The NFL playoffs are currently underway and there is a lot of focus on which teams will make the top four. The New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys all have playoff spots locked up for now. Who will be in those positions next season? We take a look at the projected NFL playoff picture 2021
The “nfl playoff picture 2021” is a question that has been asked many times before. The “nfl playoff picture 2022” will be updated in 2020.
Hooray! We finally have a real, true playoff club, despite one of the most wide-open NFL playoffs races in recent memory. On Sunday afternoon, the Packers broke the seal, winning not just a position in the NFC playoffs, but also the NFC North championship. However, in a twist that matches the season’s pattern, no other clubs have reached their clinching scenarios.
Only four teams have been officially eliminated, leaving 13 of the NFL’s 14 playoff slots available. The Buccaneers, in particular, lost at home on Sunday night, sabotaging not just their own immediate prospects but also those of the Cowboys and Cardinals. Week 15 has four games left after three COVID-19 postponements, but it will conclude without an AFC club securing a playoff position.
All of this means the last three weeks of the season will be a blast to watch. Four of the eight teams with games left this week are presently in a postseason place or are within one game of a playoff berth. The following is our assessment of the NFL playoff scenario, based on ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) and some gut sense. As needed, we’ll provide updates on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
Note: A club with an X has clinched a playoff spot, a team with a Y has clinched its division, and a team with a Z has earned a first-round bye.
AFC | NFC | AFC | NFC | AFC | NFC | AFC | NFC
99 percent likelihood of making the playoffs according to FPI. FPI’s odds of winning the division are 93 percent.
The Chiefs will conclude Week 15 as the AFC’s top team, courtesy to their victory against the Chargers on Thursday night, as well as defeats by the Patriots and Titans. The Chiefs were 3-4 at one point, but have since won seven straight games and are producing greater outcomes — if not play-to-play efficiency — than any other club in the NFL. They no longer have to worry about losing the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Chargers, and with a victory over the Steelers and a Chargers defeat to the Texans in Week 16, they can secure the AFC West. According to ESPN’s FPI, they have a 53 percent probability of getting a first-round bye.
The Steelers are up next.
Chances of making the playoffs according to FPI: 98 percent FPI’s odds of winning the division are 54%.
The Patriots’ seven-game winning run was interrupted on Saturday night, dropping them from first place in the AFC and putting an end to their hopes of earning a playoff berth and/or the AFC East in Week 15. Following the Bills’ victory over the Panthers on Sunday, it also set up a major AFC East matchup in Week 16. The Patriots will face the Bills in a game that will determine who will win the division. It won’t be a legitimate AFC East title game since neither club can win the division by itself. The Patriots, on the other hand, may clinch if they win and the Dolphins lose to the Saints.
Next up: the Bills vs. the Jets.
Chances of making the playoffs according to FPI: 97 percent FPI’s odds of winning the division are 91 percent.
What a huge turnaround for the Titans this past weekend. With three weeks remaining in the season, a victory in Pittsburgh would have placed them atop the AFC and given them a 51 percent chance to earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, according to ESPN’s FPI. However, both the Chiefs and the Patriots are now in a stronger position, leaving Tennessee with just a 16 percent chance of finishing first. The Titans’ chances of clinching the division were further hampered by their setback on Sunday. They’re still heavy favorites to win the AFC South, but they failed to do it in Week 15. With a victory against the 49ers and a Colts defeat to the Cardinals in Week 16, they might clinch it.
The 49ers are up next.
FPI’s odds of making the playoffs are 48%. FPI’s odds of winning the division are 35%.
Take a look at what we’ve got here. The Bengals broke a two-game losing slide with a victory in Denver, and they rose to the top of the AFC North a few minutes later when the Ravens lost to the Packers. The Bengals have a temporary head-to-head tiebreaker against the Ravens, but the teams will meet in Week 16 as fate would have it. With a victory, neither club would secure the division championship, but it will be a high-stakes game for both. Because of the permanent head-to-head tiebreaker, the Bengals’ one-game win/loss lead in the win/loss column would really be a two-game advantage with three games still to play if they win. So if they win their remaining games, they’ll win the AFC North.
The Ravens are up next.
Chances of making the playoffs according to FPI: 80% FPI’s odds of winning the division are 9 percent.
The Colts won a big game on Saturday night, both qualitatively and statistically, and their luck continued on Sunday. The Colts are still in the AFC South competition thanks to the Titans’ defeat to the Steelers. A division victory is still a long shot for the Colts (ESPN’s FPI gives them a 9% probability), but they aren’t out of the running at this point. Regardless, the Colts should be on top of the world. The Colts’ playoff prospects would have slipped to 42 percent if they had lost on Saturday, ending an eight-game losing run against the Patriots. Instead, they have an 80% chance of making the playoffs and have even surpassed the Chargers in the AFC rankings.
