NFL Playoff Scenarios for Week 18: Packers, Steelers, every contender can clinch

A look at how every team on the NFL postseason bubble can clinch in Week 18.

Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers
Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers / Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
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We have arrived at the final week of the NFL regular season. The Wild Card race in both conferences is a complete mess. There are six teams competing for two spots in the NFC. In the AFC, there are five teams competing for three sports. All have very specific pathways to punch their 2024 playoffs ticket.

This weekend, every manner of team will be competing for their spot in the postseason, from young upstarts (Houston Texans) to veteran disappointments ( New Orleans Saints). There are bonafide superstars who are looking to clinch on primetime national television. It should be fun.

Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills could win the AFC East... or miss the playoffs entirely. After weeks of turmoil and discontinuity, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still within striking distance of that final Wild Card slot. In the NFC, we have a three-way race to clinch the NFC South. The Saints, Falcons, and Buccaneers can all win or go home.

Here's a quick look at the NFL standings as of Week 18.

AFC Playoff Picture entering Week 18

1. Baltimore Ravens (13-3)
2. Miami Dolphins (11-5)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7)
5. Cleveland Browns (11-5)
6. Buffalo Bills (10-6)
7. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
(BUBBLE)
8. Houston Texans (9-7)
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)

NFC Playoff Picture entering Week 18

1. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
2. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
3. Detroit Lions (11-5)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)
5. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)
6. Los Angeles Rams (9-7)
7. Green Bay Packers (8-8)
(BUBBLE)
8. Seattle Seahawks (8-8)
9. New Orleans Saints (8-8)
10. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
12. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)

NFL Playoff Scenarios: How every contender can clinch in Week 18

We can thank ESPN's NFL titan Adam Schefter for a comprehensive breakdown of every NFL clinching scenario in Week 18.

How the Atlanta Falcons can clinch NFC South title in Week 18

1. Falcons win + Buccaneers loss

There's only one way in for the Falcons, and that is by winning the NFC South. That requires beating the Saints on Sunday and hoping the Bucs lose to the 2-14 Panthers. Not the greatest odds. Plus, the Falcons never win this game. It's Atlanta sports tradition to lose in the most gut-wrenching fashion possible.

How the Dallas Cowboys can clinch NFC East title in Week 18

1. Cowboys win
2. Cowboys tie + Eagles tie
3. Eagles loss

Dallas should handle business against Washington. The Commanders are falling apart at the seams. So are the Eagles, for that matter. Philadelphia should beat the Giants, but we can hardly count out an upset. The Cowboys are in a good spot.

How the Green Bay Packers can clinch in Week 18

1. Packers win
2. Packers tie + Seahawks loss or tie + Saints loss or tie
3. Packers tie + Seahawks loss + Buccaneers loss
4. Packers tie + Seahawks tie + Buccaneers loss or tie
5. Vikings loss or tie + Seahawks loss + Buccaneers loss
6. Vikings loss or tie + Seahawks loss + Saints loss

Win and you're in. That is football at its finest. Jordan Love will face his first true pressure crunch as Green Bay starter. If he can guide the Packers to the playoffs in his debut season — and clinch it with a win over Chicago, no less — he might have the Packers' job locked up for a while.

How the Minnesota Vikings can clinch in Week 18

1. Vikings win + Packers loss + Seahawks loss + Buccaneers loss
2. Vikings win + Packers loss + Seahawks loss + Saints loss

Minnesota will face an aggrieved Detroit team that is fighting for position in the upper echelon of the NFC standings. It's not looking great.

How the New Orleans Saints can clinch in Week 18

1. Saints win + Buccaneers loss — clinches NFC South title
2. Saints tie + Buccaneers loss — clinches NFC South title
3. Saints win + Seahawks loss or tie + Packers loss or tie
4. Saints tie + Seahawks loss + Packers loss

The Saints would prefer to win the NFC South and host a postseason game in the Superdome, but New Orleans probably needs to hold out hope that Green Bay and Seattle both lose. It's hard to imagine the Bucs losing to Carolina with the postseason on the line... right?

