It all comes down to Sunday.
New Year’s Eve is always a little bittersweet, the promise of a fresh start intermingled with that gnawing feeling of regret. New Year’s Eve Eve will be similar in the NFL, except rather than an anticlimactic countdown that reminds us of our own mortality, we will finally have real answers when the clock strikes midnight. Or, like 11:38 p.m. ET — whenever Sunday Night Football ends.
We got another intense final week in the NFL. It didn’t quite top last year’s, when the Bengals’ last-second touchdown (on fourth down, no less!) took down the Ravens and vaulted the Bills into the playoffs for the first time since Toy Story 2 was in theaters. But Sunday still sent the 2018 regular season off on a dramatic note.
Six teams were fighting for the three playoff spots that had yet to be claimed. The Saints, Rams, Bears, Cowboys, Seahawks, Chiefs, Patriots, Texans, and Chargers already made their way in, though there’s a lot of uncertainty remaining. Coming into Sunday, only two seeds were firmly set. Both of those were in the NFC too: the Saints (No. 1) and the Cowboys (No. 4).
So that left a lot — 10 seeds! three divisions! — that had to be decided. Take a seat, grab some snacks, and schedule bathroom breaks only for when your bladder will be screaming for mercy and that’s all. You’re not going to want to go anywhere until Sunday is over.
What’s on the line in Week 17?
The Vikings and Eagles were vying for the final wild card spot in the NFC, and it was the defending Super Bowl champs who are moving on to the postseason. The AFC North title came down to the Ravens or Steelers, and despite a valiant effort by the Browns, Baltimore escaped with the win and the division. The Titans and Colts will end the night in a battle for a wild card bid after the Texans sewed up the AFC South.
The other TBD division was the AFC West. The Chargers easily handled the Raiders, giving them the division title and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Chargers then had to settle for a wild card berth.
The Patriots, for the ninth year in a row, locked up the other first-round bye.
In the NFC, the Rams took the No. 2 seed over the Bears.
How could the Vikings have clinched a wild card spot Sunday?
The Vikings could’ve put this season’s disappointments behind them and gotten in the playoffs all by themselves. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t do it.
The Vikings just needed one of two things to go their way to grab the NFC’s other wild card spot:
- They beat the Bears OR
- The Eagles lose to or tie Washington.
However, the Eagles won and the Vikings were lifeless in a 24-10 loss to the Bears that ended their season.
How did the Eagles clinch a wild card spot Sunday?
The Eagles are hot right now. Now it’s time to get out the underdog masks because they’re headed back to the playoffs.
The Eagles’ scenario was the opposite of the Vikings. To nail down the second wild card in the NFC, they needed two things to happen:
- They beat Washington and the Vikings lose to the Bears.
They beat Washington 24-0 and the Vikings loss. Celebrate safely, Philly.
How did the Ravens clinch the AFC North Sunday?
The Browns were the only thing standing in the Ravens’ way of making the playoffs again and erasing the bad memories of last year’s bitter ending (at least without the aid of Lacuna, Inc). But these aren’t your butt-of-the-joke Browns. These are the Baker Mayfield Browns, and they aren’t just feelin’ dangerous. They ARE dangerous.
The Browns already beat the Ravens once this year — 33.3 percent of Hue Jackson’s wins with the team — but this time, it was in Baltimore. And Lamar Jackson, not Joe Flacco, was the starter.
There was one way Cleveland can gain a competitive edge, though. Mayfield was just 7 months old when Art Modell announced that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore, but all someone has to do is teach Mayfield all about the history of the rivalry. With the permanent chip on his shoulder that can be programmed based on whatever he wants to be mad about this week, that should’ve been enough to fuel him to try to exact revenge, 23 years later.
It almost worked too, but in the end, the Ravens won a nail-biter.
The Ravens just needed one of these to happen to win the AFC North for the first time since 2012:
- They beat the Browns OR
- The Steelers lose to the Bengals OR
- They tie the Browns and the Steelers and Bengals also tie.
Their 26-24 win got them the division crown and (probably) kept the Steelers out.
The best possible scenario for the Ravens would have been winning the AFC North title AND getting a first-round bye. That didn’t happen because they needed:
- To beat the Browns, the Patriots lose to the Jets, the Texans lose to the Jaguars, and the Colts and Titans DON’T tie OR
- To beat the Browns, the Patriots lose to the Jets, the Texans lose to the Jaguars, and the Ravens clinch the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Texans.
However, the Patriots and Texans both won.
How can the Steelers clinch a playoff spot Sunday?
All the Steelers had to do was not run a fake punt when they had the lead and the momentum against the Saints. Or, ya know, not lose to the Raiders or Broncos. Or hell, even just pay Le’Veon Bell what he was worth.
Alas, here they were in Week 17, needing a favor from the two teams that hate them the most: the Bengals and the Browns. Cleveland didn’t come through and now the Steelers will likely miss the playoffs after starting the season 7-2-1.
The Steelers could’ve defended their AFC North title in one of two ways:
- They beat the Bengals and the Ravens lose to or tie the Browns OR
- They tie the Bengals and the Ravens lose to the Browns.
The Steelers can still technically get a wild card spot, but it won’t happen because they need:
- To beat the Bengals and the Colts and Titans tie.
How can the Colts clinch a playoff spot Sunday?