The Cardinals are up next.
Chances of making the playoffs according to FPI: 71 percent FPI’s odds of winning the division are 7%.
The Chargers lost their biggest game in years on Thursday night, but they’re basically back where they started: in a solid position to make the wild-card playoffs. It would be their second playoff appearance in the last eight years. They had a genuine opportunity to pass the Chiefs in the AFC West, and it’s still statistically possible, but they’ll need assistance from a Chiefs club that has a lot of experience closing down playoff positions in recent years.
The Texans are up next.
Chances of making the playoffs according to FPI: 83 percent FPI’s odds of winning the division are 46%.
Due to the Ravens’ defeat to the Packers, the Bills were able to stop their two-game losing run and remain in the AFC top seven. The Bills now possess the common-games tiebreaker over the Ravens. The Bills have a good chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN’s FPI, and their Week 16 matchup against the Patriots offers them a chance to take over the AFC East lead. The Patriots are the clear favorites in that game for a variety of reasons, but the Bills would consider themselves lucky if you told them a few weeks ago that they would have a chance to recapture the division lead in late December. If they win their remaining games, they will win the AFC East.
After that, it’s on to the Patriots.
Ravens of Baltimore (8-6)
Coach John Harbaugh has been driven to try for a game-winning 2-point play twice in the last three weeks rather than risk overtime because the Ravens have been ravaged by injuries and COVID-19 defeats. They’ve already dropped two straight games, putting them on a playoff-threatening three-game losing run. The Ravens will face the Bengals in Week 16, but ESPN’s FPI gives them just a 54 percent chance of making the playoffs, and their division championship chances have dropped to 31 percent this week.
Browns of Cleveland (7-6)
The Browns were one of the worst-affected clubs in last week’s COVID-19 spike, forcing their game against the Raiders to be moved from Saturday to Monday. They were still without coach Kevin Stefanski and both of their starting quarterbacks as of Sunday night (Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum). We’ll see how many guys they can reclaim before kickoff on Monday. With that stated, if the Browns win their remaining games, they will win the AFC North. According to ESPN’s FPI, they have a 34% probability of making the playoffs and a 25% chance of winning the division.
Steelers of Pittsburgh (7-6-1)
With their victory against the Titans on Sunday, the Steelers kept their playoff hopes alive, but their task is about to get much more tough. A game against the Chiefs, the hottest team in football, in Week 16 is not the sort of game they want to play while attempting to remain in the race. Pittsburgh has an 18 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN’s FPI.
The Miami Dolphins are a professional football team based in (7-7)
Give the Dolphins credit for bringing this topic up in the first place. They’ve bounced back from a seven-game losing run with a six-game winning streak, and they have another winnable game against the Saints in Week 16. Their prospects of making the playoffs are still slim, according to ESPN’s FPI, at 6%, but they still exist.
Broncos, Denver (7-7)
According to ESPN’s FPI, the Broncos’ playoff prospects have slipped to 8% after their defeat to the Bengals on Sunday. They have a winnable game against the Raiders in Week 16, but their playoff prospects are dismal with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (concussion) likely out.
Raiders of Las Vegas (6-7)
According to ESPN’s FPI, a victory against the weakened Browns on Tuesday would boost the Raiders’ playoff prospects from 5% to 12%. Although they are ahead of a dozen clubs, the closeness of the AFC race merits their placement here.
FPI’s prospects of making the playoffs are now clinched. FPI’s prospects of winning the division are little to none.
The Packers claimed the NFC North and the NFL’s first postseason spot with a victory in Baltimore on Sunday. Now they’ll focus on securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs; they’re 6-0 at Lambeau Field this season and 19-3 in three seasons under coach Matt LaFleur. Their next two games will be played at home, and their season will conclude in Detroit. It’s no surprise, therefore, that ESPN’s FPI gives them a 57 percent probability of securing the top seed.
The Browns are up next.
99 percent likelihood of making the playoffs according to FPI. FPI’s odds of winning the division are 99 percent.
The Cowboys keep plugging away, no matter how ineptly, and have now won three straight games after losing three of their previous four. Due to a stronger conference record, the Cowboys have moved ahead of the Cardinals and Buccaneers, and they remain the overwhelming favorites to win the NFC East. In fact, with a win against Washington in Week 16, they can capture the division. Even if they lose to Washington this week, they still have a chance to win the division title next week. In the following two circumstances, it would occur: (1) The Eagles lose to the Giants in Week 16, and Washington loses to the Eagles on Tuesday; or (2) Washington loses to the Eagles on Tuesday, and the Cowboys win the strength-of-victory tiebreaker against the Eagles in Week 16.
