The 2022 NFL regular season is nearing the halfway point, and playoff races are heating up across the league. With contenders emerging and pretenders fading, the postseason outlook is coming into focus. Which teams are poised for deep playoff runs? Who will claim division titles and top seeds? Let’s take an in-depth look at how the NFL playoff picture is shaping up.
The Buffalo Bills have firmly established themselves as the class of the AFC East. Led by MVP candidate Josh Allen, the Bills have a potent offense and stifling defense. At 5-1, they have a two game lead over the 4-3 New York Jets and 3-3 Miami Dolphins. Barring an epic collapse, Buffalo will repeat as division champions.
The Jets and Dolphins both have talent, but lack the consistency needed to keep pace with the Bills over a 17-game season. New York gets the slight edge for the final Wild Card spot thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker.
This division is still up for grabs between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals. Both teams are 4-3, with the Ravens holding the tiebreaker for now thanks to a Week 5 win over the Bengals. The Ravens have been ravaged by injuries, but will get healthier as the season goes on. The Bengals are dealing with a shaky offensive line, but Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase still make for an elite passing attack.
The Cleveland Browns will sink or swim based on the availability of Deshaun Watson. If he returns from suspension and plays to his talent level, the Browns could make a late push. The 1-5 Pittsburgh Steelers are already playing for next year.
The Tennessee Titans have won five straight to take command of the AFC South. Derrick Henry is powering the offense, while the defense has improved after a shaky start. The 4-2 Titans hold a 1.5 game lead over the 3-3-1 Indianapolis Colts. Indianapolis continues to waste the prime of Jonathan Taylor due to shoddy quarterback play.
No other team in this division is a threat to Tennessee. The 2-5 Jacksonville Jaguars and 1-4-1 Houston Texans are among the worst teams in the NFL. The Titans can start planning for the playoffs.
This division boasts three of the top Super Bowl contenders in the AFC. The Kansas City Chiefs lead the pack at 5-2, despite some uncharacteristically shaky performances. Patrick Mahomes is still the game’s top quarterback when he’s on his game.
The 5-2 Los Angeles Chargers have served notice that they are true title threats after wins over the Chiefs and Broncos. Justin Herbert to Mike Williams is becoming an unstoppable combo. Don’t count out the 3-4 Las Vegas Raiders either. If they shore up their porous run defense, they have enough offensive firepower in Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs to hang with anyone.
The only question is which three teams make the postseason from the deepest division in football. The 2-5 Denver Broncos have flopped after acquiring Russell Wilson, and can start planning for 2023.
The league’s most surprising first place team resides in the NFC East. The 6-1 New York Giants have already surpassed expectations under first year coach Brian Daboll. Saquon Barkley looks fully healthy again, keying a much-improved rushing attack. Daniel Jones is finally showing flashes of his first round potential. They hold a 1.5 game lead over the 4-2 Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas will go as far as Dak Prescott can carry them. His return from injury resulted in an immediate demolition of the Lions. The 4-3 Philadelphia Eagles are right in the mix too. Hurts-to-Brown will be a problem for defenses all season.
Washington (3-4) won’t repeat their 2020 division title, but has enough defense to play spoiler down the stretch.
What was once a tight division race now clearly favors the Minnesota Vikings. At 5-1, they are up two games on the Packers and Bears. Justin Jefferson is putting his stamp on the league, and Za’Darius Smith was a needed boost for the defense. Cousins has cut back on costly mistakes in Kevin O’Connell’s offense.
The 3-4 Green Bay Packers are underachieving. The offense sputters too often for a team with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. But never count out Rodgers to go on a late-season tear to rally the Packers into the postseason. Chicago (3-4) and Detroit (1-5) don’t have the firepower to contend in this division.
No one wants to win the NFC South. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons are tied for the division lead at 3-4. Tampa Bay’s offense has fallen short of expectations, but Tom Brady’s track record speaks for itself. The Falcons have been a pleasant surprise behind Marcus Mariota, but seem to have hit their ceiling.
At 2-5, the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints can quickly get back in contention if they go on a run. Still, neither team strikes fear in opponents. A 9-8 or even 8-9 record could take this weak division. The Bucs still have the inside track to win a title through default.
The defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams started slow at 2-3, but recently showed signs of life by stomping the Panthers. As long Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp are healthy, the Rams can’t be counted out of a deep run. But they face stiff competition within the division.
The Seattle Seahawks are unexpectedly keeping pace at 4-3. Geno Smith has provided stability at quarterback and rookie Kenneth Walker has revitalized the ground game. Pete Carroll will have them battling for a Wild Card spot. The 3-4 San Francisco 49ers can’t be dismissed either. Getting Christian McCaffrey was a coup, and their defense is among the NFL’s best.
