The NFL’s 2021 regular season has come to an end after a wild Week 18. The 14 playoff teams are set, with the top seed in each conference earning a first round bye. The remaining dozen squads are going to duke it out in the Wild Card round. Though each playoff team has given itself a fighting chance at the Lombardi Trophy, the reality is that some teams stand a much better chance at winning the Super Bowl than others.
To determine how each NFL team will finish the 2021 season, 24/7 Tempo reviews each week FiveThirtyEight’s 2021 NFL Predictions, which are based on 50,000 simulated games and are updated after every game. The predictions are as of Jan. 10, 2022, and teams are ranked by their Elo rating, which measures quality based on results and the quality of opponents. Supplemental data came from Pro Football Reference.
The Green Bay Packers had already clinched the NFC’s top overall seed a week earlier and played their starters sparingly in a loss to the Detroit Lions. The Dallas Cowboys had already won the NFC East but still rolled over the Philadelphia Eagles 51-26. Philly clinched a Wild Card spot the week before and will play at the NFC South champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Dallas Cowboys will host the San Francisco 49ers, who punched their playoff ticket with an overtime win over the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams won the NFC West despite the loss, as the Arizona Cardinals also fell to the Seattle Seahawks, sending them to play in L.A. on Wild Card weekend.
In the AFC, the Tennessee Titans barely edged out the lowly Houston Texans 28-25 to claim the top seed and sole bye. The Buffalo Bills beat the New York Jets to clinch the AFC East, and they will host their division rivals, the New England Patriots, in the Wild Card round. The Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals already claimed their division titles, so the real drama of the AFC playoff picture would come in the fight for a Wild Card spot.
The Indianapolis Colts just needed to win to cement a spot in the postseason but lost a shocker to the NFL’s worst team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-11. This opened the door for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat the Baltimore Ravens in overtime 16-13.
The Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders closed out the Week 18. Either team would have made the postseason with a win, or both would have made it with a tie, knocking out the Steelers in the process. It seemed like a tie was on the horizon when the game went into overtime, but the Raiders ended the Chargers’ season on a last-second field goal, sending Vegas and Pittsburgh to the playoffs. The unlikely playoff appearance may add one final twist in Ben Roethlisberger’s storied career. These are the athletes with the most memorable final seasons.