With one week remaining in the 2023 NFL regular season, the playoff picture is really starting to take shape in both conferences. Several teams have already clinched playoff spots and division titles, while a few spots remain up for grabs heading into the final week.
In the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs have secured the top two seeds and first-round byes. The Ravens clinched the AFC North title and home field advantage, while the Chiefs won their eighth straight AFC West championship.
The Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, and Los Angeles Chargers have also punched their tickets to the postseason. The Bills still have a shot at winning the AFC East in Week 18. The Dolphins currently lead the division, but the Bills can overtake them with a win over the Patriots and a Dolphins loss.
In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles have locked up the #1 and #2 seeds. The 49ers took over the top spot with a win in Week 17 coupled with the Eagles’ loss.
The Minnesota Vikings won the NFC North crown, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys are both playoff-bound as well. The Cowboys now control their own destiny in the NFC East after the Eagles’ loss.
With only the #7 seed still up for grabs, here’s a look at the current AFC and NFC playoff standings:
AFC Playoff Standings
|Kansas City Chiefs
|Los Angeles Chargers
|New England Patriots
NFC Playoff Standings
|San Francisco 49ers
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|New York Giants
Division Title Races
While some divisions have already been wrapped up, there are a few coming down to the wire in Week 18.
In the AFC East, the Dolphins and Bills enter the final week separated by just a half game. The Dolphins vaulted into first place with an improbable comeback win over the Patriots in Week 17. However, with a win over the Jets and a Dolphins loss to the Jets, the Bills can still overtake Miami. This division may not be decided until the final minutes on Sunday.
Out west in the AFC, the Chargers clinched a playoff spot but are still battling the Chiefs for the division title. Though Kansas City owns the tiebreaker, a Week 18 win over the Broncos paired with a Chiefs loss could hand the division to the Chargers.
Over in the NFC, we have a good old fashioned Week 18 division title game between the Cowboys and Eagles. Despite owning the best record in the NFL for most of the season, the Eagles now need to beat or tie the Giants on Sunday to wrap up the NFC East. If Philadelphia loses and Dallas beats Washington, the Cowboys will win the East.
With three playoff spots still open heading into Sunday, here is what each contender needs to do to lock up their place:
Patriots: Win or tie vs. Buffalo OR Miami loss or tie vs. Jets
Dolphins: Win or tie vs. Jets OR New England loss or tie vs. Buffalo
Steelers: Win vs. Cleveland AND Miami loss vs. Jets AND New England loss vs Buffalo
On the NFC side, Seattle holds the final wild card spot at the moment. But the Lions or Packers could bump them out with a win plus a Seahawks loss.
Seahawks: Win or tie vs. LA Rams OR Detroit AND Green Bay losses
Lions: Win vs. Green Bay AND Seattle loss vs LA Rams
Packers: Win vs Detroit AND Seattle loss vs LA Rams
So while some spots are solidified, expect drama in multiple games with playoff implications right down to the wire on Sunday evening.
What’s at Stake in Week 18
As mentioned above, we still have division titles and playoff berths up for grabs in both conferences. But there are also some important seeding considerations that could impact which teams end up with those coveted opening round byes.
In the AFC, the Ravens have clinched the #1 seed but the Bills are lurking right behind them at #3. If Baltimore loses to Cincinnati and Buffalo defeats New England, the two teams would swap spots, vaulting Buffalo to #2 with a first-round bye.
Kansas City can also jump from #2 to #1 if they win and the Ravens lose, securing home field advantage for the Chiefs.
In the NFC, despite owning the best record in the league at 14-3, the Chiefs could fall all the way to the #3 seed with a loss to the Raiders coupled with 49ers and Eagles wins.
And in the hunt for the final wild card spot, things are extremely close. The Seahawks, Lions, Packers, and Steelers are separated by just a half game. Their playoff lives will be decided based on various combinations of wins and losses on Sunday.
With so many teams still battling for prime playoff real estate, expect fireworks with everything on the line this weekend.
Playoff Opponent Outlook
Once the dust settles on Sunday night, the matchups will be set for Wild Card weekend. But we can take an early look at some of the potential showdowns.
In the AFC, the Bills seem destined for a clash with the red-hot Bengals. Assuming seeding holds and Cincinnati locks down the #4 seed, this would pit Josh Allen vs Joe Burrow in a rematch of last year’s playoff classic. Justin Herbert and the Chargers also seem poised to face off against Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins in the first round.
Over in the NFC, we could be looking at Tom Brady making his 49th career playoff start against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. If Tampa Bay holds on to the #4 seed, this star-studded matchup would kick off the NFC playoffs.
Another intriguing potential battle is Justin Jefferson’s Vikings playing host to either Daniel Jones and the Giants or Geno Smith’s Cinderella Seahawks. Jefferson vs sauce Gardner could make for some must-see wild card action as well.
And don’t count out Aaron Rodgers and the Packers shaking things up either. Green Bay needs help to make the playoffs but Rodgers has been known to go on unbelievable postseason runs before.
Final Week Provides Intriguing Playoff Preview
While the Week 18 games will decide the final playoff field, they also serve as a sneak peek at some of the first round matchups.
In the Patriots-Bills matchup, these two AFC East rivals could be battling for both a division title and previewing their #2 vs #7 seed showdown on wild card weekend. Josh Allen and Mac Jones know each other extremely well, so this late season game will set the table for a likely playoff rematch.
Similarly out west, the Chiefs and Raiders ending the regular season together could be the pre-cursor to those two teams opening the playoffs as well. KC figures to rest starters but still provide a good warmup for Derek Carr ahead of his postseason debut.
The Packers and Lions contest on Sunday Night Football will literally decide which team makes the playoffs and could determine matchup specifics as well. Detroit earned a narrow win over Green Bay earlier this season, setting up a massive NFC North rubber match with playoff lives at stake.
Finally, even the Giants-Eagles game will serve as a glimpse at what a playoff rematch two weeks later may look like. Though Philadelphia figures to rest key players with the #1 seed locked up, important players getting in work against New York could pay dividends when the stakes are highest.
So while every other team is scoreboard watching and hoping for help, a few lucky teams actually control their own destinies this weekend. For them, Sunday’s game is essentially the playoffs before the actual playoffs. With so many intriguing games, Week 18 promises to provide entertainment value and set the playoff table in dramatic fashion.
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