NFL Playoff Projection: Bills at Bengals is enormous for the AFC picture

If the term "clinching scenarios" gets you excited, this is your time of the NFL season.

Five AFC teams have clinched a playoff spot with two games to play. It's just four in the NFC. Four of the eight divisions have yet to be settled.

There's a lot to be decided, but the most important game of Week 17 is almost undeniably in Cincinnati on Monday night.

The Buffalo Bills play at the Cincinnati Bengals, and who wins that game could directly correlate 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 about the difference for the Bills depending on whether they win or lose Monday:

Bills win out, get No. 1 seed: Buffalo would get a bye and be two home games away from a Super Bowl. Its divisional-round opponent would be the lowest seed remaining. That means if the Bengals win the AFC North, a top-seeded Bills team would not face the Bengals or Kansas City Chiefs until the AFC championship game.

Bills lose, Chiefs get No. 1: The Bengals would then take the lead for the No. 2 seed, meaning the Bills' road to the Super Bowl changes from "bye, then two home games" to something like "no bye, host dangerous Chargers team on wild-card weekend, at Bengals divisional-round weekend, at Chiefs for the AFC championship." Just a tiny difference there.

(Yahoo Sports graphic by Michael Wagstaffe)
(Yahoo Sports graphic by Michael Wagstaffe)

The Bills could still get the No. 1 seed if they lose Monday, but that requires losses from the Chiefs and Bengals and that seems unlikely. If the Bills want to win a Super Bowl, winning on Monday night would be a really good idea. The Bills will clinch the No. 1 seed 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 picture, with some clinching scenarios included:

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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

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

Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants

It's easier to give all of the Giants' clinching scenarios straight from the NFL ...

New York clinches playoff berth with:

  1. NYG win OR

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

  3. NYG tie + SEA loss or tie + DET loss or tie OR

  4. NYG tie + WAS loss or tie + DET loss or tie + GB loss or tie OR

  5. SEA loss + WAS loss OR

  6. SEA loss + DET loss + GB loss or tie OR

  7. WAS loss + DET loss + GB loss

Got all that? It's also worth noting that the Washington Commanders can clinch a playoff spot with a win, and losses by the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles clinch the NFC East with a win or a Dallas Cowboys loss or tie. They'd clinch the No. 1 seed with a win or losses by the Cowboys, Vikings and 49ers.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans

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 cannot get a wild-card spot anymore. But the Jaguars have a small shot at a wild card with a win Sunday and a loss in Week 18. The New York Times' playoff simulator has it at about 6% in that scenario. Is that enough for the Jaguars to play in Week 17 as they normally would? The division title is on the line in Week 18 no matter what.

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

The Dolphins can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a New York Jets loss (or a tie, Jets loss and Steelers loss or tie). You won't find the Dolphins on this week's projection. Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is back in concussion protocol and it seems likely he will be held out multiple weeks. Tagovailoa missed all or most of three games this season and the Dolphins went 0-3 in those games. Miami missing the playoffs due to a six-game losing streak to end the season would be crushing, but it's possible now.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers

The Packers are suddenly alive in the playoff race. They'll need help but if they win out, chances are they'll make it. The Vikings are still in a battle with the San Francisco 49ers for the No. 2 seed and that could determine who would host a 49ers-Vikings game in the divisional round. So the Vikings have a reason to play.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

It's not a great Sunday night matchup, but it's important. If the Ravens lose, the Bengals can clinch the AFC North with a win or a tie on Monday night. If the Ravens win, we'll get an AFC North championship game between the Ravens and Bengals in Week 18.