Three games remain for most N.F.L. teams, and although the postseason picture for many of them may seem wide open, there’s no need to guess about their chances.
While the playoff picture will come into focus with each additional result, some games matter much more than others.
Below, we’ve created a team-by-team guide for every team not yet eliminated. We’ll describe their postseason probabilities conditional on the results of their next games (if they have three remaining): if they win all three, win two, win one or lose all three. All this will point back to our playoff simulator, where you can explore the scenarios to your heart’s content.
Buffalo Bills (11-3)
Remaining games: at Bears, at Bengals, Patriots
The Bills are in the playoffs. They would hold the No. 1 seed if the season ended today. Winning their remaining games would, of course, guarantee them that seed, with the bye week and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. Of their remaining games, their most important is in Week 17, against the Bengals (10-4), who are vying for the No. 1 seed themselves. If the Bills win that game, they can probably afford to lose one, or possibly even both, of their other games.
Miami Dolphins (8-6)
Remaining games: Packers, at Patriots, Jets
The Dolphins are still vying for a postseason spot, probably via a wild-card berth in which they would play their first (and probably all) playoff games on the road. Two wins in their remaining three games would almost certainly put them in the playoffs, and one win may be enough. Their last two games are against divisional opponents who are themselves still in the playoff hunt. The Dolphins’ Week 18 matchup, against the Jets, is their most important. And, for optimistic Miami fans, the A.F.C. East title is still a mathematical possibility.
New England Patriots (7-7)
Remaining games: Bengals, Dolphins, at Bills
With three games remaining, the Patriots still have a decent path to the postseason despite their 7-7 record. They will almost certainly need to win at least two of their remaining games, with a Week 17 matchup against the Dolphins being the most pivotal. Three wins and a 10-7 record would guarantee a playoff berth.
New York Jets (7-8)
Remaining games: at Seahawks, at Dolphins
Their loss to the Jaguars on Thursday damaged their already dwindling playoff chances, but the Jets remain in the hunt for a wild-card spot in the A.F.C. They’ll almost certainly need to win both their remaining games (both on the road). Even then, they would need help to make the playoffs in the form of losses by other A.F.C. wild-card contenders, including the Dolphins, Chargers and Patriots.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-4)
Remaining games: at Patriots, Bills, Ravens
The Bengals have clinched a playoff spot, but precisely where remains a question. They could finish as high as the No. 1 seed or as low as No. 7. Their best outcome in Week 16 is a win accompanied by Bills, Ravens and Chiefs losses.
Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
Remaining games: Falcons, Steelers, at Bengals
Like the Bengals, the Ravens have a wide range of postseason possibilities, including a very, very slim path to the No. 1 seed. The Ravens currently occupy the No. 5 seed — they would play the No. 4 seed, most likely the Titans or Jaguars — in the first round of the playoffs. A win against the Falcons (5-9) would obviously be welcome in Week 16, but it’s the final game, against the division-leading Bengals, that will probably be far more decisive.
Cleveland Browns (6-8)
Remaining games: Saints, at Commanders, at Steelers
Even if they won their remaining games, the Browns would have less than a 1-in-10 chance of making the playoffs. A loss in any of their three final games eliminates them.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8)
Remaining games: Raiders, at Ravens, Browns
The Steelers are not likely to make the playoffs. A loss in Week 16 would eliminate them.
Tennessee Titans (7-7)
Remaining games: Texans, Cowboys, at Jaguars
The Titans lead the A.F.C. South and are in a good position to win the division. They need only one more win to clinch that title: their Week 18 matchup against the Jaguars. Even if they lost the other two games, they would take the division with an 8-9 record.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8)
Remaining games: at Texans, Titans
As with the Titans, the Jaguars’ only realistic hope to make the playoffs is to win the division. But because they trail the Titans by a game, their path is all the narrower. Winning their remaining games would guarantee a playoff berth. By far their most important game is in Week 18: They host the Titans, which could be a division championship game.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)
Remaining games: Seahawks, Broncos, at Raiders
The Chiefs have clinched the A.F.C. West and can do no worse than a No. 3 seed, but their loss to the Bills in October puts them at a disadvantage in the race for the No. 1 spot. Even a 14-3 record would be no guarantee of a bye week and the home-field advantage that comes with it. The Chiefs need the Bills to drop a game.
Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)
Remaining games: at Colts, Rams, at Broncos
Barring a catastrophic end to their season, the Chargers are poised to be an A.F.C. wild-card team. Realistically, they may need to win only one of their remaining three games to advance. If the Chargers can win only one game, their next, at Indianapolis, is their most important.
Las Vegas Raiders (6-8)
Remaining games: at Steelers, 49ers, Chiefs
The Raiders are alive, but mostly in a mathematical sense. Their only real hope is a 3-0 record the rest of the way, and even that would make a postseason appearance only a little better than a coin-flip proposition. They will need more of the luck they experienced last week.
Philadelphia Eagles (13-1)
Remaining games: at Cowboys, Saints, Giants
The Eagles sit atop the N.F.C., currently in command of a bye week and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. Their record is so much better than those of the other N.F.C. contenders — they have a two-game lead over the Vikings and hold a tie-break edge with them anyway — that even winning one of their remaining games would clinch both the division title and the No. 1 seed.
That said, their next opponents are all possible playoff teams, depending on how generously one interprets the Saints’ record and position in the N.F.C. South.
Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
Remaining games: Eagles, at Titans, at Commanders
The Cowboys have clinched a playoff berth and are realistically vying for the best possible seed for a wild-card team: No. 5. That is quite a reward, considering it would probably mean visiting the champions of a miserable N.F.C. South: the Bucs, Saints, Falcons or Panthers.
The Cowboys still have a chance at an N.F.C. East division title and even the No. 1 seed in the conference. For that to remain possible, the Cowboys would have to start with a win on Saturday, when they host the 13-1 Eagles.
New York Giants (8-5-1)
Remaining games: at Vikings, Colts, at Eagles
The Giants are very likely to make the playoffs, as a wild-card team (the division title will go to the Eagles, or possibly the Cowboys). The Giants’ best outcome is to be the No. 5 seed, which would come with the reward of visiting the winner of the N.F.C. South in the first round.
Minnesota Vikings (11-3)
Remaining games: Giants, at Packers, at Bears
The Vikings clinched the N.F.C. North with their record come-from-behind victory against the Colts in Week 15. Realistically, the only thing their remaining games will determine is whether they are the No. 2 seed or No. 3 seed.
Detroit Lions (7-7)
Remaining games: at Panthers, Bears, at Packers
After a 1-6 start, the Lions are 7-7 with a path to a wild-card berth, especially given their remaining schedule, when they face three teams with losing records. Three wins would almost certainly do it, but even two could be enough. The Lions may be playing for a playoff berth in their final game, at Green Bay on Jan. 8.
Green Bay Packers (6-8)
Remaining games: at Dolphins, Vikings, Lions
The Packers kept their playoff hopes alive with a Monday night win at home against the Rams, but their path remains narrow. Realistically, they would need to win their remaining games, at least two of which are likely to be against playoff teams, to have a chance.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
Remaining games: at Cardinals, Panthers, at Falcons
All four teams in the N.F.C. South have a losing record, and all four also have a path to the postseason. The Bucs are in first place in the division despite having lost their last two games. Realistically, as long as the Bucs beat the Panthers in Week 17, they can probably afford to lose their other games.
New Orleans Saints (5-9)
Remaining games: at Browns, at Eagles, Panthers
The Saints are tied for second place in the dreadful N.F.C. South. Their best-case scenario is an 8-9 record, and even that wouldn’t yield a promising path to the postseason. Worse, their Week 17 matchup is against the 13-1 Eagles.
Carolina Panthers (5-9)
Remaining games: Lions, at Buccaneers, at Saints
Despite their record, the Panthers can still win the division by winning their remaining games. They need to win at least two of their next three to have a chance, and one of those would need to be in their Week 17 matchup at Tampa Bay. If they lose that, they are eliminated.
Atlanta Falcons (5-9)
Remaining games: at Ravens, Cardinals, Buccaneers
The Falcons can still make the playoffs. Any realistic path would probably start with a win in Baltimore on Saturday.
San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
Remaining games: Commanders, at Raiders, Cardinals
The 49ers have won the N.F.C. West. As with the Vikings, their remaining games will probably determine only whether they are the No. 2 seed or No. 3 seed.
Seattle Seahawks (7-7)
Remaining games: at Chiefs, Jets, Rams
The Seahawks must win two of their remaining games to have a realistic path to the playoffs. One of them is Saturday in Kansas City, against the 11-3 Chiefs.