NFL standings: Updated AFC, NFC playoff picture after Week 15 of 2021 season

The 2021 NFL season is closing on the end of its new 17-game schedule. It’s time again to check in on the updated standings and what the playoff picture is looking like for Week 15.

The league kept its expanded playoff field, with 14 of its 32 teams (43.8 percent) set to qualify for the latest postseason. That includes 7 each from the AFC and NFC, with only the No. 1 seeds getting byes on top of home-field advantage.

Who would be in, who’s still in contention, and who should be thinking about next season? Here’s a comprehensive look:

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NFL standings for Week 15

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AFC playoff picture

Who would be in?

1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4), first place, AFC West. The Chiefs went back to enjoying the top-seed status after beating the Chargers in overtime in Week 15. That status will extend to Week 16 with the Patriots losing to the Colts on Saturday night and the Titans, who beat the Chiefs in Week 7, losing to the Steelers on Sunday afternoon. The Chiefs host the Steelers next in their march to another No. 1 seed and the sole home-field advantage. Remaining schedule: vs. PIT, at CIN, at DEN

2. New England Patriots (9-5), first place, AFC East. The Patriots saw their seven-game winning streak end with Saturday night’s tough road loss at Indianapolis. That dropped them behind the both the winning Chiefs but kept them ahead of the losing Titans, whom they beat in Week 12. The Patriots saw their division lead dwindle to one game over the Bills after that team beat the Panthers on Sunday, ahead of a Buffalo rematch in Week 16. Outside of the division, the Patriots are still supported by a strong record (7-2) in AFC play. Remaining schedule: vs. BUF, vs. JAX, at MIA

3. Tennessee Titans (9-5), first place, AFC South. The Titans blew their chance to jump to the No. 1 seed ahead of the winning Chiefs and also stayed behind the losing Patriots. Their division lead is down to only one game over the winning Colts, but Tennessee is still a strong South favorite by virtue of sweeping Indianapolis much earlier in the season. Remaining schedule: vs. SF, vs. MIA, at HOU

4. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6), first place, AFC North. The Bengals jumped all the way here from out of the picture thanks to their win over the Broncos and the Ravens losing to the Packers in Week 15. Although the teams have identical records, Cincinnati has the tiebreaker because it won at Baltimore in Week 17. There’s a chance the division will be a three-way virtual tie should the Browns win on Monday. But the Bengals would still have the tiebreaker there with the best division record at 3-1. Remaining schedule: vs. BAL, vs. KC, at CLE

5. Indianapolis Colts (8-6), second place, AFC South. The Colts came out of their Week 14 bye with a huge Saturday night win over the Patriots in Week 15. They jumped up one spot in the wild-card race because of a better conference record now (7-3 vs. 5-4) than the Chargers, who lost in overtime to the Chiefs on Thursday night. The Colts also put more pressure on the injury-riddled Titans in the division race. It doesn’t get any easier, however, with the NFC’s Cardinals on the road on Christmas next Saturday. Remaining schedule: at ARI, vs. LV, at JAX

6. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6), second place, AFC West. The Chargers missed their chance to get into first place after losing to the Chiefs at home to open Week 15. They still hold this wild-card spot ahead of the tight 8-6 pack behind them. They still have a great chance to make the playoffs, at worst as a No. 7 seed. The Chargers have a 5-4 conference record, including interdivision wins over the Browns and Bengals. Remaining schedule: at HOU, vs. DEN, at LV

7. Buffalo Bills (8-6), second place, AFC East. The Bills beat the Panthers to stay even with the winning Colts, to whom they lost at home in Week 11 and losing Chargers. Buffalo remains here for now as they have an inferior conference record to both Indianapolis and Los Angeles. But the tiebreaker is barely in the Bills’ favor vs. the Ravens. Remaining schedule: at NE, vs. ATL, vs. NYJ

Who can get there?

8. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1)
12. Cleveland Browns (7-7)

The Ravens fall all the way from No. 4 and the division lead behind the winning Colts, losing Chargers and winning Bills. The Steelers made it another AFC North team in this mix with their big win over the Titans. The Browns are here ahead of other 7-7 teams because while the wild card feels out of reach, the division remains the best avenue for their playoff return.

Who’s set to be out?

10. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)
11. Miami Dolphins (7-7)
13. Denver Broncos (7-7)
14. New York Jets (3-11, eliminated)
15. Houston Texans (3-11, eliminated)
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12, eliminated)

The Dolphins keep on winning during their six-game streak but they are trying to make too much ground after a 1-7 start, especially with the logjam in front. The Broncos are in the same boat after starting the season 3-0. The Raiders have been fading hard for a while. The Texans pulled even with the losing Jets by beating the Jaguars on Sunday.

