AFC Playoff Scenarios for Week 18 in the NFL

Let’s start with the simple scenarios. The Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8) host the Tennessee Titans (7-9) in a de facto AFC South championship game on Saturday night, with the home side a 6.5-point favorite. The winner (or tie for the Jags) advances into the tournament as the No. 4 seed in the AFC.

If the Titans lose, they will be eliminated; however, the Jags would still have a sliver of hope that would require three results to all go in their favor: losses by Miami (vs. NYJ), New England (at Buffalo), and Pittsburgh (vs. Cleveland). A Bills-Jets-Browns moneyline parlay would pay +581.

In addition to the Jags (if they lose), three teams are alive for the AFC’s seventh seed. A troika of 8-8 sides in the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Patriots, a seven-point underdog at the Bills, control their destiny. Win, and they’re in. Tie scenarios aside, losses by the Dolphins and Steelers, coupled with a Jags win, would also punch New England’s ticket to the postseason. That plot–Jets-Browns-Jags moneyline–would pay +608.

To clinch the wild card, the Dolphins need to win against the Jets as a three-point home favorite and for the Pats to lose in Buffalo. Whose odds are better? New England winning is +260, while the Dolphins winning and Pats losing would pay +112 on a two-leg parlay.

So, despite the fact the Patriots control their destiny, the betting market gives the Dolphins a better chance of making the playoffs. 

How about the Steelers? Pittsburgh needs to win as a 2.5-point favorite against Cleveland, in addition to New England and Miami losses. A three-team moneyline parlay of Steelers, Bills, and Jets would pay +427, giving them the longest shot of the three leading wild-card contenders. 

Last night the NFL officially canceled the Week 17 Buffalo-Cincinnati game. In the expected-to-be-approved proposal, the league has decided to use winning percentage to determine seeding but not necessarily who would host the postseason games.

The Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) have clinched the AFC North (via winning percentage). However, the Bengals have yet to secure all the trappings that generally come with a division title. They will, if they beat the Baltimore Ravens (10-6), as an 8.5-point home favorite on Sunday.

If the Ravens pull off the upset and the two AFC North rivals are pitted in the Wild Card round, the home site will be decided by a coin flip (I kid you not). If they are not scheduled to play in the Wild Card game, the league will revert to regular scheduling practices, with the Bengals hosting a game as a division champ and the Ravens going on the road as a Wild Card team.

How will the league resolve a little thing called the No. 1 seed?

If the Buffalo Bills (12-3) win on Sunday and the Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) lose as a 9.5-point favorite on Saturday, the Bills will be the No. 1 seed and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

KC only needs a win to secure the top seed, as their 14th victory would ensure the best winning percentage in the AFC. They would also earn a first-round bye and open the postseason in the Divisional Round. However, they do not necessarily have home-field advantage (only if the Bills also lose).

If both teams win in Week 18 and the two meet in the AFC Championship Game, it would be played on a neutral field. If they both lose and Baltimore beats Cincinnati, the Bills and Chiefs would meet on a neutral field in a potential championship game.

What if they both lose, but the Bengals win? Then any matchup between the Chiefs (13 wins) and either the Bills or the Bengals (both with 12 wins) would be played on a neutral site.

Phew. Got all that?