NFL Sunday: Laying Out the Playoff Picture Timeline

NFL Sunday: Laying Out the Playoff Picture Timeline


NFL Sunday: Laying Out the Playoff Picture Timeline

Happy New Year’s Day, everyone. With it comes the close of the NFL regular season, and the completion of the playoff bracket. Last week, I broke down the tiebreakers for the AFC playoff picture for the teams still trying to get in, with the NFC it is pretty simple: Dallas vs. New York. Let’s go through what we know, though, and the timeline for how it will unfold today.


  • Two teams are locked into their spot: Houston as the #3 seed in the AFC, and Green Bay as the #1 seed in the NFC.
  • Seven other teams are in the playoffs, but their exact positioning will be decided by the outcomes of today’s games: Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, New England, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
  • Seven other teams are in contention for three remaining spots: Denver, Oakland, Cincinnati, Tennessee and the New York Jets in the AFC; Dallas and New York for the NFC East.


The 1 p.m. games include Detroit at Green Bay, Tennessee at Houston, Buffalo at New England, New York Jets at Miami, Carolina at New Orleans, and San Francisco at St. Louis. By sometime between 4 p.m. Eastern and 4:40 (since at least one game seems to go deep into the start of the second set of games, especially if there is overtime), we should know:

  • Whether San Francisco or New Orleans gets the first round bye and the #2 seed in the NFC. San Francisco earns the bye with a win, or a New Orleans loss. New Orleans must win and hope for a San Francisco loss.
  • Whether New England has the #1 seed in the AFC locked up or not. New England wins and they are the #1 seed. If they lose at home to the Bills, then either the Steelers and Ravens can gain the #1 seed in the games that follow.
  • Whether Detroit has locked up the #5 seed in the NFC, and locked Atlanta into the #6 seed, or not. Detroit gets the #5 seed with a win at Green Bay, which has nothing to gain with a win. If Detroit wins, then the later Atlanta result against Tampa has no impact. If Detroit loses, then Atlanta would have a chance to then gain the #5 seed.
  • Whether Tennessee or the New York Jets are eliminated from playoff contention or not. New York is eliminated with a loss. They could also be eliminated, before the second set of games get going in earnest, if Tennessee wins. A Jets win plus a Titans loss or tie means New York at least has a reason to pay attention to the later results. The Titans, meanwhile, cannot be eliminated by 4 p.m. if they beat Houston. If they win and the Jets also win, Tennessee would need the Bengals to lose, and either the Broncos or Raiders to lose also. If the Jets lose, then Tennessee would need the Bengals to lose, and for both the Broncos and Raiders to win.

The meaningful 4 p.m. games are Baltimore at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh at Cleveland, Kansas City at Denver, San Diego at Oakland, and maybe, Tampa Bay at Atlanta (depending on Detroit). By the end of this set of games, we should know:

  • Who won the AFC North. Baltimore gets the AFC North with a win, or a Pittsburgh loss. If New England lost earlier, then the two are playing for the #1 seed. Otherwise, the winner gets the #2 seed and the other team gets the #5 seed.
  • Who won the AFC West. Denver wins the West with a win, or an Oakland loss.
  • Who won the final AFC Wildcard. Cincinnati gets it with a win. They can still get it with a loss if the Jets lose, and either the Raiders or Broncos lose. Oakland can win it by winning, even if Denver also wins, if either the Titans and Jets both win and the Bengals lose, or the Titans lose, and the Bengals lose. If the Jets were still alive as these games commence, they get in with a Bengals loss and either a Raiders or Broncos loss. Tennessee’s needs depend on whether the Jets had already won or not.
  • The order of the NFC Wildcards, if we didn’t already know. The Atlanta result will finalize this, if Detroit did not clinch it three hours earlier.

Finally, by about 7:30, we should know everything but the NFC East entrant, which takes us to the showdown game on Sunday Night between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants. It should be a fun, exciting day, and you might not want to leave your television for very long.

[photo via Getty]



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