NFL Playoff Picture: How Week 15 can affect seeding

Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

We're going to learn a ton about the NFL playoffs this weekend.

Unless we don't.

The right combination of events between Saturday's results and Sunday's slate of games could determine two division titles, up to three total playoff berths and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in both conferences. Here is what's at stake on Sunday.

(To simplify the following, I've left out most scenarios that involve the real but highly unlikely possibility of ties. If you can't get through the weekend without that information, please see ESPN's complete rundown of Week 15 playoff scenarios.)

Note: This story has been updated to reflect the results of the Detroit Lions' win over the Chicago Bears and the Kansas City Chiefs' win over the Los Angeles Chargers.


1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)

Week 15 matchup: vs. New England (4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday)

If the Steelers win: They would clinch a first-round bye. They can secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win and a Jaguars loss.

If the Steelers lose: They could be one game away from falling out of position for a first-round bye. The Patriots would have the edge for the No. 1 seed, and the Jaguars hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Pittsburgh if it comes to that.

2. New England Patriots (10-3)

Week 15 matchup: at Pittsburgh (4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday)

If the Patriots win: They would clinch the AFC East and reclaim their position atop the AFC seedings.

If the Patriots lose: They can still clinch the AFC East with a Bills loss. They can clinch a playoff berth with a Ravens loss.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4)

Week 15 matchup: vs. Texans (1 p.m. ET on Sunday)

If the Jaguars win: They would clinch a playoff berth but not the AFC South.

If the Jaguars lose: They can still secure a postseason spot if both the Ravens lose.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)

Week 15 matchup: 30-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers

The Chiefs rebounded Saturday after allowing their AFC West lead to shrink as small as possible without losing it entirely. Their victory over the Chargers clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker between the teams, in essence giving the Chiefs a two-game lead over the Chargers with two games remaining.

5. Tennessee Titans (8-5)

Week 15 matchup: at San Francisco (4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday)

If the Titans win: At the very least, they would keep up with the Jaguars, keeping the possibility of potentially clinching the AFC South alive by winning their final two games. But because the Titans are playing an NFC game, this isn't a week for them to make tiebreaker progress in the wild-card race.

If the Titans lose: It depends on whether the Jaguars win. If Jacksonville doesn't, the Titans will still have a decent shot at the division. If Jacksonville does, the Titans will fall squarely into a multiple-team wild-card race.

6. Buffalo Bills (7-6)

Week 15 matchup: vs. Miami (1 p.m. ET on Sunday)

If the Bills win: It would be an important victory in the common-games tiebreaker with the Ravens, if it comes to that. At the moment, the Ravens are 3-0 against teams the Bills have or will have played. The Bills are 1-1.

If they lose: The Bills could have a hard time beating the Ravens in a tiebreaker.

Keep an eye on:

  • Baltimore Ravens (7-6): A victory over the winless Browns would keep them very much in the wild-card race.

  • Los Angeles Chargers (7-7): After missing out on their chance to vault into the division lead, the Chargers now must get some help from the Bills and Ravens to wiggle into the wild-card race.


1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-2)

Week 15 matchup: at Giants (1 p.m. ET on Sunday)

If the Eagles win: They would clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, if their victory is combined with a Vikings loss. Even if the Vikings win, the Eagles will still secure a first-round bye -- meaning no worse than the No. 2 seed -- with a victory.

If the Eagles lose: They would hold a slight, if temporary, tiebreaker over the Vikings if both teams are 11-3 by the end of the weekend. The Eagles' conference record would be 9-2, and the Vikings' would be 8-2.

2. Minnesota Vikings (10-3)

Week 15 matchup: vs. Bengals (1 p.m. ET on Sunday)

If the Vikings win: They would clinch the NFC North.

If the Vikings lose: Because of the Lions’ win Saturday, the Vikings can’t clinch the NFC North if they lose to the Bengals. But they can still clinch a playoff berth, even with a loss to the Bengals, if the Seahawks, Falcons and either the Saints or Panthers lose.

3. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

Week 15 matchup: at Seahawks (4:05 p.m. ET on Sunday)

If the Rams win: They would maintain their lead in the NFC West but would not clinch the division or even a playoff berth, thanks to the Lions’ victory over the Bears on Saturday.

If the Rams lose: They would have a harder time winning the NFC West. The Seahawks will own the head-to-head tiebreaker, so the Rams would need to win one more game than the Seahawks between Weeks 16 and 17. A loss would also impact L.A.'s chances to win a tiebreaker over the rest of the wild-card field, as it would be the team's fifth conference loss.

4. New Orleans Saints (9-4)

Week 15 matchup: vs. Jets (1 p.m. ET on Sunday)

If the Saints win: They would still hold the top spot in the NFC South but can't clinch the division because their Week 16 game is a matchup with the Falcons, who have already defeated them once.

If the Saints lose: It will hurt them in the standings, obviously. But if you're going to lose in the world of tiebreakers, it is much better for it to happen against a team from the other conference.

5. Carolina Panthers (9-4)

Week 15 matchup: vs. Packers (1 p.m. ET on Sunday)

If the Panthers win: They would keep up in the NFC South race, which means, at worst, they would probably earn a wild-card spot with a 1-1 finish.

If the Panthers lose: They'll suffer their fifth conference loss -- more than the Seahawks, Falcons or Saints -- and drop to the fringe of the wild-card race.

6. Atlanta Falcons (8-5)

Week 15 matchup: at Buccaneers (8:30 p.m. ET on Monday)

If the Falcons win: They would gain an important division and conference victory, and remain on track to win the division with a 2-0 finish.

If the Falcons lose: They'll need help to win the division and would fall out of the No. 6 spot if the Seahawks defeat the Rams.

Keep an eye on...

  • Seattle Seahawks (8-5): They can take control of the NFC West if they defeat the Rams, which would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker between the teams.

  • Detroit Lions (8-6): Even after Saturday's victory over the Bears, the Lions have a tough road. Should both the Falcons and Seahawks lose on Sunday, creating a three-way tie at 8-6 for the sixth seed, the Lions (and the Seahawks) would lose the tiebreaker to the Falcons.

  • Green Bay Packers (7-6): The return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers against the Panthers will give them hope, but they have a lot of ground to make up. Like the Lions, they probably need to finish 3-0 just to have a chance.

  • Dallas Cowboys (7-6): Similar to the Lions and Packers, the Cowboys need a 3-0 finish to even have a chance. It starts Sunday at the Raiders.