NFL Teams’ Playoff Chances: A Tier List


As Week 12 of the NFL regular season is about to begin, the playoff race is heating up. Some teams have all but secured a spot while others have essentially been eliminated with plenty of clubs somewhere in between. A tier list from most likely to least likely is going to convey every organizations’ odds at making the postseason.


Tier 1 (Almost certain): New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens

New England and Baltimore both have excellent records at 9-1 and 8-2 respectively. They should easily win their divisions, although Baltimore has an easier path in the AFC North as the next closest team record wise is 5-5. Buffalo is 7-3 in the AFC East behind the Patriots, but the Patriots have already beat them once at Maryland with a crucial Week 16 rematch taking place at Massachusetts, a notoriously hard place to win for opposing teams in December.

Tier 2 (Teams with a clear shot): Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders

At the top of the pack here are the Bills (7-3) and Chiefs (7-4). Indianapolis, Houston, and Oakland are all 6-4. Key matchups to watch include Colts @ Texans on Thursday, November 21 and Raiders @ Chiefs on Sunday, December 1. There are so many possibilities and several games left to play with only six playoff spots, so at least one of these teams will fall short of making it. Other teams in the AFC are only one or two games behind as well, so it is possible that a couple of these teams end up outside the postseason. 

Tier 3 (Teams with an outside chance): Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers

For now, these are the teams that are on the outside looking in. It is most likely that none of these teams secure a playoff berth, but the NFL is unpredictable due to its relatively small sample size and competitive nature. A team that gets a hot streak at the right time can turn momentum into a Super Bowl win, as evidenced by the 2007 Giants who turned a 6th seed into a championship. Tennessee and Pittsburgh are 5-5 while Cleveland is 4-6 and Los Angeles is 4-7. One team with a real chance to win their division is the Titans as the two teams in front of them in the AFC South are both 6-4. For them and Los Angeles, inconsistency is a trademark. Both teams have been on the wrong side of some close games, so perhaps some luck could help them in a push for a spot. Pittsburgh and Cleveland are bitter AFC North foes that only have faint hope in a wild card position, a scenario that should become more clear after their rematch at Pittsburgh on Sunday, December 1.

Tier 4 (Virtually eliminated): Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals

Even though the Bengals the only team to be officially eliminated from playoff contention, it can be unofficially said that the rest of these clubs are almost certain to join them. Their records and talent are simply too low to advance past the regular season. Blowout losses, heartbreak, and high draft picks are going to be the main takeaways from all of their collective campaigns.


Tier 1 (Almost certain): New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings

The combined record of these five franchises is 41-10. They’ve all performed very well and essentially locked up a playoff berth. Minnesota possesses the worst record here at 8-3, but the next closest teams in the NFC are 6-4 with difficult matchups (Dallas @ New England, Baltimore @ LA Rams) in Week 12. 

Tier 2 (Teams with a clear shot): Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles

With five out of six spots basically occupied in the NFC playoff picture, there’s only room for the NFC East champion. Dallas (6-4) and Philadelphia (5-5) are the only two teams in contention for the fourth seed as the division winner with the worst record. Their first matchup at Dallas was dominated by the Cowboys, but there will be a high-stakes rematch at Philadelphia in Week 16. 

Tier 3 (Teams with an outside chance): Los Angeles Rams, Carolina Panthers

The Rams (6-4) and Panthers (5-5) can only make the playoffs in the event of a catastrophic collapse of a team in the top five of the NFC. Given Minnesota’s history of losing in painful fashion and Seattle’s fortune in close games this season, it gives these two clubs some hope and very slim odds at being in the playoffs. However, Seattle (8-2) and Minnesota (8-3) are far ahead of Los Angeles and Carolina in terms of record and performance, so it would still be nothing short of a miracle.

Tier 4 (Virtually eliminated): Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, Washington Redskins

Compared to the AFC, the NFC is very top-heavy. Because there are five teams with eight or nine wins through Week 11, there are going to be many at the bottom as well. Chicago has notably failed to live up to expectations, but the rest of these organizations were widely expected to land at the basement of their divisions in the process of a rebuild.

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