Examining NFL Playoff scenarios heading into Week 15

There are seven teams that can clinch NFL playoff position heading into NFL Week 15, which is full of intrigue.

At this point, we know who the heavy hitters are, but only one team has clinched a playoff berth thus far.

The Dallas Cowboys are in. We know that. But that’s about all we do know.

The New England Patriots are as good as in. The Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders are also right there at the top in the AFC, and the Seattle Seahawks should get in, even if they limp into the postseason as NFC West champs.

Let’s take a look at what needs to happen around the league this weekend for the seven teams that can clinch playoff position (h/t Randall Liu, NFL’s Director of Football Communications).

Dallas Cowboys (11-2)

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

Having already clinched a playoff berth, the Cowboys are now fighting for the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. They can clinch the NFC East this weekend and a first-round bye if a couple things happen.

The first scenario: Dallas needs to win and see the New York Giants lose or tie.

The second scenario: Dallas can tie and clinch if the Giants lose.

The Cowboys can also clinch homefield throughout the playoffs. In order to to that they need to win while both the Giants and Detroit Lions tie this weekend — an unlikely scenario.

Dallas faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend in a game that was flexed to Sunday night, thanks to both teams being hot right now. It should be a fantastic battle and will have huge playoff implications, not only for both teams but for other teams in the NFC as well.

Detroit Lions (9-4) 

One of the more entertaining teams to watch this year, the Detroit Lions can clinch the NFC North this weekend, ensuring a playoff berth for the first time since 2014.

There are two ways this can happen.

The first scenario: Detroit needs to win while the Green Bay Packers lose or tie.

The second scenario: Detroit needs to tie while the Packers and Minnesota Vikings lose or tie.

Julius Peppers

The Lions are on a hot streak, having won their last five and eight out of the last nine games. They will be on the road this weekend for what should be a tremendous showdown against the Giants, who we’ll get to in a moment.

Of particular import in this game will be how well quarterback Matthew Stafford can perform as he deals with ligament damage in his middle finger on his throwing hand (more on that here). New York’s defense is a fearsome unit right now, and the Lions will need to be on their best behavior to win this game.

Seattle Seahawks (8-4-1)

Things are pretty cut and dry this weekend for the Seahawks, who currently have the No. 3 seed in the NFC.

With a three-game lead in the NFC West over the flailing Arizona Cardinals with just three games left to play, Seattle will clinch the division with a win or a tie.

Even if they don’t win, the Seahawks can clinch the NFC West if the Cardinals lose or tie.

It’s that simple.

Seattle will be hosting the Los Angeles Rams at CenturyLink Field. Los Angeles is a team in upheaval, having just lost its head coach, Jeff Fisher. The Rams’ offense has been a train wreck all year, with running back Todd Gurley calling it a “middle school offense” after the team’s blowout loss at home against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday.

Of all the clinching scenarios this weekend, Seattle claiming the NFC West seems the most likely.

New York Giants (9-4)

Odell Beckham Jr.

While Seattle’s playoff clinching scenario is straight forward, the same cannot be said about what must happen for the Giants to clinch this weekend.

New York needs to win. It also needs plenty of help.

The Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers must all lose or tie.

Washington is at home against the Carolina Panthers — a very winnable game. Minnesota is at home against the Indianapolis Colts — another winnable game. The suddenly hot Packers are on the road against the Chicago Bears — a game they should win by a wide margin.

Meanwhile, New York will be hosting Detroit, as we mentioned above.

It’s possible the Giants will clinch this weekend, but we’re not holding out breath.

New England Patriots (11-2)

Like we saw with Dallas, the Patriots can clinch the AFC East this weekend as well as a first-round bye.

In order to clinch their division, the Pats need only win and see the Miami Dolphins lose or tie.

In order to clinch a first-round bye, New England needs only to win or tie. If they lose, then they can still clinch a bye a couple of different ways.

The first scenario: Miami loses or ties plus the Pittsburgh Steelers lose or tie.

The second scenario: Miami loses or ties plus the Kansas City Chiefs win.

Tom Brady, Martellus BennettNew England is on the road this weekend to face the Denver Broncos, which could be a very tight game if Denver’s defense plays at its highest level. The Dolphins (without Ryan Tannehill) are going to be visiting the New York Jets on Saturday night and should win that game.

With this in mind, don’t be surprised if the Patriots don’t clinch anything this weekend.

Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)

A win will get the Chiefs into the playoffs. Period.

If the Chiefs tie, then they can still clinch if the Dolphins lose and if the Broncos lose or ties against New England.

If the Chiefs lose, then they can still get in if either the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers lose or tie.

The Chiefs are going to be hosting the Tennessee Titans, which makes for a fantastic game, and a win is most certainly not guaranteed. Still, because of the other scenarios, a playoff berth is in Kansas City’s future.

Oakland Raiders (10-3)

Derek Carr

Like Kansas City, Oakland will clinch a playoff berth with a win on the road against the San Diego Chargers. It’s a game they should win, but you never know what is going to happen when these two teams meet up.

Should the Raiders fail to claim victory, they can still clinch in a number of different ways.

If they tie, they can get in if:

  • Miami loses
  • Denver loses
  • Miami and Denver both tie
  • Miami ties and Kansas City wins

If the Raiders lose Sunday, they can still get in if a they get help as well. They can lose and get in if:

  • Miami loses, plus Pittsburgh loses or ties, plus Denver loses
  • Miami loses, plus Pittsburgh loses or ties, plus Kansas City wins or ties
  • Miami loses, plus Baltimore loses or ties, plus Denver loses
  • Miami loses, plus Baltimore loses or ties, plus Kansas City wins or ties

That’s not complicated at all.

Needless to say, the Raiders will likely clinch a playoff berth this weekend.