Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens clinched the top seed in the AFC with their Week 17 triumph over the Miami Dolphins and had quarterback Lamar Jackson, the MVP favorite, and other key starters sit out Saturday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers during a soggy finale in Baltimore. Coach John Harbaugh has said the team is mindful of its divisional-round playoff defeat to the Tennessee Titans in the 2019 season, the previous time the Ravens were the No. 1 seed, and will try to apply the lessons learned from that. The Ravens are seeking their first Super Bowl title since the 2012 season.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have secured a playoff spot and will face the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night in Miami Gardens, Fla., with the AFC East title and the conference’s No. 2 seed at stake.
Kansas City Chiefs: The defending Super Bowl champs were locked into the AFC’s third seed entering Week 18. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is scheduled to sit out Sunday’s regular season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers in Inglewood, Calif. Blaine Gabbert gets the start at quarterback for the Chiefs. The Chiefs will host an opening-round game next weekend and then could take to the road for their divisional-round game. If so, it would be Mahomes’s first AFC playoff game on the road.
The Chiefs will need plenty of help if they’re going to host the AFC championship game for a sixth straight season. They have reached three Super Bowls and have won two of them during that run of prosperity. This has been, in relative terms, a season of struggles. Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and Coach Andy Reid have shown their frustration. The deficiencies of the wide receiver group have been glaring. But maybe Reid and Mahomes can summon some of their usual magic for a surprising postseason push.
Cleveland Browns: They are the No. 5 seed in the AFC. With their playoff spot in hand and that seeding locked in, Coach Kevin Stefanski will rest quarterback Joe Flacco in Sunday’s game in Cincinnati to finish the regular season. Jeff Driskel becomes the fifth starting quarterback this season for the Browns following Deshaun Watson, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, PJ Walker and Flacco.
Stefanski is a top contender for the coach of the year award. Flacco could be the comeback player of the year. With their dominant defense and an offense that has become functional behind Flacco, the Browns are dangerous entering the postseason. Flacco could face his former team, with the Browns potentially in line for a divisional-round meeting with the Ravens in Baltimore if they win their opening-round game next weekend and the seedings hold up.
Houston Texans: They won Saturday night in Indianapolis, in what amounted to a play-in game, to clinch a playoff spot. The Texans are in the postseason for the first time since the 2019 season. It has been a dramatic turnaround led by their first-year coach, DeMeco Ryans, and their rookie quarterback, C.J. Stroud. They would win the AFC South if the Jacksonville Jaguars lose Sunday at Tennessee.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers had the NFC’s No. 1 seed in hand and planned to sit quarterback Brock Purdy for Sunday’s finale against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, Calif. Sam Darnold will get the start at quarterback. Tailback Christian McCaffrey is sidelined by a calf injury.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys have benefited from the late-season struggles by the Philadelphia Eagles and can seize the NFC East title with a triumph Sunday over the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field. A Cowboys victory actually would please many Commanders fans, with their team potentially in line to secure the No. 2 selection in the upcoming draft. It is widely expected to be Ron Rivera’s final game as the Commanders’ coach, with widespread change to come following the first season of Josh Harris’s ownership of the franchise.
The Cowboys last won the division two years ago. They last reached the Super Bowl in the 1995 season. Last month, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called the team’s failure to win a championship in the 2007 season, when it went 13-3 with Tony Romo at quarterback, his “biggest disappointment since I’ve been with the Cowboys.” He acknowledged then that this season represents the Cowboys’ best Super Bowl opportunity since.
They have spent this season tantalizing their fans with the possibility of postseason glory. Too often, they have failed to deliver on such promise. They have to hope things will be different this time based on the play of quarterback Dak Prescott, the exploits of wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and a sometimes-overpowering defense.
Detroit Lions: The Lions won the NFC North for their first division title in 30 years. They seem headed for the NFC’s third seed. But they still are in the running for the No. 2 seed, and Coach Dan Campbell plans to play quarterback Jared Goff and other key starters in Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings in Detroit.
Philadelphia Eagles: The defending NFC champs have clinched a playoff spot. But they are on a 1-4 downward spiral since their 10-1 start. That has dropped them out of first place in the NFC East entering their regular season finale against the New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J.
The Eagles still can win the division if they beat the Giants and the Cowboys lose to the Commanders. But they have come undone. They have struggled badly on defense, even after Coach Nick Sirianni handed play-calling duties to Matt Patricia and in effect demoted Sean Desai, and are coming off a defeat to the Arizona Cardinals. Time is running out for the Eagles to address their issues.
Los Angeles Rams: The Rams have clinched a playoff spot and will be the No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the NFC. Carson Wentz is scheduled to start at quarterback Sunday against the 49ers as Coach Sean McVay sits down Matthew Stafford. The Rams could play the Lions in the opening round next weekend in what would be a return to Detroit for Stafford.