N.F.L. Week 15: Playoff Picture Comes Into Focus

With much of the Week 15 action wrapped up, the league is getting closer and closer to knowing who will be playing for a chance at Super Bowl 50.

Having beaten the Giants and moved to 14-0, the Carolina Panthers are now just one win (or one loss by Arizona) away from securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Here’s how the rest of the playoff picture looks:

How Each Team Can Make the N.F.L. Playoffs on The Upshot


In the N.F.C., the Cardinals, Packers, and Seahawks are all guaranteed playoff spots, and the Vikings moved a step closer with a win over Chicago.

The remaining drama in the conference, other than final seeding, centers on the N.F.C. East where the Giants’ loss broke up what had been a three-way tie for the division lead. The Redskins are at least temporarily in sole possession of the division lead after beating the Bills, but the Eagles could win the division with victories over the Redskins and Giants.

Heading into the Sunday night game, the N.F.C. looked like this:

  1. Carolina

  2. Arizona

  3. Green Bay

  4. Washington

  5. Seattle

  6. Minnesota

Still in the hunt: Atlanta (7-7), Philadelphia (6-8), St. Louis (6-8), Giants (6-8), Tampa Bay (6-8), New Orleans (5-8).


In the A.F.C., the New England Patriots secured a first-round bye when Denver lost to Pittsburgh, a game that also knocked the Jets out of the second wild card spot in favor of the Steelers. The Cincinnati Bengals kept things going despite playing without Andy Dalton and the Houston Texans took control of the A.F.C. South.

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Currently, the Patriots and Bengals are the only teams in the conference guaranteed a playoff spot, leaving far more room for changes in the final two weeks of the season than the N.F.C. has.

The most intriguing scenario would be for the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that started the season 1-5, to dethrone the Broncos in the A.F.C. West. The Broncos started the season 8-0 and have won the division in four consecutive seasons.

As it stands, the A.F.C. currently breaks down like this:

  1. New England

  2. Cincinnati

  3. Denver

  4. Houston

  5. Kansas City

  6. Pittsburgh

Still in the hunt: Jets (9-5), Oakland (6-8), Indianapolis (6-8), Jacksonville (5-9).

— Benjamin Hoffman

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