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Heading into Week 13 of the 2019 season, no NFL team had clinched a playoff berth, and only one — the winless Bengals — had been eliminated. It was just a matter of time until that changed.
The first team to punch their ticket to the postseason this year was the Saints, who held off the Falcons on Thanksgiving night. Two more — the 49ers and Patriots — can do the same if they beat the Ravens and Texans, respectively, on Sunday.
The Bengals weren’t lonely at the bottom for long. The Lions and Falcons joined them on Thursday, and six more teams can be eliminated from playoff contention in Week 13. Several others can be knocked out of their divisional races.
Let’s jump into the playoff scenarios.
How did New Orleans Saints clinch the NFC South?
So this is NOT the year that Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the Saints see their window closed. Even with Brees missing five full games with an injury, New Orleans went 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater behind center for those matchups.
Since returning, Brees has been plenty effective, leading the Saints to a 4-1 record. They even got to avenge that one loss when they went on the road to beat their biggest rival on Thanksgiving.
The Saints just needed one of the following to happen to clinch the NFC South:
- A win over the Falcons on Thursday
- A tie vs. the Falcons along with a Panthers’ loss or tie (vs. Washington)
The Saints got the 26-18 win over the Falcons, locking up their third straight NFC South title.
How can the New England Patriots clinch a playoff spot this week?
The Patriots may have the same record as the 49ers, but with Tom Brady seemingly slowing down, they’re not the offensive powerhouse they have been in past years, relying on their defense more than ever. They’re still winning games, though, and so far their only loss is to — who else — the Ravens.
The Bills are surprisingly making the AFC East an actual race.
It’s just the Bills’ bad luck that they wind up at 9-3 and still manage to be a couple games back of the Patriots. It’s probably inevitable that the Patriots clinch, but here’s how it can happen this week:
The Patriots need one of the following to happen to clinch a playoff berth:
- A win over Deshaun Watson’s Texans plus a Raiders loss or tie (vs. Chiefs)
- A win over the Texans, plus a Steelers loss or tie (vs. Browns)
- Three scenarios in which the Patriots tie combined with a Raiders and Steelers loss, a Raiders and Colts loss, or a Steelers and Colts loss
Other than the craziness with the ties, the Patriots have a good shot this week. Although the Texans are not an easy team to beat, the Patriots are favored and have never lost to Bill O’Brien. The Steelers and Browns may be ridiculous after the Myles Garrett brawl, but a loss either way wouldn’t be shocking.
How can the San Francisco 49ers clinch a playoff spot this week?
The good news for the 49ers: they just dominated the Packers on Sunday Night Football, beginning a three-game stretch from hell with a much-needed win. More good news: they can clinch a playoff spot this week, though the NFC West remains up for grabs as the Seahawks aren’t far behind them.
But the bad news is they have to face Lamar Jackson and the Ravens this week. If there ever was a test for Robert Saleh’s surging defense, it’s MVP frontrunner Jackson. The 49ers still control their own fate, and it’s hard to imagine them losing out and completely missing the playoffs. It’s still technically possible, but the Ravens and Saints over the next two weeks could postpone their clinching.
San Francisco’s clinching scenarios revolve around the Rams. If the 49ers put themselves out of reach of the Rams, they’re guaranteed at least a wild card berth.
The 49ers need one of the following to happen to clinch a playoff berth:
- A win over the Ravens coupled with a Rams loss or tie (at Cardinals)
- A tie against the Ravens coupled with a Rams loss
We’ve already talked about how difficult the Ravens game could be, but the other half of San Francisco’s clinching scenario isn’t that far-fetched. The Rams just aren’t the same team this year as they were in recent years. The Cardinals aren’t great either, but they’ve given good teams enough trouble this season to make them a threat.
Which teams can be eliminated this week and how?
The Bengals were the only team already eliminated, but the Lions and Falcons are now out too with their Thanksgiving Day losses. A few others can keep them company in the basement with various scenarios in Week 13.
Lastly, a big hat tip and thanks to NFL Playoff Scenarios on Reddit, for doing all the brain-splitting elimination math. That’s the place to go if you’re REALLY passionate about ties.
How the Lions put a merciful end to this season:
- They lost to Mitchell Trubisky, truly a sign of the end times for any team
How the Falcons officially squandered another season of Julio Jones’ career:
- They lost to the Saints at home (albeit without Jones)
The tank-tastic Dolphins can end this season one of two ways:
- They lose to the Eagles, which shouldn’t be difficult OR
- A Steelers win (vs. Browns) OR
- Wins by the Raiders, Titans, and Texans
The Giants are out of NFC East and playoff contention with:
- A loss to the potentially angry Packers (after their loss to San Francisco) OR
Their season also could’ve been over if the Cowboys had beaten the Bills.
Washington can spend their free time investing in analytics with:
- A loss to the Panthers OR
A Cowboys win on Thanksgiving would have also ended Washington’s (sliiiight) playoff hopes, but that didn’t happen.
The Buccaneers can go back to the drawing board by:
- Losing to the Jaguars, along with a Packers win and Vikings win
The Cardinals can get a jump start on 2020 with:
- A loss to the Rams OR
- Wins by the Packers and Vikings
It’s worth noting that in addition to the teams above, a number of teams can run out of chances of winning their divisions. The Steelers, Browns, Jaguars, Chargers, Broncos, Panthers, and Rams can all be eliminated from contention within their respective divisions this week, but would still be in the playoff race.
If the playoffs started today, which teams would be in?
With five teams at nine-plus wins, seeding will likely come down to the wire, especially when some of those teams occupy the same division (like the 49ers and the Seahawks, who play each other in Week 17).
As the Week 13 action begins, this is how the playoff picture is shaping up:
- San Francisco 49ers (10-1)
- New Orleans Saints (10-2)**
- Green Bay Packers (8-3)
- Dallas Cowboys (6-6)
- Seattle Seahawks (9-2)
- Minnesota Vikings (8-3)
- New England Patriots (10-1)
- Baltimore Ravens (9-2)
- Houston Texans (7-4)
- Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
- Buffalo Bills (9-3)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
**clinched the division