NFL playoff picture 2021 – Week 14 standings, bracket, clinching scenarios and outlook for the postseason


How unsettled is the NFL playoff race? With one game remaining in Week 14, not a single team has qualified for the postseason. That could all change Monday night, of course, when the Cardinals host the Rams. The Cardinals will clinch a playoff berth with a win. A loss, on the other hand, would tighten the NFC West race and allow the Packers to ascend to the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

The biggest winner of the weekend was a team that didn’t even play. The Colts rose from the depths of the AFC race to the No. 6 spot thanks to losses by the Steelers, Bills and Bengals. Although they have a difficult remaining schedule, they are atop five other six-loss teams in the conference. The biggest losers? The Jaguars, Lions and Jets were all eliminated from contention Sunday.

What follows is our weekly snapshot of the NFL playoff picture, incorporating ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) and a bit of our own instincts to give you a sense of short- and long-term stakes, including Week 15 clinching scenarios for a handful of teams. We’ll update after Monday night’s game, and again after Thursday night’s huge matchup between the Chiefs and Chargers.

Jump to: AFC | NFC

AFC

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99%
FPI chances to win division: 76%

The Patriots entered their bye knowing they would come out of it atop the AFC no matter what happened in between. The Titans and Chiefs both won Sunday to match their won-loss record, but the Patriots hold the tiebreaker at the moment because of a superior conference record.

Now the Patriots head into a two-week stretch that could well decide the AFC East title. The Patriots could clinch the division if they win Saturday at Indianapolis and then beat the Bills at home in Week 16.

Next up: at Colts


FPI chances to make playoffs: 99%
FPI chances to win division: 98%

The Titans found a perfect antidote Sunday for their two-game losing streak. The Jaguars showed up in Nashville and rolled over, as usual, giving the Titans an easy victory. It was the Titans’ fifth consecutive victory over the Jaguars and their eighth in the teams’ past nine matchups.

Tennessee could clinch the AFC South as early as next week with a win over the Steelers and a Colts loss to the Patriots. And they’ll continue to be in position to overtake the Patriots (or Chiefs) for the top spot in the AFC. The Patriots currently hold an advantage in conference record, but the Titans have the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chiefs. Remember, the Titans have the NFL’s easiest strength of schedule the rest of the way. Their remaining games are against the Steelers, 49ers, Dolphins and Texans.

Next up: at Steelers


FPI chances to make playoffs: 96%
FPI chances to win division: 61%

Nothing happened Sunday to stop growing public sentiment that the Chiefs will once again finish the season at the top of the AFC. Sunday’s demolition of the Raiders was their sixth consecutive victory and brought them even, in terms of record, with the Patriots and Titans. At the moment, the Chiefs come out third in the three-way tiebreaker because of the conference record and head-to-head tiebreakers.

Now comes a massive divisional game at the Chargers. A loss would drop the Chiefs into the wild-card race. A win wouldn’t clinch the AFC West, but the Chiefs would be able to neutralize the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chargers.

Next up: at Chargers


FPI chances to make playoffs: 72%
FPI chances to win division: 51%

That’s two consecutive AFC North losses for the Ravens, who have fallen from the AFC’s top seed to its fourth in the past two weeks. Even before losing Sunday to the Browns, the Ravens were a sleeper candidate to drop out of the playoff picture entirely by the end of the season. Their remaining schedule — against the Packers, Bengals, Rams and Steelers — is among the league’s toughest. And now quarterback Lamar Jackson (foot) has been added to their long injury list.

Their lead in the AFC North is down to one game, and while FPI is still bullish on their playoff chances, it sure doesn’t feel like the Ravens are definitely a playoff team at the moment.

Next up: vs. Packers


FPI chances to make playoffs: 85%
FPI chances to win division: 35%

The Chargers have won two consecutive games, scoring 78 points in the process and setting themselves up for a massive opportunity Thursday night against the Chiefs. No one will clinch the AFC West in that game, but the winner will finish the night with the division lead. The Chargers could also clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chiefs. With quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes on the field and a lot on the line, this could be the game of the year.

