NFL playoff picture 2021: Week 14 standings, bracket, clinching scenarios and outlook for the pos...

ByKevin Seifert ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 14, 2021

It's official. We've gotten through the first 14 weeks of the NFL season without a single team clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2014. The Cardinals missed their chance Monday night, losing 30-23 to the Rams, and so we'll shift our focus to Week 15.

The NFL playoff field hasn't been so unsettled this late in seven years. Every NFL team has at least three losses through Week 14 for the first time since 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In addition, each conference has:

  • A three-way tie for the best record (first time through Week 14 since 1970)
  • Thirteen teams in a playoff spot or within one game of one
  • Five teams with the same record vying for a wild-card spot

The biggest winner of the weekend was a team that didn't even play. The Colts rose from the depths of the AFC race to the No. 6 spot thanks to losses by the Steelers, Bills and Bengals. Although the Colts have a difficult remaining schedule, they are atop five other six-loss teams in the conference. The biggest losers? The Jaguars, Lions and Jets were all eliminated from contention on Sunday.

What follows is our weekly snapshot of the NFL playoff picture, incorporating ESPN's Football Power Index(FPI) and a bit of our own instincts to give you a sense of short- and long-term stakes, including Week 15 clinching scenarios for six teams. We'll update after Thursday night's huge matchup between the Chiefs and Chargers.

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1. New England Patriots (9-4)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99.0%

FPI chances to win division: 74.9%

The Patriots entered their bye week knowing they would come out of it atop the AFC no matter what happened in between. The Titans and Chiefs both won Sunday to match New England's record, but the Patriots hold the tiebreaker at the moment because of a superior conference record.

Now, the Patriots head into a two-week stretch that could well decide the AFC East title. The Pats could clinch the division if they win Saturday at Indianapolis then beat the Bills at home in Week 16.

Next up:at Colts

2. Tennessee Titans (9-4)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99.3%

FPI chances to win division: 98.1%

The Titans found a perfect antidote on Sunday for their two-game losing streak. The Jaguars showed up in Nashville and rolled over, as usual, giving the Titans an easy victory. It was the Titans' fifth consecutive victory over the Jaguars and their eighth in the teams' past nine matchups.

Tennessee could clinch the AFC South as early as next week with a win over the Steelers and a Colts loss to the Patriots. And the Titans will continue to be in position to overtake the Patriots (or Chiefs) for the top spot in the AFC. The Patriots currently hold an advantage in conference record, but the Titans have the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chiefs. Remember, the Titans have the NFL's easiest strength of schedule the rest of the way; their remaining games are against the Steelers, 49ers, Dolphins and Texans.

Next up:at Steelers

3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 95.6%

FPI chances to win division: 61.4%

Nothing happened Sunday to stop growing public sentiment that the Chiefs will once again finish the season at the top of the AFC. Sunday's demolition of the Raiders was their sixth consecutive victory and brought the Chiefs even, in terms of record, with the Patriots and Titans. At the moment, the Chiefs come out third in the three-way tiebreaker because of conference record and head-to-head tiebreakers.

Now comes a massive divisional game at the Chargers. A loss would drop the Chiefs into the wild-card race. A win wouldn't clinch the AFC West, but the Chiefs would be able to neutralize the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chargers.

Next up:at Chargers

4. Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 72.5%

FPI chances to win division: 50.6%

That's two consecutive AFC North losses for the Ravens, who have fallen from the AFC's top seed to its fourth over the past two weeks. Even before losing Sunday to the Browns, the Ravens were a sleeper candidate to drop out of the playoff picture entirely by the end of the campaign. Baltimore's remaining schedule -- against the Packers, Bengals, Rams and Steelers -- is among the league's toughest. And now quarterback Lamar Jackson (foot) has been added to the Ravens' long injury list.

Their lead in the AFC North is down to one game, and while the FPI is still bullish on their playoff chances, it sure doesn't feel like the Ravens are definitely a playoff team at the moment.

Next up:vs. Packers

5. Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 84.2%

FPI chances to win division: 34.3%

The Chargers have won two consecutive games, scoring 78 points in the process and setting themselves up for a massive opportunity Thursday night against the Chiefs. No one will clinch the AFC West in that game, but the winner will finish the night with the division lead. The Chargers also could clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chiefs. With quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes on the field and a lot on the line, this could be the game of the year.

