2023 NFL playoffs: Week 18 clinching scenarios, tiebreakers for contenders, including Bills, Bengals changes

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After 17 weeks of football, the 2022 NFL season comes down to this. So which teams are officially still fighting for playoff spots as we enter Week 18? And how do each of them actually clinch a trip to the postseason? We’re so glad you asked. Below you’ll find an updated rundown of all the latest clinching scenarios for the remaining open playoff spots.

The NFL decided on Thursday night to cancel the Bills-Bengals game, which was originally postponed on Monday night after Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field. That means Cincinnati and Buffalo will only be playing 16 games this season while all the other teams will be playing 17.

There could be a neutral-site AFC title game, which will only take place based on these scenarios:

  • The participating teams played a different number of regular-season games.
  • The lower-seeded team in the championship game could have been the No. 1 seed in the AFC if a full 17-game regular season had been played by all AFC clubs.

AFC scenarios

Top three seeds

Chiefs (can be No. 1 or 2 seed):

  • Clinch No. 1 seed with win at Raiders OR Bills loss vs. Patriots
  • If Chiefs and Bills both win this weekend and they end up meeting in the AFC Championship, the game would be played at a neutral site
  • If Chiefs, Bills and Bengals all lose this weekend, then a Bills/Chiefs AFC Championship would be played at a neutral site.
  • If Chiefs lose AND Bills win, Buffalo would be the 1 seed and Kansas City would be the 2 seed — and the possibility of a neutral-site AFC Championship game would NOT exist
  • If Chiefs and Bills lose AND Bengals win — a Bills/Chiefs OR Bengals/Chiefs AFC Championship would be at a neutral site.

Bills (can be No. 1, 2 or 3 seed):

  • Clinch first-round bye AND home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with win AND Chiefs loss (a neutral-site AFC Championship would NOT come into play in this scenario.
  • Would be 2 seed with win AND Chiefs win, or loss AND Bengals loss (If Bills win AND Chiefs win, and they meet in the AFC Championship, it would be played at a neutral site).
  • Would be 3 seed with loss AND Bengals win (Cincinnati would get the 2 seed in this scenario because it already clinched the strength of victory tiebreaker).
  • If Chiefs, Bills and Bengals all lose this weekend, then a Bills/Chiefs AFC Championship would be played at a neutral site.

Bengals (clinched AFC North, can be No. 2 or 3 seed):

  • Clinch No. 2 seed with win AND Bills loss (Cincinnati would get the 2 seed in this scenario because it already clinched the strength of victory tiebreaker).
  • Would be No. 3 seed with loss OR Bills win.
  • If the Bengals lose AND they are matched up with the Ravens in the AFC Wild Card round, a coin toss would determine home-field advantage. The specific scenario for that to occur would be for the Bengals to lose at home to the Ravens and for the Chargers to win at the Broncos.
  • If Chiefs and Bills lose AND Bengals win — a Bills/Chiefs OR Bengals/Chiefs AFC Championship would be at a neutral site.

AFC South title

  • Jaguars (8-8) clinch with: win/tie vs. Titans
  • Titans (7-9) clinch with: win at Jaguars

No. 7 seed wild card

  • Patriots (8-8) clinch with: win at Bills OR Dolphins loss vs. Jets AND Steelers loss vs. Browns AND Jaguars win vs. Titans
  • Dolphins (8-8) clinch with: win vs. Jets AND Patriots lose to Bills
  • Steelers (8-8) clinch with: win vs. Browns AND Dolphins loss vs. Jets AND Patriots lose to Bills
  • Jaguars (8-8) clinch with: loss vs. Titans AND losses by Dolphins, Patriots and Steelers

NFC scenarios

No. 1 seed (bye + home-field advantage)

Eagles clinch with any of the following:

49ers clinch with any of the following:

  • win vs. Cardinals + Eagles loss vs. Giants

Cowboys clinch with any of the following:

  • Win at Commanders + Eagles loss vs. Giants + 49ers loss/tie vs. Cardinals

NFC East title

  • Eagles (13-3) clinch with: win vs. Giants OR Cowboys lose at Commanders
  • Cowboys (12-4) clinch with: win at Commanders AND Eagles loss vs. Giants

No. 7 seed wild card

  • Packers (8-8) clinch with: win vs. Lions
  • Lions (8-8) clinch with: win at Packers AND Seahawks loss/tie vs. Rams, OR tie vs. Packers AND Seahawks loss vs. Rams, OR tie vs. Packers AND Rams-Seahawks tie AND Commanders win vs. Cowboys
  • Seahawks (8-8) clinch with: win vs. Rams AND Packers loss/tie vs. Lions, OR tie vs. Rams AND Lions-Packers tie AND Commanders loss/tie vs. Cowboys

For a complete look at playoff standings, scenarios and projected first-round matchups across the entire NFL, check out our updated postseason forecast right here.

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