Next up: vs. Chiefs

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Justin Herbert becomes the first NFL player to throw 30 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons as the Chargers steamroll the Giants.


FPI chances to make playoffs: 58%
FPI chances to win division: 2%

That was quite a bye week for the Colts, who rose to No. 6 thanks to losses by the Bengals and Bills. The AFC South title might be beyond their grasp — the Titans are basically up three games with four remaining because of their head-to-head sweep — but the Colts are now in good position for one of the AFC’s three wild-card spots. But they’ll need to run a difficult gauntlet over the next two weeks, with games against the Patriots and Cardinals, before finishing with matchups against the Raiders and Jaguars. A 2-2 split in those games might be enough.

Next up: vs. Patriots


FPI chances to make playoffs: 77%
FPI chances to win division: 24%

In a matter of weeks, the Bills have gone from the top of the AFC East to barely clinging to a playoff spot. Sunday’s loss to the Buccaneers was their fourth in the past six games. They’re certainly not getting the outcomes you would expect for a team with designs on a deep playoff run, but only one of their losses has been by more than one score. The Bills have only one game remaining against a team with a winning record — the Patriots in two weeks — and FPI is still giving them a really good chance to hang onto one of the wild-card spots.

Next up: vs. Panthers


In the AFC hunt

Cleveland Browns (7-6)

The Browns managed a season split with the Ravens, eliminating a head-to-head tiebreaker with them if it were to come to that for an AFC North title. Yes, the Browns are in both the divisional and wild-card mix, and FPI gives them a 38% chance to make the playoffs. They have another winnable game in Week 15 at home against the Raiders.

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)

The Bengals’ playoff chances have taken a big hit with consecutive losses to the Chargers and 49ers. FPI is now giving them just a 29% chance to make it, and they’ll face another contending team (Denver) in Week 15.

Denver Broncos (7-6)

The Broncos have now won four of their past six games and have a chance to jump another playoff contender when they take on the Bengals in Week 15. FPI is skeptical that the Broncos will jump into the top seven, though, giving them a 27% chance.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)

The Steelers are down to an 11% chance to make the playoffs, according to FPI, after their terrible performance Thursday night in Minnesota. Their remaining schedule is pretty brutal, too, with games against the Titans, Chiefs, Browns and Ravens awaiting. The only thing left now, it appears, is their inevitable elimination from playoff contention.

NFC

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99%
FPI chances to win division: 96%

Monday night will be an interesting pivot point. As noted, the Cardinals can clinch a playoff spot — but not yet the NFC West title — with a win Monday night over the Rams. Alternatively, they could clinch a spot in Week 15 with either a win, losses from Minnesota and San Francisco, losses from Minnesota and New Orleans or a combination of a Packers win and losses from Atlanta and New Orleans.

With a loss on Monday, the Cardinals would fall out of the NFC’s top spot because of their head-to-head tiebreaker with the Packers. But even in that scenario, FPI would still give them a 91% chance of winning the division. The NFC West title could come as early as next week, if the Cardinals first beat the Rams on Monday and then get either a win or a Rams loss in Week 15.

Next up: vs. Rams (Monday night)


FPI chances to make playoffs: 99%
FPI chances to win division: 99%

The Packers have won consecutive games since losing two of three last month, in the process putting themselves in position to take over the top spot in the conference if the Cardinals slip up. As it stands now, the Packers can clinch the NFC North as early as Week 15 if they beat the Ravens or if the Vikings lose to the Bears. If the Vikings beast the Bears, the Packers can also clinch a playoff spot in Week 15 if the Saints and 49ers lose.

The Packers have a few areas to shore up, most notably their special teams, but in a flawed league, they have as good of a chance as any team to make a deep playoff run.

Next up: at Ravens


FPI chances to make playoffs: 99%
FPI chances to win division: 99%

Win or lose against the Bills, the Buccaneers took the field knowing they couldn’t clinch anything Sunday. But that will change in Week 15. They could clinch both a playoff berth and the NFC South with a win at home against the Saints. They’d also clinch the playoffs in a loss if the Vikings and 49ers also both lose.