Next up:vs. Chiefs

6. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 57.2%

FPI chances to win division: 2.0%

That was quite a bye week for the Colts, who rose to No. 6 thanks to losses by the Bengals and Bills. The AFC South title might be beyond their grasp -- the Titans are essentially up three games with four remaining because of their head-to-head sweep -- but the Colts are now in good position for one of the AFC's three wild-card spots. They'll need to run a difficult gauntlet over the next two weeks, however, with games against the Patriots and Cardinals, before finishing with matchups against the Raiders and Jaguars. A 2-2 split in those games might be enough.

Next up:vs. Patriots

7. Buffalo Bills (7-6)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 77.5%

FPI chances to win division: 25.0%

In a matter of weeks, the Bills have gone from the top of the AFC East to barely clinging to a playoff spot. Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers was their fourth defeat in the past six games. They're certainly not getting the outcomes you would expect for a team with designs on a deep playoff run, but only one of Buffalo's losses has been by more than one score. The Bills have only one game remaining against a team with a winning record -- the Patriots in two weeks -- and the FPI is still giving Buffalo a really good chance to hang onto one of the wild-card spots.

Next up:vs. Panthers

In the AFC hunt

Cleveland Browns (7-6)

The Browns managed a season split with the Ravens, eliminating a head-to-head tiebreaker with them if it were to come to that for an AFC North title. Yes, the Browns are in both the divisional and wild-card mix, and the FPI gives them a 38.5% chance to make the playoffs. They have another winnable game in Week 15 at home against the Raiders.

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)

The Bengals' playoff chances have taken a big hit with consecutive losses to the Chargers and 49ers. The FPI is now giving them just a 30.0% chance to make it, and they'll face another contending team (Denver) in Week 15.

Denver Broncos (7-6)

The Broncos have now won four of their past six games and have a chance to jump another playoff contender when they take on the Bengals in Week 15. The FPI is skeptical that the Broncos will jump into the top seven, though, giving them a 26.3% chance.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)

The Steelers are down to an 10.5% chance to make the playoffs, according to the FPI, after their terrible performance Thursday night in Minnesota. Their remaining schedule is pretty brutal too, with games against the Titans, Chiefs, Browns and Ravens awaiting. The only thing left now, it appears, is their inevitable elimination from playoff contention.


1. Green Bay Packers (10-3)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99.9%

FPI chances to win division: 99.8%

What a nice present the Packers received Monday night. The Cardinals' loss to the Rams elevated the Packers to the top of the NFC, courtesy of the head-to-head tiebreaker. And the good news can continue in Week 15. The Packers will clinch the NFC North if they beat the Ravens or if the Vikings lose to the Bears. And if the Vikings beat the Bears, the Packers can still clinch a playoff spot if the Saints and 49ers lose.

The Packers have a few areas to shore up, most notably their special teams, but in a flawed league, they have as good of a chance as any team to make a deep playoff run.

Next up:at Ravens

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99.9%

FPI chances to win division: 99.9%

The Cardinals' loss Monday night allowed the Buccaneers to move up a spot, and Week 15 brings some clinching scenarios for Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers could secure both a playoff berth and the NFC South with a win at home against the Saints.

It's worth noting, of course, that the Saints have won all three regular-season matchups between these two teams since Tom Brady signed with the Buccaneers last season. (The Bucs did beat the Saints in the divisional playoffs last season, though.)

Next up:vs. Saints

3. Arizona Cardinals (10-3)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99.9%

FPI chances to win division: 89.6%

Monday night's result was a disappointment but not a disaster for the Cardinals. Yes, they could have clinched a playoff spot with a win over the Rams, and that would have given Arizona a chance to secure the NFC West title as soon as Week 15. But all that stands between the Cardinals and a playoff spot now is a game at the hapless Lions.

The loss to Los Angeles certainly threatened theCardinals' hopes for having home-field advantage in the playoffs, but it's worth noting that they are undefeated on the road this season. Even if they lose to the Lions, the Cardinals can clinch that postseason spot with losses by the Vikings and Saints, losses by the Vikings and 49ers or a Packers victory combined with losses by the Falcons and Saints. And while the Cards can't clinch the NFC West in Week 15, the FPI would still give them a 89.6% chance of doing so eventually.

