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Week 15 NFL playoff picture: Chargers clinch berth, scramble AFC West

If the regular season ended right now, here's how the top six would look in each conference, plus clinching scenarios.

The Kansas City Chiefs have been one of the NFL's best and most entertaining teams all season. But after an ill-timed loss Thursday night, they are now struggling to hold on to the lead in their own division. A wild 29-28 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers left a virtual tie atop the AFC West.

Let's get to the details of the NFL playoff picture as it would look if the season had ended today following the Chargers' upset.

Note: X denotes a team that has clinched a playoff berth, while Z shows a team that has clinched its division.


The Chiefs missed a chance to win the AFC West and be in position to clinch home-field advantage as early as Sunday. They remain atop the division because of a better division record (4-1) than the Chargers (3-2), and if both teams have the same result in Week 16 -- win or lose -- the division title will come down to Week 17. The Chiefs would need to win at home against the Oakland Raiders to clinch. ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) is giving them a 74 percent chance of holding on.

Next up: at Seattle Seahawks (Week 16)

Sunday's last-play disaster in Miami delayed the Patriots' inevitable AFC East title celebration for one week. FPI still gives them a 99.2 percent chance to win the division. But it will be exceptionally difficult to leapfrog the Chiefs (or Chargers) for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Next up: at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Texans' chance to clinch the AFC South in Week 14 was dashed by the Titans' victory on Thursday night. But Houston is still up two games over the Titans and Colts with three to play. That means the Texans can clinch the division as early as Week 15, if they win at the Jets and both the Titans and Colts lose.

Next up: at New York Jets (Saturday)

A three-game losing streak has all but ended the Steelers' chances of getting a first-round bye in the playoffs. It also has loosened what once appeared a stranglehold on the AFC North. Only a half-game separates them from the Ravens. Even worse: The Steelers' next two games are at home against the Patriots and then at the Saints. Can they get to nine wins? FPI gives them a 71.3 percent chance to make the playoffs, and 65.7 percent chance to win the division. But this has gotten much closer than anticipated.

Next up: vs. New England Patriots

The Chargers clinched a playoff berth with the win on Thursday night, but they have more work to do. Their Week 17 game will be at the Broncos, a more difficult spot than the Chiefs would find themselves in. But with two games left, the Chargers find themselves in a position where they could have the No. 1 seed or be a 13-3 wild-card team.

Next up: vs. Baltimore Ravens (Week 16)

Sunday's loss in Kansas City wasn't nearly as painful as it could have been. When the dust settled late Sunday afternoon, the Ravens still had not been knocked out of the No. 6 spot. Victories by the Titans, Colts and Dolphins created a quartet of 7-6 teams. But the Ravens hold the four-way tiebreaker and have a very winnable home game in Week 15. The Steelers' loss, meanwhile, puts the Ravens genuinely back into the AFC North race.

Next up: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In the hunt: Indianapolis Colts (7-6), Miami Dolphins (7-6), Tennessee Titans (7-6), Denver Broncos (6-7), Cleveland Browns (5-7-1)


The Saints took back control of home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs with a victory Sunday over the Buccaneers, combined with the Rams' loss in Chicago. Two of their final three games are against the Panthers, who have collapsed during a five-game losing streak.

Next up: at Carolina Panthers (Monday)

The Rams haven't inspired much confidence that they can win an NFC playoff game on the road, an unfortunate message as they fell back out of the top seed in the conference. Their two losses this season have come against the teams on either side of them in the standings: the Saints and Bears. All three of their remaining opponents have losing records, and two of those games will be at home, but the Saints might not give them another opportunity to rise in the standings.

Next up: vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Sunday's victory over the Rams leaves the Bears potentially one week away from clinching the NFC North. They can do it in Week 15 with a win against the Packers. A first-round bye isn't out of the question but would require two losses by the Rams over the final three weeks.

Next up: vs. Green Bay Packers

Winners of five consecutive games, the Cowboys have run away with the NFC East. They can clinch the division as early as Week 15 with a victory at Indianapolis. Whether it happens then or not, FPI projects the division title is a near certainty at 99.3 percent. That's pretty incredible for a team that fell to 3-5 in the first week of November.

Next up: at Indianapolis Colts

5. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)

Monday night's victory over the Vikings all but locked up a playoff spot for a team that started 0-2 but has now won four consecutive games. FPI gives the Seahawks a 99 percent chance to make the playoffs.

Next up: at San Francisco 49ers

Despite the most discouraging of defeats Monday night, the Vikings emerged from Week 14 in decent shape. Losses by the Panthers, Eagles and Redskins left only six NFC teams with records at .500 or above. As a result, the Vikings still have a healthy 56 percent chance to get to the playoffs, according to FPI.

Next up: vs. Miami Dolphins

In the hunt: Carolina Panthers (6-7), Philadelphia Eagles (6-7), Washington Redskins (6-7), Green Bay Packers (5-7-1), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8)

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