How the Philadelphia Eagles can clinch NFC East title in Week 18

1. Eagles win + Cowboys loss or tie
2. Eagles tie + Cowboys loss

Philadelpia blew a prime opportunity to cushion their NFC East lead against the middling Arizona Cardinals last week. Now, it will require a win over the Giants and a lucky break to avoid the Wild Card disadvantage.

How the Seattle Seahawks can clinch in Week 18

1. Seahawks win + Packers loss or tie
2. Seahawks tie + Packers loss + Buccaneers loss or tie
3. Seahawks tie + Packers loss + Saints loss or tie

Seattle has a winnable matchup against Arizona. Pete Carroll's squad will need to take care of business and hope the Bears pull out a stunner against the Packers in the concurrent 4:25 PM ET slot.

How the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can clinch in Week 18

1. Buccaneers win — clinches NFC South title
2. Buccaneers tie + Saints loss or tie — clinches NFC South title
3. Buccaneers tie + Seahawks loss + Packers loss or tie

Tampa Bay clinches the NFC South title with a win over the NFL's worst team. Pretty straightforward.

How the Buffalo Bills can clinch in Week 18

1. Bills win — clinches AFC East title
2. Bills tie
3. Steelers loss or tie
4. Jaguars loss or tie
5. HOU-IND tie

The Bills can clinch an improbable AFC East title with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday. After all the panic about Buffalo's slow start, that would make for quite the comeback story. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs are superstars. Buffalo has the talent and the track record to command respect.

If the Dolphins win, Buffalo is still sitting comfortably. All it takes is one loss from the other Wild Card contenders to clinch a spot.

How the Houston Texans can clinch in Week 18

1. Texans win + Jaguars loss or tie — clinches AFC South title
2. Texans win
3. Texans tie + Jaguars loss + Steelers loss or tie

Houston controls its own destiny. If Jacksonville chokes in the final week, Houston can even jump into the top four and host a postseason game. The Texans are facing an equally desperate Colts team, however, so C.J. Stroud's squad will have to play its A-game.

How the Indianapolis Colts can clinch in Week 18

1. Colts win + Jaguars loss or tie — clinches AFC South title
2. Colts tie + Jaguars loss — clinches AFC South title
3. Colts win
4. Colts tie + Steelers loss or tie

Houston-Indianapolis is easily the most consequential individual matchup this weekend, except for perhaps Miami-Buffalo. The winner is in. The Colts have braved the storm admirably since Anthony Richardson went down. Now, we will see if Gardner Minshew can get them over the finish line.

How the Jacksonville Jaguars can clinch in Week 18

1. Jaguars win — clinches AFC South title
2. Jaguars tie + HOU-IND tie — clinches AFC South title
3. Jaguars tie + Steelers loss or tie
4. Steelers loss + Broncos loss or tie + HOU-IND doesn't end in tie

The Jags also control their own destiny. A win against the Titans guarantees home-field advantage for one game. The question is, will Trevor Lawrence suit up?

How the Miami Dolphins can clinch AFC East title in Week 18

1. Dolphins win or tie

The Dolphins are playing for the No. 2 seed and home-field advantage. It will be the first high-pressure test for Mike McDaniel's squad. A loss drops Miami into the Wild Card pool.

How the Pittsburgh Steelers can clinch in Week 18

1. Steelers win + Bills loss
2. Steelers win + Jaguars loss or tie
3. Steelers win + HOU-IND tie
4. Steelers tie + Jaguars loss + HOU-IND doesn't end in tie
5. Jaguars loss + Broncos win + HOU-IND doesn't end in tie

The Steelers essentially need a win and some luck. Mike Tomlin's squad deserves credit for eclipsing .500 again despite the maelstrom of discomfort that consumed the franchise in 2023. Mason Rudolph will be the man of the hour Saturday. Pittsburgh needs to beat the NFL's No. 1 overall seed in Baltimore, but the Ravens will probably be resting their stars.

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