The NFL’s 2023 regular season reached its conclusion Sunday, game No. 272 – the Buffalo Bills’ visit to the Miami Dolphins on “Sunday Night Football” – determining the AFC East title while finalizing the conference’s playoff seeding. But before the Bills won their fourth consecutive division crown, the AFC South champion was determined while the conference’s other playoff berths were claimed before the late-afternoon games kicked off – thanks to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ unsightly demise.
On the NFC side, the Dallas Cowboys predictably won the NFC East, though the Philadelphia Eagles’ divisional abdication was especially ugly. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers extended their rule of the NFC South throne, while the Green Bay Packers secured the conference’s last wild-card berth.
Here’s how things ultimately shook out:
AFC playoff picture
yz – 1. Baltimore Ravens (13-4), AFC North champions: They brought home the division crown, conference first-round bye and home-field advantage by pummeling Miami in Week 17 … meaning the only objective Saturday against Pittsburgh was to avoid major injuries. Mission seemingly accomplished for resting QB Lamar Jackson and Co. Remaining schedule: will face lowest-seeded remaining AFC playoff team in divisional round of playoffs
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y – 2.Buffalo Bills (11-6), AFC East champion: They ended the regular season on a five-game heater, sufficient to ensure a fourth consecutive division title after completing a season sweep of Miami. Week 14 win at Arrowhead vaults the Mafia past K.C. Now it’s back to Western New York and some apparently frightful Great Lakes weather. Remaining schedule: vs. Steelers
y – 3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-6), AFC West champions: It took longer than usual, but they secured their eighth consecutive division crown while locking into the third seed. Their Week 17 victory also eliminated the Bengals and Broncos. Now, they finally get to welcome former WR Tyreek Hill home to Arrowhead. Remaining schedule: vs. Dolphins
y – 4.Houston Texans (10-7), AFC South champions: Rookie QB C.J. Stroud and Co. survived and advanced in Indianapolis on Saturday night while clinching a berth, their first since 2019. Houston upgraded to AFC South champions Sunday courtesy of the Jaguars’ loss. The Texans’ win eliminated Indianapolis. Remaining schedule: vs. Browns
x – 5. Cleveland Browns (11-6), wild card No. 1: They graduate to postseason for the third time since their 1999 rebirth and travel back to Houston, where they beat the C.J. Stroud-less Texans two weeks ago. Remaining schedule: at Texans
x – 6. Miami Dolphins (11-6), wild card No. 2: Quite a season-ending skid for a team that struggles against good opponents and on the road. And after coughing up the AFC East lead Sunday night, the Fins are relegated to frigid Kansas City next week, their inferior record in conference games dropping them below Cleveland. Remaining schedule: at Chiefs
x – 7. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-7), wild card No. 3: They took care of business Saturday in suboptimal weather conditions in Baltimore, beating the top-seeded Ravens. Then the Jags pitched in Sunday, their loss also assuring Pittsburgh a playoff date. Now the Steelers will try to win their first playoff game in seven years. Remaining schedule: at Bills
NFC playoff picture
yz – 1. San Francisco 49ers (12-5), NFC West champions: They won last weekend, while the Eagles and Lions didn’t – meaning the Niners won’t be leaving the Bay Area for another football game … unless they reach Super Bowl 58. Niners’ 10-1 conference record conveyed tiebreaker over Dallas and Detroit. Remaining schedule: will face lowest-seeded remaining NFC playoff team in divisional round of playoffs
y – 2. Dallas Cowboys (12-5), NFC East champions: They left little doubt Sunday, blowing out Washington to put a bow on their second division title in three years. And that could mean at least two home playoff games at AT&T Stadium, where America’s Team has won 16 in a row. The NFC East’s run of non-consecutive champions since 2005 extends another year. Remaining schedule: vs. Packers
y – 3. Detroit Lions (12-5), NFC North champions: They finish up the regular season with a win over Minnesota. But the Lions’ controversial Week 17 loss at Dallas means they could be going back there in two weeks if they and the Cowboys win their wild-card matchups. First QB Jared Goff will have to exact some serious revenge against the team that drafted him first overall in 2016. Remaining schedule: vs. Rams
y – 4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-8), NFC South champions: They persevered in Charlotte to win their third consecutive division crown – and obviously first without former QB Tom Brady during that stretch. The win also eliminated the Atlanta Falcons from playoff contention. Remaining schedule: vs. Eagles
x – 5. Philadelphia Eagles (11-6), wild card No. 1: They qualify for postseason despite losing five of their final six games. Remaining schedule: at Buccaneers
x – 6. Los Angeles Rams (10-7), wild card No. 2: They got a rare regular-season win over San Francisco, ensuring rested QB Matthew Stafford gets to open the playoffs against his former team in Detroit. Remaining schedule: at Lions
x – 7.Green Bay Packers (9-8),wild card No. 3: They beat the archrival Bears to secure the NFC’s final spot, eliminating the Saints and Seahawks in the process. QB Jordan Love’s playoff run represents something Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers never accomplished in their first turns as QB1. Remaining schedule: at Cowboys
x – clinched playoff berth
y – clinched division title
z – clinched first-round bye and home-field advantage
Both the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins have clinched playoff berths, now it’s a matter of sorting out the seeding and subsequent matchups:
▶ The winner of this game wins the AFC East and hosts a wild-card game next weekend.
