Projecting the NFL Playoff Field with 6 Weeks Left

We have made it to the two-thirds mark of the NFL season. That means we have six weeks left in a season that has been nothing short of unpredictable and entertaining. That gives teams six more weeks to either shore up their playoff spot or make a run for one of those important positions. It’s hard to imagine that the playoff picture will look the exact same in six weeks as it does now. Despite all the certainty that we think this season has given us, this league is surely going to surprise us down the stretch.

For example, at this point last year, only two of the AFC division leaders would maintain their spot, while two teams from outside the top seven ended up making it into the postseason. In the NFC, three of the division leaders held on while just one team made its way from in outside the playoff picture. By that logic, there will be three non-playoff teams at the moment that make the postseason and three teams that lose their lead in the division.

Now, that may not be the exact case this season (and almost definitely will not be), but it does suggest that things are going to change between now and the wild-card round. Whether it is due to injury, bad luck, or just plain-old poor performance on the field, teams are going to slip. Conversely, other teams are going to surge up the standings. Both of last year’s Super Bowl teams (the Rams and Bengals, in case you didn’t remember, or just forgot that the Rams used to actually be good) were in wild-card spots at this time last year. The Titans and Packers also weren’t the number one seeds, which is where they would end up. Although we may not see the same level of shakeup as last year, we will see something. Here is my playoff update with six weeks to go, as well as my final predictions for the teams that will make the 2022 playoff field.

First, let me give you the playoff picture as it stands now.


Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)

Miami Dolphins (8-3)

Tennessee Titans (7-4)

Baltimore Ravens (7-4)

Buffalo Bills (8-3)

Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)

New York Jets (7-4)


Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)

Minnesota Vikings (9-2)

San Francisco 49ers (7-4)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6)

Dallas Cowboys (8-3)

New York Giants (7-4)

Washington Commanders (7-5)

Now, for a couple of locks. The Eagles, Vikings, Chiefs, and Titans are locks to win their division. Maybe something crazy happens in one of their divisions, but all four would still make the playoffs in that scenario, they’ve done enough at this point to have earned it. The Cowboys also have a wild-card spot locked up (not officially but basically officially) but are a long shot for the division. The Bills, Dolphins, and 49ers also seem like pretty certain bets to make the postseason, but there is uncertainty regarding their spot.

So, now with those out of the way let’s get to the interesting pieces of the playoff race before diving into my final predictions at the end.

AFC East

Let’s start with two teams that I have already mentioned. The Bills and Dolphins both should feel very good about their playoff odds, but only one of them can win the division. Currently, the Dolphins hold the advantage with both teams at 8-3 because of their head-to-head win. That is likely to change in week 15, assuming that the Bills win in order to split the season series. This may end up being the most interesting division battle in the league given the fact that both teams are legit contenders, and the winner could also challenge for the first overall seed and the bye.

It is hard to say which team has the upper hand the rest of the way. The two teams have very comparable schedules. They each play the Jets and the Patriots (Buffalo gets them twice) and one other current playoff team. The Dolphins do have to play the Chargers (who are pretty good, which we will get to later) and the Packers (who might be good), which could end up being the difference if they take an unforeseen loss. The Bills have looked vulnerable lately, potentially showing some cracks in the armor. But I still trust Buffalo more, especially with Josh Allen leading the way for them. They’ll need to win the rematch with Miami to eliminate the head-to-head tiebreaker but, if they do, I think they’ll win the division and finish with probably the second overall seed.

AFC North

Now, for what I think is probably the second-most interesting division race. The Ravens currently hold a lead over the Bengals due to their week five win, since both teams are at 7-4. The Bengals stole the division lead from the Ravens last year, but much of that was due to an epic collapse from the Ravens caused in large part by injuries, especially to Lamar Jackson. If Jackson remains healthy down the stretch this year, it could make for a very tight battle.

The Ravens haven’t looked particularly great lately. They’re coming off a loss to the Jaguars and have also played the Panthers and Browns closer than they probably should have. The good news for them is that they have one of the easier schedules the rest of the way. Even if they drop the game to the Bengals, which I predict they will, they could still end up with a better record just by taking care of some winnable games. But if they do lose one or two more games, then they’ll leave the door open for Cincy to swoop in for the second straight year. The Bengals have a tough schedule down the stretch, particularly with games against the Chiefs and Bills. But reinforcements are coming. Ja’Marr Chase is largely believed to return this week, which will give the offense a huge boost, and Joe Mixon should also return soon, maybe even this week. The Bengals showed this week with a win over the Titans that they are capable of beating good teams. If they take care of business in their final six games, I think they’ll end up winning the division. I think the Ravens may have some struggle closing out the season, which will result in them settling for a wild-card spot.

