NFL playoff picture: Projecting the seeds & matchups for AFC, NFC brackets for Week 15

NFL playoff picture: Projecting the seeds & matchups for AFC, NFC brackets for Week 14


History has been made — and not a single team has clinched a playoff spot yet.

For just the third time since 1978, Week 14 has come and gone with no teams clinching a playoff spot by this date. That’s what we call parity, folks.

In the AFC, the playoff picture has cleared up and some very familiar faces rest atop the conference standings. The bottom of the AFC (and to that end, the NFC) have a lot to be sorted out over the coming weeks.

In all, there are 14 teams across the league that are sitting at or within a game of .500 in either direction, and the final four matchups of the 2021 regular season could come down to the all-new Week 18 matchups.

If the season were to end today, though, here’s how it would shake out:

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NFL playoff picture: AFC projections

(Getty Images)

  • No. 1 seed: Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

Games remaining: vs. Steelers, at Bengals, vs. Broncos

Kansas City’s defensive rebirth pushed them firmly in the mix as one of the AFC’s best entering Week 15. If that’s a frightening thought, consider that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense has yet to really hit their stride as the regular season nears its end. 

  • No. 2 seed: Tennessee Titans (9-4)

Games remaining: at Steelers, vs. 49ers, vs. Dolphins, at Texans

How the Titans have overcome the injuries of Derrick Henry, AJ Brown and Julio Jones is admirable. It helps that the AFC South is one of the weaker divisions in football. It also helps that the Titans have a win over the Chiefs earlier in the season.

  • No. 3 seed: New England Patriots (9-5)

Games remaining: vs. Bills, vs. Jaguars, at Dolphins

What rookie wall? 

Mac Jones has only gotten better this season, and thanks to an extremely late Week 14 Bye, he and the Patriots will rest before they chase down the No. 1 seed. They have a pretty tough schedule remaining, though, so New England will absolutely have to earn it.

  • No. 4 seed: Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

Games remaining: vs. Packers, at Bengals, vs. Rams, vs. Steelers

The Ravens have gotten to this point with a so-so season from Lamar Jackson and a myriad of injuries in the running back room, and they still have to face two division opponents before they can call themselves AFC North champs. Not a cakewalk by any stretch, and they have the toughest remaining schedule of any of the division leaders.

  • No. 5 seed: Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

Games remaining: vs. Patriots, at Cardinals, vs. Raiders, at Jaguars

MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor has shown zero signs of slowing down in 2021, and the Bye Week should certainly help freshen up his legs. Taylor’s last game was a doozy: He ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns in a dominant performance over the Texans.

  • No. 6 seed: Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)

Games remaining: at Texans, vs. Broncos, at Raiders

The Chargers lost a massive “Thursday Night Football” matchup to the Chiefs and it could play a pivotal role to deciding seeding. 

  • No. 7 seed: Buffalo Bills (7-6)

Games remaining: vs. Panthers, at Patriots, vs. Falcons, vs. Jets

It would be unfair to say the Bills are having a disappointing season, considering they’re still in the AFC East hunt. That hunt may be coming to an end, though, unless the Patriots come back down to Earth. Buffalo has traded wins and losses heading back to Oct. 10 and are now on a two-game losing streak (4-5 in that span). 

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NFL playoff picture: NFC projections

(Getty Images)

  • No. 1 seed: Green Bay Packers (10-3)

Games remaining: at Ravens, vs. Browns, vs. Vikings, at Lions

The Packers benefit from a lighter schedule, ending with three straight home games. Aaron Rodgers’ toe might not be doing too well, but Green Bay’s Super Bowl hopes are doing just fine.

  • No. 2 seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)

Games remaining: vs. Saints, at Panthers, at Jets, vs. Panthers

The Buccaneers can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Saints, putting Tom Brady and the TB offense in prime position to make another dramatic Super Bowl run this year. It’s not over yet, though, as they’re tied for the best record in the NFL. Their extremely easy schedule the remainder of the season should help matters.

  • No. 3 seed: Arizona Cardinals (10-3)

Games remaining: at Lions, vs. Colts, at Cowboys, vs. Seahawks

Even with a loss to the Rams, the Cardinals are still in the driver’s seat of the NFC West, and they also still have a shot No. 1 seed in the conference — but it’s not unfair to question just how playoff-ready the team is. The next month will answer that question, with games against playoff hopefuls, a division rival and the scrappy Lions.

  • No. 4 seed: Dallas Cowboys (9-4)

Games remaining: at Giants, vs. Washington, vs. Cardinals, at Eagles

The Cowboys face NFC East rivals three out of their remaining four games in 2021, with their only other opponent the tough Cardinals. While the division is weaker this year, weird things happen in the NFC East, and with Dak Prescott not quite himself recently, the Super Bowl hype has died down just a tad.

  • No. 5 seed: Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

Games remaining: vs. Seahawks, at Vikings, at Ravens, vs. 49ers

The Rams picked up a massive, gutsy win over the Cardinals in Week 14, keeping them in the middle of the NFC West race. What’s arguably more encouraging for Los Angeles is that quarterback Matthew Stafford looked like himself in the matchup, following a rough stretch of games.

  • No. 6 seed: San Francisco 49ers (7-6)

Games remaining: vs. Falcons, at Titans, vs. Texans, at Rams

San Francisco has come alive after a rough 2-4 start to their season and premature job security questions surrounding head coach Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers’ path to the playoffs isn’t entirely easy, though: They play games against the Rams and Titans, but also play easier opponents like the Falcons and Texans.

  • No. 7 seed: Washington Football Team (7-6)

Games remaining: at Eagles, at Cowboys, vs. Eagles, at Giants

Washington has four games against NFC East opponents to close out the season, and three are on the road. They’ll hope to have quarterback Taylor Heinicke back for the stretch run of the season.

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Current NFL playoff picture

Here’s how the standings in both conferences break down entering Week 15, along with the other teams that are still in the playoff hunt. 

Seed Team Record Clinched
1. New England Patriots 9-4 N/a
2. Tennessee Titans 9-4 N/a
3. Kansas City Chiefs 9-4 N/a
4. Baltimore Ravens 8-5 N/a
5. Los Angeles Chargers 8-5 N/a
6. Indianapolis Colts 7-6 N/a
7. Buffalo Bills 7-6 N/a

In the hunt: Cleveland Browns (7-6), Cincinnati Bengals (7-6), Denver Broncos (7-6), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1), Las Vegas Raiders (6-7), Miami Dolphins (6-7)

Seed Team Record Clinched
1. Green Bay Packers 10-3 N/a
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-3 N/a
3. Arizona Cardinals 10-3 N/a
4. Dallas Cowboys 9-4 N/a
5. Los Angeles Rams 9-4 N/a
6. San Francisco 49ers 7-6 N/a
7. Washington Football Team 6-7 N/a

In the hunt: Minnesota Vikings (6-7), Philadelphia Eagles (6-7), Atlanta Falcons (6-7), New Orleans Saints (6-7)





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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.