Saturday, January 29, 2022

2021 NFL Playoff Picture: Ranking AFC teams vying for final playoff spots as Colts appear set to lock up berth

The AFC is finally starting to receive some clarity regarding its wild playoff race, as three division races have been wrapped up and five playoff spots have been sealed. Two playoff spots are still to be determined in the conference with five teams remaining in the running. 

The Indianapolis Colts hold all the cards in this playoff deck. A win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Colts are in the playoffs. The AFC playoff race has been wild all year, so the Colts losing to the team with the worst record in the NFL remains a possibility. That opens up the floodgates for the other playoff contenders to steal a berth in Week 18. 

With the final week of the season finally here, let’s take a revised look at the teams that have the best shot at sealing one of the final two playoff spots up for grabs in the conference.

Current AFC division leaders

Here are your top four seeds as the playoff picture currently stands:

  1. Chiefs (11-5)*
  2. Titans (11-5)*
  3. Bengals (10-6)*
  4. Bills (10-6)

Note: * = clinched division

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Teams that clinched playoff berth

The Bills can clinch the AFC East with a win over the Jets Sunday, but they have already clinched a playoff berth. The Patriots win the AFC East with a victory over the Dolphins and a Bills loss. 

  • Bills (10-6)
  • Patriots (10-6)

Final playoff spot contenders, ranked

This is a ranking of the teams competing for a wild card spot in the AFC. Only three non-division winning teams make the playoffs, so the top three obviously have the best chance to make the postseason as we dive into Week 18. As mentioned above, the Bills and Patriots have clinched a playoff berth so there are only two playoff spots up for grabs. 

1. Colts (9-7)

Remaining schedule: at Jaguars

All the Colts have to do is beat the Jaguars, the team with the worst record in the NFL. The Colts haven’t beaten the Jaguars in Jacksonville since 2014, so there’s a streak that needs to be snapped if Indianapolis wishes to make the playoffs for the third time in four years under Frank Reich. If the Colts lose, that opens the floodgates for the remainder of the AFC — but a playoff spot is theirs for the taking. 

2. Chargers (9-7)

Remaining schedule: at Raiders

If the Colts win, the final playoff spot goes to the winner of the Chargers-Raiders game on “Sunday Night Football.” The winner of that game would get the No. 7 seed. The Chargers did beat the Raiders 28-14 in Week 4 and have one of the game’s top young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert. There aren’t many better options a team could want in a “winner take all” game. A win or tie, no matter what the Colts do, gets the Chargers in. Like with the Colts, a playoff spot is there for the taking. 

3. Raiders (9-7)

Remaining schedule: vs. Chargers

The Raiders have earned the right to play for a playoff spot in Week 18, upsetting the Colts in Indianapolis to stay alive in the playoff race. If the Colts win, the Raiders play the Chargers for the final playoff spot. The Raiders can still get into the playoffs if the Colts and Steelers lose (or tie), before their game even is played. Vegas controls its own destiny, making the playoffs with a win over the Chargers. 

4. Steelers (8-7-1)

Remaining schedule: at Ravens

The Steelers aren’t dead yet, beating the Browns to stay alive in the playoff race. That tie has helped the Steelers to this point, but Pittsburgh has to beat Baltimore in order to have a shot at the postseason. The Steelers also need some help, needing a Colts loss and the Chargers-Raiders matchup can’t end in a tie (if the Colts lose and the Chargers and Raiders game ends in a tie, both the Chargers and Raiders get in). Pittsburgh is a long shot to get in the playoffs, but it has a chance. 

5. Ravens (8-8)

Remaining schedule: vs. Steelers 

The Ravens are still alive in the playoff race, even as five consecutive losses have taken them from No. 1 in the conference to out of the playoffs entirely. They need Lamar Jackson back in Sunday’s rematch with the Steelers, who already beat the Ravens in one of the most thrilling games of the year back in December. Not only do the Ravens need a win, but they need the Colts, Chargers, and Dolphins to lose to get into the playoffs. A lot needs to happen for Baltimore to get in, but the Ravens have to beat Pittsburgh first. Again, the Colts loss opens up the floodgates. 

Eliminated

Six AFC teams are officially eliminated from the postseason through Week 17:

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