The present contribution deals with the prediction of diffuse necking in the context of forming and stretching of metal sheets. For this purpose, two approaches are investigated, namely bifurcation and the maximum force principle, with a systematic comparison of their respective ability to predict necking. While the bifurcation approach is of quite general applicability, some restrictions are shown for the application of maximum force conditions. Although the predictions of the two approaches are identical for particular loading paths and constitutive models, they are generally different, which is even the case for elasticity, confirming the distinct nature of the two concepts. Closed-form expressions of the critical stress and strain states are derived for both criteria in elasto-plasticity and rigid-plasticity for a variety of hardening models. The resulting useful formulas in rigid-plasticity are shown to also accurately represent the elasto-plastic critical states for small ratios of the hardening modulus with respect to Young's modulus. Finally, the well-known expression of Swift's diffuse necking criterion, whose foundations are attributed in the literature to the maximum force principle, is shown here to originate from the bifurcation approach instead, providing a sound justification for it.