▶ If the Dolphins prevail, the Bills will return to South Florida for a rematch in the playoff opener. That would also send the Pittsburgh Steelers to Kansas City.
▶ If the Bills emerge victorious, they’d host the Steelers in Western New York next weekend. Meanwhile, the Fins would go to K.C., where WR Tyreek Hill would get to face his former team at Arrowhead Stadium for the first time.
If the scores hold, the Dallas Cowboys will win the NFC East and the Green Bay Packers will claim the NFC’s final wild card. However with the San Francisco 49ers leading the Los Angeles Rams in a game where both teams are sitting several key players, an LA loss would drop the Rams from the sixth seed to the seventh due to their loss to the Pack earlier this season. That would mean Los Angeles QB Matthew Stafford and Detroit’s Jared Goff, traded for one another three years ago, would not get to square off in the wild-card round, a dramatic subplot that’s been anticipated for weeks. As things stand, the Lions would host the Packers while the Cowboys would host the Rams.
Detroit’s defeat of Minnesota on Sunday moved the NFC North champs (12-5) into the conference’s second seed … for now. Of course, some in Motown would say their team should’ve been there all along after the apparent officiating fiasco at Dallas in Week 17 did not work out in the Lions’ favor. if the Cowboys and Eagles lose, Detroit stays at No. 2 … and might host Dallas at Ford Field in the divisional round. Otherwise, it’s quite likely the Lions could be going back to AT&T Stadium in two weeks should they and the Cowboys advance that far.
Much is still in flux, including seedings for teams that have punched their playoff tickets. But we do know the Houston Texans will host the Cleveland Browns on “Super Wild Card Weekend,” a rematch of their Week 16 game. The Browns won that one 36-22, but rookie Houston QB C.J. Stroud sat out with a concussion.
Jacksonville’s loss in Nashville has massive ramifications. The Jaguars not only cough up the chance to win consecutive AFC South crowns, they’re now out of the postseason entirely – their loss locking the Bills and Steelers into the field while handing the division to the Houston Texans.
The AFC playoff field is now set, if not yet fully seeded.
New Orleans still has a shot at the NFC’s final wild-card berth after trouncing Atlanta but needs the Packers and Seahawks to lose. The Saints’ runaway win against the Falcons officially eliminated longshot Minnesota.
The Buccaneers locked up the NFC South by beating the Panthers on the road Sunday, that outcome eliminating the Atlanta Falcons – they began the day 12th overall in the NFC but had a pathway to the division throne.
While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue struggling in Charlotte to beat the lowly Carolina Panthers – a win means the Bucs’ third straight division title – the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons remain locked in a de facto elimination game at the Superdome. The Saints or Falcons can claim the NFC South by winning if Tampa Bay also loses. Conversely, the Bucs and Saints can both play on wild-card weekend with extensive outside help, but the Falcons have no pathway aside from a division championship.
Jacksonville trails the Tennessee Titans 21-13 at halftime. Should the Jags, reigning AFC South champions, fail to come back, the Houston Texans would clinch the division while the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers would lock into the AFC field with seeding still undetermined.
With the Browns, Lions, Packers, Steelers, Rams and Texans all qualifying for postseason, the NFL has now turned its field over by at least four teams from the previous year every season going back to 1990 − when the bracket expanded to 12 teams (and later 14 in 2020).
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.