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NFC playoff picture

Who would be in?

1. Green Bay Packers (10-3), champions, NFC North.  The Packers jumped the Buccaneers again by beating the Bears on Sunday night in Week 14 and matching the record of the reigning Super Bowl champions. They have improved their conference record to a spectacular 8-2. On top of beating the Cardinals, a Cardinals’ loss pushed them up to No. 1 at the end of Week 14. They outlasted the Ravens and went further ahead of the losing Cardinals in Week 15. They stay ahead of the Buccaneers, now with a one-game lead, going into Week 16’s Saturday Christmas game. Remaining schedule: vs. CLE, vs. MIN, at DET

2. Dallas Cowboys (10-4), first place, NFC East. The Cowboys jumped up here by beating the Giants while the Cardinals lost to the Lions and Buccaneers lost to the Saints, thanks to having a superior conference record (8-1). The Cowboys and Cardinals have an essential tiebreaker game left when they meet in Dallas in Week 17. It still will be a challenge for the Cowboys to stay here ahead of the Buccaneers, as the latter still did beat them in Week 1. The Cowboys would clinch the division title in Week 15 if Washington loses to the Eagles on Tuesday. Remaining schedule: vs. WAS, vs. ARI, at PHI

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4), first place, NFC South. The Buccaneers were shocked by the Saints again in losing their first home game of the season and the cost was falling a full game behind the Packers in the race for sole home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. Although the Buccaneers did beat the Cowboys, the loss also created a three-way tie with the Cardinal, which favored the Cowboys to get to No. 2. The result also kept the Bucs from clinching the division over the Saints. Three up with three games left, the Bucs should still take the South, especially with a weak schedule left. They need big-time help to jump the Packers now. Remaining schedule: at CAR, at NYJ, vs. CAR

4. Arizona Cardinals (10-4), first place, NFC West. The Cardinals dropped here after losing their second consecutive game and going 3-4 after a 7-0 start. The loss to the Lions also made the division race much tighter, as the Rams can create a virtual tie with a win over the Seahawks on Tuesday to close Week 15. The Cardinals are still in first place going into Week 16 as they hold the division-record tiebreaker after they split the season series with the Rams. Remaining schedule: vs. IND, at DAL, vs. SEA

5. Los Angeles Rams (10-4), second place, NFC West. The Rams revived their division-winning chances by beating the Cardinals in Arizona in Week 14 to even the season series. They tied for first place by beating the Seahawks and made sure they also keep their distance from the 49ers. Now it’s a two-team race for the title over the final three weeks, but the closing slate is tough for both teams. Remaining schedule: at MIN, at BAL, vs. SF

6. San Francisco 49ers (8-6), third place, NFC West. The 49ers stayed hot in Week 15 by beating the Falcons at home, following their key win over the Bengals on the road in Week 14 that pushed them above .500. They can feel great about their wild-card chances, even though catching either the Cardinals or Rams for the division crown with three games left to play is a long shot. Remaining schedule: at TEN, vs. HOU,  at LAR

7. Minnesota Vikings (7-7), second place, NFC North. The Vikings got back into the final wild-card spot by beating the Bears on Monday night, jumping the also .500 Saints because of having a better conference record (5-4 vs. 5-5). They would stay here despite Eagles winning on Tuesday because of a better record against the common opponents. Remaining schedule: vs. LAR, at GB, vs. CHI

Who can get there?

8. Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)
9. New Orleans Saints (7-7)
10. Washingotn Football Team (6-8)
11. Atlanta Falcons (6-8)
12. Carolina Panthers (5-9)
13. Seattle Seahawks (5-9)

The Saints fell down here when the Vikings won on Monday night to push them dowm from winning on Sunday night. The Eagles took care of Washington to jump them. The Falcons and Panthers lost again to further hurt their fading chances. The Seahawks failed in their final salvo against the Rams.

Who’s set to be out?

14. New York Giants (4-10)
15. Chicago Bears (4-10, eliminated)
16. Detroit Lions (2-11-1, eliminated)

The Giants are toast here stuck deep in last place in the NFC East with all their injuries. The Bears joined them after losing to the Vikings on Monday night. The Lions made it two wins for the season by shocking the Cardinals in Week 15. They need to keep thinking ahead to 2022 but the rebuilding year is ending on some nice highs.

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