It’s worth noting, of course, that the Saints have won all three regular-season matchups between these two teams since Tom Brady signed with the Buccaneers last season. (The Buccaneers did beat the Saints in the divisional playoffs last season, though.)

Next up: vs. Saints

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Leonard Fournette finds some help from his offensive line as he narrowly avoids a tackle or two on his way to the 47-yard touchdown.


FPI chances to make playoffs: 99%
FPI chances to win division: 97%

Although they made it more interesting than it needed to be, the Cowboys notched a key NFC East (and NFC tiebreaking factor) on the road Sunday. After defeating Washington, the Cowboys took a three-game lead in the division and can clinch as early as Week 15, though it’s a little complicated. First, they’ll need to beat the Giants and have the Eagles lose to Washington. Then they would need to win a strength of victory tiebreaker with the Eagles, which would require wins by five of the following six teams: Cardinals, Bengals, Chargers, Dolphins, Vikings and Patriots, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

Whether it happens in Week 15 or not, the Cowboys’ pending division title appears inevitable. And at the very least, Dallas can clinch a playoff spot next week with a win and a Buccaneers win.

Next up: at Giants


FPI chances to make playoffs: 94%
FPI chances to win division: 4%

If the Rams want any chance of snatching the NFC West from the Cardinals, they’ll need to win Monday night. A victory would put the Rams one game back with four left to play. Even then, FPI would give them only an 8% chance to win the division, given a remaining schedule that includes three opponents who are pushing for playoff spots: Vikings, Ravens and 49ers. But if the Rams lose, the Cardinals would have a 99% chance to win the division.

Regardless, the Rams currently have a 94% chance of making the playoffs and could lock it up in Week 15 if they first beat Arizona on Monday. They’d then need another win and losses from Atlanta, Minnesota and New Orleans.

Next up: at Cardinals (Monday)


FPI chances to make playoffs: 79%
FPI chances to win division:

The 49ers’ playoff chances got a significant boost with Sunday’s overtime victory in Cincinnati. Most importantly, it allowed them to put a game’s worth of distance between them and the five NFC teams with 6-7 records, and FPI has their playoff odds at 79%. Had the Bengals completed their comeback, the 49ers’ odds would have been 53%.

The 49ers could put away one of those teams next week if they defeat the Falcons, but it won’t be easy sledding. They still have games remaining at the Titans and Rams, with a presumably “gimme” matchup against the Texans in between.

Next up: vs. Falcons


FPI chances to make playoffs: 26%
FPI chances to win division: 2%

Washington missed a chance to make the NFC East a bit more interesting Sunday when its comeback effort fell short at FedEx Field. But let’s face it. Even with a victory, FPI would have given it just a 18% chance to win the division.

The real deal for Washington is the wild card, and Sunday’s loss didn’t knock it out of the top seven. Now, in an NFC field that includes five 6-7 teams, FPI is giving Washington a 26% chance to grab one of the wild-card spots. It’ll play one of its competitors for those berths (Eagles) twice in the next three weeks.

Next up: at Eagles


In the NFC hunt

Minnesota Vikings (6-7)

The Vikings would have been all but out of the playoff race had the Steelers completed their comeback Thursday night. Now things look a little better. Two of their four remaining games are against the Bears, including next Monday night, so anything’s possible. At the moment, FPI gives them a 31% chance of moving into the top seven.

Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

The Eagles return from their bye very much still in the playoff race, in large part because they have two games remaining against Washington. The first will come in Week 15. FPI gives them a 34% chance to make the playoffs, the best among the NFC’s 6-7 teams.

Atlanta Falcons (6-7)

All credit to the Falcons for staying in the race with an undermanned team in the first year of coach Arthur Smith’s tenure. But games remaining against the 49ers, Bills and Saints might be too big of an obstacle. FPI gives them a 7% chance to go to the postseason.

New Orleans Saints (6-7)

The Saints have only one game remaining against a team with a winning record — Week 15 at the Buccaneers — but the only team they’ve defeated since the start of November is the woeful Jets. FPI gives them a 26% chance to make the playoffs.



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