Heading into Week 13 of the 2019 season, no NFL team had clinched a playoff berth, and only one — the previously winless Bengals — had been eliminated. It was just a matter of time until that changed.
The first team to punch their ticket to the postseason this year was the Saints, who held off the Falcons on Thanksgiving night. Two more — the 49ers and Patriots — could have done the same on Sunday, but they both came up short.
The Bengals weren’t lonely at the bottom for long. The Lions and Falcons joined them on Thursday, while the Giants, Dolphins, and Cardinals did on Sunday. Several others were knocked out of their divisional races, too.
Let’s jump into the playoff scenarios.
How did New Orleans Saints clinch the NFC South?
So this is NOT the year that Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the Saints see their window closed. Even with Brees missing five full games with an injury, New Orleans went 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater behind center for those matchups.
Since returning, Brees has been plenty effective, leading the Saints to a 4-1 record. They even got to avenge that one loss when they went on the road to beat their biggest rival on Thanksgiving.
The Saints just needed one of the following to happen to clinch the NFC South:
- A win over the Falcons on Thursday
- A tie vs. the Falcons along with a Panthers’ loss or tie (vs. Washington)
The Saints got the 26-18 win over the Falcons, locking up their third straight NFC South title.
How could the New England Patriots have clinched a playoff spot this week?
With Tom Brady seemingly slowing down, the Patriots are not the offensive powerhouse they have been in past years, relying on their defense more than ever. The Bills are surprisingly making the AFC East an actual race.
It’s just the Bills’ bad luck that they wind up at 9-3 and still manage to be behind the Patriots.
It didn’t happen Sunday, but it’s probably inevitable that the Patriots clinch. Here’s how it could have happened this week:
The Patriots needed one of the following to happen to clinch a playoff berth:
- A win over Deshaun Watson’s Texans plus a Raiders loss or tie (vs. Chiefs)
- A win over the Texans, plus a Steelers loss or tie (vs. Browns)
- Three scenarios in which the Patriots tie combined with a Raiders and Steelers loss, a Raiders and Colts loss, or a Steelers and Colts loss
For the first time in the Bill O’Brien era, the Texans beat the Patriots. That dropped New England to 10-2 and out of the No. 1 spot in the AFC, though they’re still atop the AFC East.
How could the San Francisco 49ers have clinched a playoff spot this week?
But the bad news is they had to face Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. If there ever was a test for Robert Saleh’s surging defense, it was MVP frontrunner Jackson. The 49ers played a strong, competitive game, but they lost on a last-second field goal, 20-17.
Despite the loss, it’s hard to imagine them losing out and completely missing the playoffs. They have to wait at least another week to clinch now.
The 49ers needed one of the following to happen to clinch a playoff berth:
- A win over the Ravens coupled with a Rams loss or tie (at Cardinals)
- A tie against the Ravens coupled with a Rams loss
Neither scenario happened, so the 49ers will have to try again later.
Which teams were eliminated this week and how?
The Bengals were the only team already eliminated, but the Lions, Falcons, Giants, Dolphins, and Cardinals are now out too.
Lastly, a big hat tip and thanks to NFL Playoff Scenarios on Reddit, for doing all the brain-splitting elimination math. That’s the place to go if you’re REALLY passionate about ties.
How the Lions put a merciful end to this season:
- They lost to Mitchell Trubisky, truly a sign of the end times for any team
How the Falcons officially squandered another season of Julio Jones’ career:
- They lost to the Saints at home (albeit without Jones)
The Giants are now out of NFC East and playoff contention with:
- Their 31-13 loss to the Packers
Their season also could’ve been over if the Cowboys had beaten the Bills.
The tank-tastic Dolphins‘ season is over, despite a win because:
- The Steelers beat the Browns
A loss to the Eagles would’ve also knocked Miami out, but Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team to its third win of the season.
The Cardinals can get a jump start on 2020 after:
- Their loss to the Rams
Wins by the Packers and Vikings would have also done the Cardinals in, but they did it all their own with a 34-7 beatdown from the Rams.
Washington could’ve spent its free time investing in analytics with:
- A loss to the Panthers OR
- A Cowboys win on Thanksgiving.
But Washington won AND the Cowboys lost, so hope is still kiiiiiinda alive in DC.
The Buccaneers could’ve gone back to the drawing board by:
However, they topped the Jaguars in the battle of Florida.
It’s worth noting that the Browns, Jaguars, Panthers, and Chargers were eliminated from contention within their respective divisions this week.
If the playoffs started today, which teams would be in?
With seven teams at nine-plus wins, seeding will likely come down to the wire, especially when some of those teams occupy the same division (like the 49ers and the Seahawks, who play each other in Week 17).
Now that the Week 13 action is over, this is how the playoff picture is shaping up:
- New Orleans Saints (10-2)**
- Seattle Seahawks (10-2)
- Green Bay Packers (9-3)
- Dallas Cowboys (6-6)
- San Francisco 49ers (10-2)
- Minnesota Vikings (8-4)
- Baltimore Ravens (10-2)
- New England Patriots (10-2)
- Houston Texans (8-4)
- Kansas City Chiefs (8-4)
- Buffalo Bills (9-3)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
**clinched the division