AFC Wild Card

With four division winners as well as the Dolphins and Ravens, as I’m predicting, that leaves just one more AFC postseason slot up for grabs. If this was the old, six-team playoff, then this would be easy, with six clear playoff-caliber teams. But the seventh team makes things a bit more difficult to predict, but it also makes the opening weekend of the postseason more fun so I’ll take it.

There will essentially be three teams fighting for that last spot. The Jets, who currently hold it, the Patriots, and the Chargers. Los Angeles is in third out of those teams right now at just 6-5, but they’re my pick to eventually earn the playoff berth. Maybe it’s because they were my preseason pick to win their division, and even the conference (ok, and maybe the Super Bowl too), but I still can’t quit the Chargers. They do have an advantage in terms of scheduling, with the Jets and Patriots having more difficult schedules featuring multiple postseason-bound squads. I also am betting on talent, which has a way of winning out at this time of the year. The Chargers have Justin Herbert, who is a transcendent quarterback when at his best, along with other studs such as Austin Ekeler, Derwin James, and Khalil Mack. New York has an excellent defense and New England still has Bill Belichick and the magic that he works, but neither of them has an offense that can keep up in the league. The Chargers should be able to ride their offense to a 10-7 record, which I think will narrowly get them into the postseason.

NFC Wild Card

I’m starting with the wild card in the NFC because that is probably the only postseason race worth watching in the conference. I’m going to start this by saying that I’m picking the 49ers to win the NFC West. I know the Seahawks are still technically keeping that battle close and that the Niners are certainly not a lock to win it like the Eagles or Vikings, but I feel confident they will get the job done. They’re trending in the right direction and look like one of the best teams in the NFC, so a division title should be within their grasp.

That leaves the Seahawks fighting for a wild-card spot. There are two up for grabs, with Dallas having a stranglehold on one of them. Seattle will have to pass one of either the Giants or the Commanders if it wants to get back to the playoffs, but that seems likely. The main reason to expect that is just the unlikelihood of the NFC East getting all four teams into the postseason. That has never happened before, obviously because there have only been two seasons with three wild-card teams, and I feel pretty certain that it will stay that way. For one, the Giants and Commanders still have to play each other twice, which will add a combined two losses to them in some combination. The Giants also have to play the Eagles twice and the Commanders have to play the Cowboys once. The interconnectivity of division foes makes it incredibly difficult for all four teams to get in.

I think the Giants are the more likely team to drop out of the two. The Commanders have been playing very well lately, including handing the Eagles their only loss and have looked really good with Taylor Heinicke under center. They also could be getting Chase Young back before the end of the season, which would help boost an already admirable defense, especially if he regains his form from his Rookie of the Year season. The Giants also have arguably the hardest remaining schedule, particularly with those two games against Philly, which will make it tough to keep up the pace.

Now, obviously, the Seahawks aren’t guaranteed the spot vacated by one of the NFC East teams, if there even ends up being one. They still have to earn it, which means probably getting to at least nine wins. Seattle is sitting at six already, and two games against the Rams plus another contest against the Panthers should be able to get them there. They could also earn a win against the Chiefs (unlikely), Jets (likely), or in a rematch against the 49ers (who knows because those games are always wild). The path to a winning season seems pretty clear for Seattle and that should be enough to get them into the postseason. Their only other competition will be from the second-place team from the division I’m about to talk about, but I doubt that team will be in any place to be in consideration for the wild card.

NFC South

Now, regretfully, it’s time to talk about the NFC South. Every once in a while we see a team squeak into the playoffs because of the whole ‘every conference winner gets into the postseason rule. This year that conference is the NFC South. The Buccaneers hold the top spot right now, although calling it a top spot might be a little too gracious. They’re at 5-6, giving them a slight edge over the 5-7 Falcons. Even the 4-8 Saints and Panthers are still technically in the running as well, but it’s hard to see either one of them pulling ahead.

Frankly, it’s hard to see the Falcons winning the division too. They’re a team that has a quasi-professional offense led by Marcus Mariota and not much to speak of on defense either. But the Buccaneers haven’t been great either, hence the three other teams with losing records still in the mix. Tampa Bay should be able to take care of business and win the division. But they also should have a much better record than 5-6, considering they have been at the top of the conference for the previous two seasons. The Bucs have an easy enough schedule (just the 49ers and Bengals as playoff-level opponents) and a talented enough team (ya know, Tom Brady) to win the division. I think the Buccaneers do eventually get the job done, which will prove myself and a lot of other people who picked them to win the division right, just not in the way any of us expected.

So now, just in case you haven’t been taking notes while reading this, here are my predictions for the playoff fields for each conference.


1. Chiefs

2. Bills

3. Titans

4. Bengals

5. Dolphins

6. Ravens

7. Chargers


1. Eagles

2. Vikings

3. 49ers

4. Buccaneers

5. Cowboys

6. Seahawks

7. Commanders