Next up is a matchup with Washington.
99 percent likelihood of making the playoffs according to FPI. FPI’s odds of winning the division are 99 percent.
With a victory against the Saints on Sunday night, the Buccaneers might have sealed a postseason berth. Instead, they fell to the Buccaneers, who have been Tom Brady’s enemy since he joined the organization. As a consequence, the Buccaneers have been surpassed by the Cowboys, at least for the time being, and will have to wait at least another week to secure a playoff place or the NFC South. The good news is that after suffering their second straight season sweep at the hands of the Saints, the Buccaneers won’t have to face them again in the regular season. More importantly for the Buccaneers’ long-term competitiveness, how will injuries to receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, as well as running back Leonard Fournette, effect them?
The Panthers are up next.
99 percent likelihood of making the playoffs according to FPI. FPI’s odds of winning the division are 71%.
The Cardinals are heading the wrong way. Their shocking loss in Detroit on Sunday was their third in five games. They’ve sunk as low as they could in the NFC rankings, but they’re still in first place in the NFC West. But, provided they can get back on track, the damage isn’t as bad as it might be. Even with a defeat, the Cardinals had many options to secure a postseason berth in Week 15, but none of them occurred. In addition, one option for capturing the NFC West in Week 16 remains viable. To accomplish so, the Cardinals would need to win the Colts, as well as the Rams to lose to Seattle on Tuesday and Minnesota in Week 16.
Next up: a matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.
Chances of making the playoffs according to FPI: 98 percent FPI’s odds of winning the division are 28 percent.
Because of the COVID-19 epidemic, the Rams’ game against the Seahawks has been rescheduled until Tuesday, allowing them to reclaim at least some of the important players who tested positive last week. Jalen Ramsey, the cornerback, has already returned. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have started losing players to adverse drug tests, with six of them being lost on Sunday. The Cardinals’ resurgence has reopened the NFC West as at least a viable option for the Rams. With a victory against the Seahawks, L.A. would be one game out of the playoffs with three games remaining. It’s not out of the question, according to ESPN’s FPI, which rates the Rams’ odds of passing the Cardinals at 28 percent.
The Seahawks are up next (Tuesday)
Chances of making the playoffs according to FPI: 89 percent FPI’s odds of winning the division are 1%.
The 49ers have won five of their last six games and are in a near-lock position for a wild-card place, despite the fact that hardly one is talking about them. According to ESPN’s FPI, they have an 89 percent probability of making the playoffs. They have games against the Titans and Rams left on their schedule, as well as a home game against the Texans. But the real issue is whether two NFC teams are on the verge of passing them. The odds aren’t in your favor.
The Titans are up next.
Chances of making the playoffs according to FPI: 24% FPI’s odds of winning the division are 1%.
The Saints’ shock victory against the Buccaneers propelled them into the postseason picture for the time being, but they’ll be surpassed by Minnesota if the Vikings win Monday night in Chicago. Regardless, the Saints picked up a big win that will assist them in a variety of tiebreakers, including division and conference record, and it’s worth noting that they don’t have another game against a club with a winning record on the schedule.
The Dolphins are up next.
In the chase for the NFC Championship
Football Team of Washington (6-7)
Washington, like the Browns and Rams, is aiming to remove at least some of its important players off the COVID-19 list before playing the Eagles on Tuesday. Several quarterbacks are on the list, including starter Taylor Heinicke and backup Kyle Allen. We’ll see how it affects things. According to ESPN’s FPI, Washington has a 15% probability of making the playoffs right now.
Vikings (Minnesota) (6-7)
If the Vikings win the Bears on Monday night, they’ll go up to No. 7, and if Washington loses to the Eagles on Tuesday, they’ll remain there. Despite the fact that the Vikings now have the common-games tiebreaker over the Eagles, ESPN’s FPI believes the Eagles have a greater chance of moving up and clinching at least the No. 7 slot (Philadelphia at 39 percent versus Minnesota at 31 percent ).
Eagles of Philadelphia (6-7)
The Eagles will not face Washington until Tuesday, a delay that would likely reduce the personnel edge they would have had otherwise. The worst aspect of the scheduling alteration, though, is that the Eagles now have to face the Giants five days later in Week 16. According to ESPN’s FPI, they have a 39 percent probability of making the playoffs.
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The “nfl playoff schedule” is the way to find out who will be in the playoffs and how they are playing. The NFL Playoff Schedule for 2021 can also be found on ESPN.com.
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