After one of the most uncertain periods in modern NFL history, with a game being suspended and then canceled, Week 18 continues as planned with the good news that Bill’s safety Damar Hamlin is making rapid progress following a life-threatening injury.
The league on Thursday announced that the games would go ahead as planned and that the Bills-Bengals game would not be rescheduled. The No. 1 in the AFC is awarded based on winning percentage, and the conference championship game may be played at a neutral venue depending on which teams are involved.
As the NFL noted in its announcement, any decision it could have made would have involved “competitive injustices.” But for most teams, the playoff picture is unchanged. In the NFC, three teams — the Lions, Packers and Seahawks — are battling for the final postseason conference seat. And in the AFC, the Patriots, Dolphins and Steelers are battling it out for the remaining wildcard spot.
In both conferences, the No. 1 remains up for grabs, with the Chiefs and the Bills battling for the top spot in the AFC and the Eagles, Cowboys and 49ers battling for it in the NFC
The charts below show the playoff paths remaining for each team. They list all the ways a team can reach or be eliminated from the playoffs. The tree diagrams start with a specific team and list the possible outcomes of the games that could be significant for that team, in chronological order from left to right.
We’ll be updating them throughout the weekend and linking them all to our interactive playoff simulator for you to explore each scenario.
One note: the text does not take ties into account. But we’ve added a button to each tree if you want to find out how ties affect each team’s playoff path.
buffalo bills (12-3)
Game remaining: Patriots
The Bills are hosts to the Patriots and can become either the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 in the AFC. With no result from the Bills-Bengals game on Monday night, the Bills need help to pick the No. 1 seed. A win coupled with a Raiders win on Saturday will give the Bills the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.
New England Patriots (8-8)
Remaining game: at Bills
The Patriots are hoping for 7th place, their final spot in the AFC playoffs. You visit the Bills and you have to win. (If they do, they can play them again in a week if the Bills end up as the No. 2 seed.) If the Patriots lose, they can still get through if the Titans, Dolphins, and Steelers also lose.
Miami Dolphins (8-8)
Remaining game: Jets
The Dolphins’ Week 17 loss to the Patriots marginalized them in the playoffs, but they still have a path to the 7th seed. They need to beat the Jets and hope the Patriots against the 12-3 Bills in lose Buffalo. Otherwise they are out.
Cincinnati Bengal (11-4)
Remaining game: Ravens
Since there was no result in Cincinnati’s game against Buffalo, the Bengals can’t get the No. 1 seed nor a bye week. If they win and the Bills lose, the Bengals will be No. 2 and host the Patriots, Dolphins, Steelers or Jaguars. Otherwise, they’ll be No. 3 and house the Ravens or the Chargers.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Game remaining: at Bengals
The Ravens are in the playoffs but can’t catch the Bengals in the AFC North. They will enter the playoffs as No. 5 or No. 6.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
Game remaining: Browns
Like the Patriots and Dolphins, the Steelers have a path to last place in the AFC and represent the No. 7 seed at 9-8. But of all teams on the brink of elimination, the Steelers’ path is the narrowest. They have to win – they host the 7-9 Browns – and hope for losses from the Dolphins and Patriots.
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
Remaining game: Titans
The Jaguars play for the AFC South title on Saturday when they host the Titans. A win gets them the number 4 and a wildcard home game against the Ravens or Chargers. They can still make the playoffs if they lose, as No. 7 if the Dolphins, Steelers, and Patriots all lose their games.
Tennessee Titans (7-9)
Remaining game: at Jaguars
The Titans are playing for the division title and a playoff spot. If they beat the Jaguars, they’re in and will host the Ravens or the Chargers in the wild card round. If they lose, they’re out.
Kansas City chiefs (13-3)
Remaining game: at Raiders
The Chiefs can’t do worse than the AFC No. 2 and can secure a first-round bye with a win over the Raiders. If they lose, they can still become No. 1 if the Patriots win against the Bills on the road.
Chargers from Los Angeles (10-6)
Game left: with the Broncos
The Chargers are entering as a wildcard team. A win over the Broncos on Sunday would give them the No. 5 pick and a playoff opener against either Jacksonville or Tennessee. On the other hand, a Ravens loss and a win would relegate the Chargers to the No. 6, leaving them facing a tougher opponent in the first round – the Bengals or Bills.
Philly Eagles (13-3)
Game left: Giants
For weeks, the Eagles have been on the verge of becoming the division and No. 1 in the NFC, with a bye week and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. But they lost twice in a row, leaving several possibilities open.
A win or tie against the Giants gives them the No. 1 spot. A loss to the Cowboys gives the Eagles the division title and at least the No. 2 spot. A Cowboys loss and win would put the Eagles at No. 5; They would visit Tom Brady and the Bucs in Tampa Bay in the wild card round.
Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
Remaining game: at Commanders
The Cowboys kept their hopes alive of winning the division with a win last week. If they win again and the Eagles lose, they take the NFC East title and have a first-round bye if the 49ers also lose. If the Cowboys lose, they will be No. 5 and will visit Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs.
New York Giants (9-6-1)
Game Remaining: at Eagles
The Giants will be No. 6 no matter what happens in Week 18. They will visit the No. 3 – either the 49ers or the Vikings – in the first round of the playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings (12-4)
Remaining game: at Bears
After a disastrous loss to the Packers on Sunday, the Vikings are likely to drop to 3rd place and host the Giants in the wild card round. If they win and the 49ers lose, they will be No. 2 and host the No. 7 (the Packers, Lions or Seahawks).
Green Bay packers (8-8)
Remaining game: lions
It’s simple for the Packers: A win makes them the No. 7 seed. They would visit the 49ers, Vikings, Eagles, or Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs. A loss or a draw eliminates them. They host the 8-8 Lions, who are hoping for their first playoff spot since the 2016 season.
Detroit Lions (8-8)
Remaining game: at Packers
By the time their game against the Packers begins Sunday night, the Lions may already be out of playoff contention. But if the Rams beat the Seahawks and the Lions beat the Packers in Green Bay, the Lions will get their first playoff spot since the 2016 season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)
Remaining game: at Falcons
The Bucs have won the NFC South Division title and will host the No. 5 seed — likely the Cowboys — in the first round. Nothing that happens in week 18 will change that.
San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
Game remaining: Cardinals
The 49ers won the NFC West. A win and a Giants win over the Eagles on Sunday would give them the No. 1 pick and a first-round bye. Otherwise, they will be No. 2 or No. 3 and open the playoffs against either the Giants, Seahawks or the Lions-Packers game winner.
Seattle Seahawks (8-8)
Remaining game: Rams
The Seahawks don’t control their playoff path, but they still have a shot at earning the last wildcard spot in the NFC. They need to win at home against the Rams and then hope for a Lions win against the Packers on Sunday night.