Bengals bills are huge for AFC image

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If the term “game-changer scenarios” excites you, this is your moment in the NFL season.

Five AFC teams clinched a playoff berth with two games to play. There are only four in the NFC. Four of the eight divisions have yet to be defined.

There’s a lot to decide, but the biggest game of Week 17 is almost undeniably in Cincinnati on Monday night.

The Buffalo Bills play the Cincinnati Bengals, and who wins that game could be directly related to who wins the Super Bowl, or at least who represents the AFC in it. It’s possible to get to a Super Bowl without a bye, but think of the difference for the Bills depending on whether they win or lose on Monday:

Bills win, get the #1 seed: Buffalo would bow out and be two home games away from the Super Bowl. Their divisional round opponent would be the lowest remaining seed. This means that if the Bengals win the AFC North, a Bills team would not face the Bengals or Kansas City Chiefs until the AFC Championship game.

Bills lose, Chiefs take #1: The Bengals would then take the lead to the #2 seed, meaning the Bills’ Super Bowl path changes from “bye, then two home games” to something along the lines of “no bye, get the dangerous Chargers team at the end Wild Card Weekend, Bengals Divisional Round Weekend, Chiefs for the AFC Championship.” Just a little difference there.

(Graph from Yahoo Sports by Michael Wagstaffe)

(Graph from Yahoo Sports by Michael Wagstaffe)

The Bills can still get the No. 1 seed if they lose on Monday, but that requires both Chiefs and Bengals losses and that seems unlikely. If the Bills want to win a Super Bowl, winning on Monday night would be a good idea. The Bills will clinch first place this weekend if they win and the Chiefs lose at home to the Denver Broncos.

Here are the other Week 17 games that will have the biggest impact on the playoff landscape, with some deciding scenarios included:

If the Buccaneers win, they win the NFC South. But the Panthers defeated the Buccaneers 21-3 earlier this season, and a win on Sunday would secure a head-to-head tiebreaker.

If the Panthers win, they win the division. The NFC South is down this season, but this game has a big impact on the playoff bracket.

It’s easier to give all of the Giants’ clinching scenarios straight from the NFL…

New York secures a playoff berth with:

  1. NYG OU win

  2. NYG draw + SEA loss or draw + WAS OR loss or draw

  3. NYG draw + SEA loss or draw + DET OU loss or draw

  4. NYG draw + WAS loss or draw + DET defeat or draw + GB loss or draw OR

  5. SEA loss + WAS loss OR

  6. SEA loss + DET loss + GB loss or draw OU

  7. WAS loss + DET loss + GB loss

Do you have all this? It’s also worth noting that the Washington Commanders can clinch a playoff berth with a win and losses to the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.

The Eagles clinch the NFC East with a win or a loss or a draw by the Dallas Cowboys. They would clinch first place with a win or loss by the Cowboys, Vikings, and 49ers.

The Tennessee Titans have nothing on the line Thursday; win or lose to the Dallas Cowboys, they will play the Jaguars for the AFC South title in Week 18. Tennessee can no longer get a wildcard berth. But the Jaguars have a slim chance of a wild card with a win on Sunday and a loss in Week 18. The New York Times playoff simulator is at around 6% on that scenario. Is that enough for the Jaguars to play Week 17 like they normally would? The division title is on the line in Week 18, come what may.

The Dolphins can clinch a playoff berth with a New York Jets win and loss (or a tie, Jets loss, and Steelers loss or tie). You won’t find the Dolphins in this week’s projection. Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is back in concussion protocol and it looks likely he will be sidelined for several weeks. Tagovailoa has lost all or most of three games this season and the Dolphins have gone 0-3 in those games. Miami missing the playoffs on a season-ending six-game losing streak would be crushing, but now it’s possible.

The Packers are suddenly alive in the playoff race. They’re going to need help, but if they win, chances are they’ll get it. The Vikings are still in a battle with the San Francisco 49ers for second and that could determine who would host a 49ers-Vikings game in the divisional round. So the Vikings have a reason to play.

It’s not a big Sunday night duel, but it’s important. If the Ravens lose, the Bengals could clinch the AFC North with a win or tie on Monday night. If the Ravens win, we’ll have an AFC North championship game between the Ravens and Bengals in Week 18.

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