The Colts were not supposed to be in this position this year. Not with a coach who fell into the job after Josh McDaniels ghosted them. Not with Andrew Luck’s health still a huge question mark. Not with a young, raw defense.
The Colts weren’t even supposed to be here in mid-October, when they dropped to 1-5 after a loss to the Jets. But they surprised us, winning eight of their last nine games behind Luck, who’s likely this season’s Comeback Player of the Year. Now, they can complete their total makeover with a postseason berth — but their hopes of stealing the AFC South crown are over thanks to the Texans’ win over the Jaguars.
The Colts can snag a wild card spot if:
- They beat the Titans.
How can the Titans clinch a playoff spot Sunday?
The Titans could’ve earned as much as a No. 2 seed and as little as an early vacation and slightly higher draft pick. They’re hosting the Colts in what amounts to a play-in game and have only lost once at home this season — but they’ve also never beaten to Andrew Luck.
The Titans’ best-case scenario included the AFC South title and a first-round bye, but the Texans and Patriots prevented that from happening.
The Titans’ still pretty good scenario would give them a wild card spot, and it’s simple. They’re in if:
- They beat the Colts.
How did the Texans clinch the AFC South Sunday?
The Texans almost got into the postseason all on their own last week. They were on the verge of beating the Eagles thanks to Deshaun Watson’s heroic comeback … and then the defense promptly wasted Watson’s effort. Luckily for Houston, the Steelers blew their own lead, and that’s all the Texans needed to get back in the playoffs.
This week, they got it right and produced the AFC South’s second straight “worst to first” finish. The Jaguars went from last place in the division in 2016 to first in 2017 (and then back to last in 2018). Just a year later, the Texans are the next team to go from fourth to first.
The Texans completed the one-year turnaround in the AFC South with:
- Their 20-3 win over the Jaguars on Sunday.
All other scenarios — including a possible No. 1 seed — were killed once the Patriots beat the Jets and the Chiefs beat the Raiders.
How did the Chiefs clinch the AFC West and the No. 1 seed Sunday?
For the first time all season, the Chiefs were on a losing streak, a whole two games. Two weeks in a row, they had a chance to win the division and failed each time. Fortunately for them, they’ll got a third chance — and their last opponent was the Raiders.
The Chiefs won the AFC West, a first-round bye, AND the No. 1 seed with:
- A 35-3 win over the Raiders
How could the Chargers have clinched the AFC West?
The Chargers were either going to go big (the AFC West title and the No. 1 seed) or stay right where they are at No. 5. It’ll be the latter.
There were two ways the Chargers could take the division and the No. 1 seed in the AFC:
- They beat the Broncos and the Chiefs lose to or tie the Raiders OR
- They tie the Broncos and the Chiefs lose to the Raiders.
But the Chiefs’ win over the Raiders meant the Chargers, who topped the Broncos, were stuck with a wild card berth.
How did the Patriots clinch a first-round bye Sunday?
Oh hey, look who it is. A week after it seemed time to hold a vigil for the Patriots dynasty, they guaranteed themselves a first-round bye. Yes, again.
It’s a long shot, but the Patriots could’ve earned the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the gabillionth time if:
- They beat the Jets, the Chargers lose to the Broncos, and the Chiefs lose to the Raiders.
Only the first one happened.
There was an easier way for the Patriots to secure a first-round bye, with they did because:
- They beat the Jets.
How did the Rams clinch a first-round bye Sunday?
With the Saints owning the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the No. 2 seed is the only one left that includes next weekend off.
The Rams locked up the No. 2 seed and another week to rest Todd Gurley because:
- They beat or tie the 49ers OR
- The Bears lose to or tie the Vikings.
They beat the 49ers and will host a game in the Divisional Round.
How could the Bears have clinched a first-round bye Sunday?
The Bears had been holding steady at No. 3, but they could’ve still jumped to the No. 2 spot.
The Bears needed two games to end favorably for them to land a first-round bye. It would’ve happened if:
- They beat the Vikings and the Rams lose to the 49ers.
Although they took down the Vikings, the Rams beat the 49ers.
What do the playoff standings look like right now?
There’s a fairly good chance the standings look the same now as they do at the end of the night. We’ll keep updating them until they’re finalized, so be sure to check back. Say, about 11:38 p.m ET?
- New Orleans Saints (13-3)**
- Los Angeles Rams (13-3)**
- Chicago Bears (12-4)**
- Dallas Cowboys (10-6)**
- Seattle Seahawks (10-6)*
- Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)*
- Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)**
- New England Patriots (11-5)**
- Houston Texans (11-5)**
- Baltimore Ravens (10-6)**
- Los Angeles Chargers (12-4)*
- Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
Still alive: Tennessee Titans (9-6), Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1)
**clinched the division
*clinched a playoff berth
What do the playoff matchups look like?
For the complete schedule all the way to the Super Bowl, be sure to check out our playoff guide. All times listed are Eastern.
Wild Card Round
Saturday, Jan. 5:
Colts/Titans winner at Texans, 4:35 p.m.
Seahawks at Cowboys, 8:15 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 6:
Chargers at Ravens, 1:05 p.m.
Eagles at Bears, 4:40 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 12:
Lowest AFC seed remaining at Chiefs, 4:35 p.m.
Highest NFC seed remaining at Rams, 8:15 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 13:
Highest AFC seed remaining at Patriots, 1:05 p.m.
Lowest NFC seed remaining at Saints, 4:40 p.m.
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