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2018 NFL Playoff picture: NFC divisions being clinched, Dolphins crippled in AFC Wildcard chase

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Week 15 of the NFL season is nearly complete, with just the New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Monday Night Football game to be played. The week featured several changes to the playoff picture for both the AFC and NFC. For the Miami Dolphins, it likely also meant the end of their chances to make the postseason.

Miami was demolished by the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The Vikings jumped out to a 21-0 lead, then Miami clawed their way back into the game, pulling to within four at 21-17 early in the third quarter before it all fell apart for the South Florida team. Minnesota beat the Dolphins 41-17 in a game that included over 200 yards of rushing and nine sacks for the Vikings.

And with each one of those sacks, the Dolphins’ playoff chances grew a little smaller. With the loss and the rest of the results from the weekend, the Dolphins fell from a 20 percent chance to make the postseason to just a five percent chance, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL Predictions. Nothing went right for Miami, including the results from the other games around the league, where the Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers all won. The Dolphins now sit a game behind the Ravens, Colts, and Titans, who are all tied for the AFC Wildcard. It is at best an uphill battle, and it is most likely an uphill battle that cannot be won.

There are still ways for Miami to make the playoffs. If they win out, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills in Weeks 16 and 17, with no other results, the Dolphins would move up to an 18 percent chance to make the playoffs. If the Titans lose to the Washington Redskins in Week 16, Miami jumps to a 49 percent chance. Add in a Colts loss to the New York Giants in Week 16, and the Dolphins are up to a 67 percent chance of seeing the postseason. So, there are ways to rebound - but it takes a lot of the right teams losing at the right times to get there.

This weekend’s games also shook up the rest of the league as well. The Houston Texans jumped up into the second seed position in the AFC, while the New England Patriots dropped to the third seed and failed to clinch the AFC East despite Miami’s loss. The Kansas City Chiefs, long in the driver’s seat for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, now find themselves relying on tiebreaks just to remain atop their own division as the Los Angeles Chargers make a run toward the top of the bracket. The Pittsburgh Steelers, with a win over the Patriots, remain a half-game ahead of the Ravens in the AFC North, with that half game meaning the difference between the Steelers currently sitting in the fourth seeded position or falling to the eighth spot, two out of the playoffs.

In the NFC, the Saints are still atop the conference at 11-2 with tonight’s game to be played, while the Los Angeles Rams remain in the second spot with an 11-3 record, hoping to see the Saints lose to Carolina and fall back into a tie for the top spot. The Chicago Bears completed a “worst-to-first” turnaround this year, going from fourth in the NFC North last year to clinching the division title this year. The Vikings, with their win over Miami, continue to cling to the final NFC Wildcard spot by a half-game. A loss would have moved them from sixth entering the week to eighth, and possibly to ninth if the Panthers beat the Saints.

It was a crazy weekend in terms of the playoff standings, and the next two weekends will probably be just as crazy.

AFC Playoff standings

1 - AFC West leader - Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)x
2 - AFC South leader - Houston Texans (10-4)
3 - AFC East leader - New England Patriots (9-5)
4 - AFC North leader - Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1)
5 - Wildcard - Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)x
6 - Wildcard - Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

7 - Indianapolis Colts (8-6)
8 - Tennessee Titans (8-6)
9 - Miami Dolphins (7-7)
10 - Cleveland Browns (6-7-1)

Tie Breaks:

  • Chiefs ahead of Chargers based on division records.
  • Ravens ahead of Colts based on conference records (division tie break used to eliminate Titans)
  • Colts ahead of Titans based on head-to-head results.

Eliminated:
Denver Broncos (6-8)
Cincinnati Bengals (6-8)
Buffalo Bills (5-9)
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10)
New York Jets (4-10)
Oakland Raiders (3-11)

NFC Playoff standings

1 - NFC South winner - New Orleans Saints (11-2)y*
2 - NFC West winner - Los Angeles Rams (11-3)y
3 - NFC North winner - Chicago Bears (10-4)y
4 - NFC East leader - Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
5 - Wildcard - Seattle Seahawks (8-6)
6 - Wildcard - Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1)

7 - Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)
8 - Washington Redskins (7-7)
9 - Carolina Panthers (6-7)*

Tie Breaks:

  • Eagles ahead of Redskins based on head-to-head results.
  • Ravens ahead of Colts based on conference records (division tie break used to eliminate Titans)
  • Colts ahead of Titans based on head-to-head.

Eliminated:
Green Bay Packers (5-8-1)
Atlanta Falcons (5-9)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9)
New York Giants (5-9)
Detroit Lions (5-9)
San Francisco 49ers (4-10)
Arizona Cardinals (3-11)

*Saints at Panthers on Monday Night Football.
x - Clinched playoff berth
y - Clinched division title
z - Clinched first-round bye
# - Clinched homefield advantage