Next up:at Lions

4. Dallas Cowboys (9-4)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 99.9%

FPI chances to win division: 97.6%

Although they made it more interesting than it needed to be, the Cowboys notched a key NFC East victory (and NFC tiebreaking factor) on the road Sunday. After defeating Washington, the Cowboys took a three-game lead in the division, and they can clinch it as early as Week 15, though it's a little complicated. First, they'll need to beat the Giants and have the Eagles lose to Washington. Then Dallas would need to win a strength-of-victory tiebreaker with the Eagles, which would require wins by five of the following six teams: Cardinals, Bengals, Chargers, Dolphins, Vikings and Patriots, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Whether it happens in Week 15 or not, the Cowboys' pending division title appears inevitable. And at the very least, Dallas can clinch a playoff spot next week with a win and a Buccaneers victory.

Next up:at Giants

5. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 98.6%

FPI chances to win division: 10.3%

Wow. The Rams were severe underdogs Monday night after losing safetyJalen Ramsey and tight end Tyler Higbeeto the COVID-19/reserve list earlier in the day. But they put forth perhaps their best performance of the season to pull within one game of the NFC West lead. The Cardinals are still the heavy favorite, as the Rams have just an 10.3% chance to capture the division, per the FPI, but the win increased Los Angeles' chances of making the playoffs to nearly 99%.

The Rams' remaining schedule is tough and includes three opponents who are pushing for playoff spots (Vikings, Ravens and 49ers), but Monday night's effort showed they are up to the challenge.

Next up:vs. Seahawks

6.San Francisco 49ers (7-6)

FPI chances to make playoffs:77.3%

FPI chances to win division: 0.1%

The 49ers' playoff chances got a significant boost with Sunday's overtime victory in Cincinnati. Most importantly, it allowed them to put a game's worth of distance between them and the five NFC teams with 6-7 records, and the FPI has their playoff odds at 77.3%. Had the Bengals completed their comeback, the 49ers' odds would have been 53%.

The 49ers could put away one of those teams next week if they defeat the Falcons, but it won't be easy sledding. The Niners still have games remaining at the Titans and Rams, with a presumably gimme matchup against the Texans in between.

Next up:vs. Falcons

7. Washington Football Team (6-7)

FPI chances to make playoffs: 24.2%

FPI chances to win division: 1.6%

Washington missed a chance to make the NFC East a bit more interesting on Sunday when its comeback effort fell short at FedEx Field. But let's face it: Even with a victory, the FPI would have given Washington just an 18% chance to win the division.

The real deal for Washington is the wild card, and Sunday's loss didn't knock it out of the top seven. Now, in an NFC field that includes five 6-7 teams, the FPI is giving Washington a 22.6% chance to grab one of the wild-card spots. It'll play one of its competitors for those berths (Eagles) twice in the next three weeks.

Next up: at Eagles

In the NFC hunt

Minnesota Vikings (6-7)

The Vikings would have been all but out of the playoff race had the Steelers completed their comeback Thursday night. Now, things look a little better. Two of Minnesota's four remaining games are against the Bears, including next Monday night, so anything's possible. At the moment, the FPI gives the Vikings a 29.3% chance of moving into the top seven.

Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

The Eagles return from their bye week very much still in the playoff race, in large part because they have two games remaining against Washington. The first will come in Week 15. The FPI gives the Eagles a 32.9% chance to make the playoffs, the best among the NFC's 6-7 teams.

Atlanta Falcons(6-7)

All credit to the Falcons for staying in the race with an undermanned team in the first year of coach Arthur Smith's tenure. But games remaining against the 49ers, Bills and Saints might be too big of an obstacle. The FPI gives Atlanta a 7.1% chance to go to the postseason.

New Orleans Saints (6-7)

The Saints have only one game remaining against a team with a winning record -- Week 15 at the Buccaneers -- but the only team they've defeated since the start of November is the woeful Jets. The FPI gives New Orleans a 26.6% chance to make the playoffs.

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