattle.

  • No. 2 seed: New Orleans Saints

Games remaining: at Titans, at Panthers

If our predictions for this week are proven correct, the Saints will beat the Titans, and the Vikings will beat the Packers. That would allow New Orleans to jump to the No. 2 seed, and with both teams on the road against lousy opponents in Week 17, we like the Saints’ chances to stay at No. 2.

  • No. 3 seed: Green Bay Packers

Games remaining: at Vikings, at Lions

A win over the Vikings would keep the Packers in play for a first-round bye, but we have them losing in Minnesota in Week 16. That would move Green Bay back to the No. 3 seed, where it would play Minnesota yet again in the wild-card round.

  • No. 4 seed: Dallas Cowboys

Games remaining: at Eagles, vs. Redskins

Simply put: If the Cowboys beat the Eagles on Sunday, they will clinch the NFC East title and lock themselves into the No. 4 seed for the playoffs. That’s exactly the result we’re predicting for the Week 16 game in Philadelphia. Dallas in our projection would host Seattle in the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

  • No. 5 seed: Seattle Seahawks

Games remaining: at Cardinals, vs. 49ers

Assuming the Seahawks take care of the Cardinals this week, this projection is all about their Week 17 game against the 49ers. For now, we like San Francisco to win that game and force Seattle into a road trip to Dallas in the wild-card round yet again.

  • No. 6 seed: Minnesota Vikings

Games remaining: vs. Packers, vs. Bears

If the Vikings beat the Packers on Monday night as we’re predicting, they will clinch a playoff spot. (They also would get in with a Rams loss to the 49ers on Saturday.) They technically could jump to the No. 5 seed or even beat the Packers to win the NFC North, but neither scenario is likely.

MORE: Playoff seeding scenarios for Vikings

Current NFL playoff picture

Back to reality. Here is how the NFL playoff picture looks heading into Week 16.


Seed Team Record Clinched
1. Baltimore Ravens 12-2 Division; playoff berth
2. New England Patriots 11-3 Playoff berth
3. Kansas City Chiefs 10-4 Division; playoff berth
4. Houston Texans 9-5
5. Buffalo Bills 10-4 Playoff berth
6. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-6

In the hunt: Titans (8-6), Browns (6-8), Raiders (6-8)


Seed Team Record Clinched
1. Seattle Seahawks 11-3 Playoff berth
2. Green Bay Packers 11-3 Playoff berth
3. New Orleans Saints 11-3 Division; playoff berth
4. Dallas Cowboys 7-7
5. San Francisco 49ers 11-3 Playoff berth
6. Minnesota Vikings 10-4

In the hunt: Rams (8-6), Eagles (7-7)

Author: Tadd Haislop

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