The only safe bet is that the 3-4 Arizona Cardinals won’t earn a playoff spot behind a scuffling offense. But the Seahawks and 49ers could both break through to the postseason.
Breaking Down the Key Playoff Races
AFC Wild Card spots – With Buffalo nearly a lock for the AFC East title, only two Wild Card spots are realistically up for grabs. Baltimore, Cincinnati, the LA Chargers and the NY Jets currently hold those spots. Miami, New England and Indianapolis are primed to challenge for a spot in the season’s second half. A surprise team like Cleveland or Las Vegas could also sneak in with a closing surge.
NFC top seeds – The East-leading Giants and North-leading Vikings are battling for the top seed and only first round bye. The South and West champions will be in the mix as well. Tampa Bay and the Rams have the pedigree to move up with a strong finishing kick.
NFC Wild Cards – This figures to be a mad scramble between the 49ers, Seahawks, Cowboys, Packers, Commanders and possibly the Falcons or Saints. San Francisco and Dallas have the inside track thanks to talent and early wins. But anything can happen in the NFL’s most balanced conference.
AFC North title – Cincinnati and Baltimore will continue their fight for division supremacy down to the wire. The regular season rematch in Cincinnati during the final week could ultimately determine the winner. This could go right down to the wire with major playoff seeding implications.
NFC South title – No team has distinguished themselves in the league’s weakest division. Tampa Bay is the favorite, but road games at Atlanta and Carolina could trip them up. Don’t be surprised if this comes down to tiebreakers to determine the NFC South winner with a 9-8 or even 8-9 record.
Projecting the Final 2022 Playoff Field
- Buffalo Bills
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Baltimore Ravens
- Tennessee Titans
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Miami Dolphins
The Bills and Chiefs stay on track for the top two seeds. An improving Titans team edges out the Ravens and Bengals for the South title. The Bengals repeat as a Wild Card along with the Chargers. Tagovailoa leads Miami past the Jets for the final spot.
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Minnesota Vikings
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Los Angeles Rams
- Dallas Cowboys
- San Francisco 49ers
- New York Giants
Hurts and Brown spark an Eagles surge to the top seed. Minnesota holds off Green Bay in the North. Brady steadies the Bucs just enough to take the South. The Cowboys and 49ers earn Wild Cards while the upstart Giants slip to the 7 seed.
The 2022 NFL playoff picture still has lots of moving parts. But the true contenders are separating from the pretenders as the season hits the halfway mark. Super Bowl aspirations will come down to which teams can build momentum down the stretch run. Injuries, schedule quirks and midseason trades could all cause shakeups before it’s all said and done. Buckle up for a wild second half on the road to Super Bowl LVII.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Which teams are currently in position for the NFL playoffs?
In the AFC, the Bills, Ravens, Titans, Chiefs, Jets, and Bengals are currently in playoff position. In the NFC, the Eagles, Vikings, Buccaneers, 49ers, Cowboys, and Giants hold playoff spots. But there is still half a season left for teams to move up or down.
What are the most exciting divisional playoff races to watch?
The AFC North and NFC East races will be extremely competitive down the stretch. The Bengals and Ravens are battling for the AFC North while the Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants fight for NFC East supremacy. Riveting playoff implications will come down to the wire in both divisions.
Which teams are on track for first round byes?
The Bills and Chiefs have the clearest path to the top two seeds and byes on the AFC side. In the NFC, the surprising Vikings could join the Eagles with a bye if Philadelphia falters.
Could a team with a losing record win its division?
Yes, the weakness of the NFC South means a team could take the division title with a 9-8 or even 8-9 record. The Buccaneers and Falcons are currently 3-4 and tied for first place.
What is the biggest wildcard in the playoff race?
Injuries always play a major role. A critical injury to a star quarterback like Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson could completely swing the playoff picture. Trade deadline moves in November could also tip the scales if a contender lands a difference-making player.
Which teams are threatening to grab a playoff spot after slow starts?
In the AFC, the Patriots and Chargers could play their way in after uneven first halves. In the NFC, the Packers are poised to go on a run and break into the playoff field behind Aaron Rodgers.
Projecting the full NFL playoff field midseason is an inexact science. Injuries, trades, and late-season momentum shifts can flip everything on its head. But the true Super Bowl contenders are moving to the forefront as 2022 hits the halfway point. January promises to bring thrilling divisional races, Wild Card chaos, and an intense road to Super Bowl glory.