Let’s take a look at the updated playoff picture heading into Week 14, starting with the NFC.
1. Vikings (10-2)
2. Eagles (10-2)
3. Rams (9-3)
4. Saints (9-3)
5. Seahawks (8-4)
6. Panthers (8-4)
Still Hopeful: Falcons (7-5), Lions (6-6), Packers (6-6), Cowboys (6-6)
Life Support: Redskins (5-7), Cardinals (5-7), Buccaneers (4-8)
Eliminated: Bears (3-9), Giants (2-10), 49ers (2-10)
- After winning their eighth straight game on Sunday, Minnesota took over the one seed from Philadelphia as a result of the strength of victory tiebreaker. If the season ended today, the Vikings would need to win only three home games in the playoffs to win the Super Bowl, which Minneapolis will host. The Vikings essentially have a two-game lead for a bye over the Rams and Saints, as they defeated both earlier this season.
- The Eagles, one win away from clinching the NFC East, would drop to the three seed with a road loss against Los Angeles next Sunday. The Rams earned a key road victory in a potential trap game against Arizona, but their season will come down to the next three games against Philadelphia, at Seattle and at Tennessee. They do at least close the season at home against San Francisco, but don’t forget about their previous home loss to Seattle, who could potentially jump into the division lead with a home win over the Rams in two weeks.
- The Seahawks currently hold the first Wild Card, but find themselves in a nightmare situational spot this weekend at Jacksonville (-3), a game sandwiched in between a home upset of Philadelphia and the aforementioned rematch with the Rams. Seattle must also travel to Dallas in Week 16, when Ezekiel Elliott will be eligible to return.
- New Orleans swept the season series with Carolina on Sunday, which essentially gives them a two-game lead in the NFC South with four games remaining. The Panthers begin a three-game homestand against the Vikings this weekend. If they can find a way to pull out a win as a small home dog against a Vikings team playing its third straight road game, you have to like their chances of securing a playoff spot, with games against Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta to close out their season.
- Atlanta currently sits on the outside looking in, but they actually control their own destiny for the division. The Falcons will win the NFC South if they win their final four games, as they play the Panthers, Bucs, and Saints twice. Atlanta will start this final four-game stretch on Thursday night as a small home underdog against the Saints in an almost must-win situation. The Falcons/Saints series has had one team sweep the season series each of the last four years. If you like Atlanta’s chances this week, taking a shot on them to win the division at +650 might be worth a look.
- Due to the competitive nature of the conference, Dallas, Green Bay and Detroit basically need to win out and still hope for some help. For example, if the Cowboys win their next three games and the Eagles lose their next three games, their Week 17 showdown would determine the NFC East.
1. Steelers (10-2)
2. Patriots (10-2)
3. Titans (8-4)
4. Chiefs (6-6)
5. Jaguars (8-4)
6. Ravens (7-5)
Still Hopeful: Chargers (6-6), Bills (6-6), Raiders (6-6)
Life Support: Bengals (5-7), Jets, (5-7), Dolphins (5-7), Texans (4-8), Colts (3-9), Broncos (3-9)
Eliminated: Browns (0-12)
- After their comeback win over Cincy last night, Pittsburgh leaped back over New England for the one seed. However, it really doesn’t make much of a difference, since they face each other Week 15 at Heinz Field in a game that will probably determine home-field advantage in the AFC. The Patriots have won four straight over the Steelers, including last year’s 36-17 victory in the AFC Championship. In that game, Tom Brady finished 32-of-42 for 382 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. During the current four-game winning streak that dates back to 2011, New England has averaged 36.5 points per game to Pittsburgh’s 21.25. I know Steelers fans hope that they will finally stop trying to run a zone defense against Brady when these teams meet in two weeks, and possibly again in January.
- Both Tennessee and Jacksonville picked up victories to keep pace with each other at 8-4. However, the Titans currently own the three seed since they defeated the Jaguars earlier this season. The Titans have won five of their last six, but have only outscored their opponents by two points during that stretch. The Jaguars have two home games coming up, against the Seahawks and Texans, but they better watch out for a potential trap game in Week 16 at San Francisco, one week before a potential Week 17 clash for the division with the Titans in Nashville.
- Despite losing their fourth straight game to fall to 6-6, Kansas City stayed on top of the division due to tiebreakers over Oakland and Los Angeles. The Chiefs do at least have a favorable schedule down the stretch, as they host the Raiders and Chargers over the next two weeks before finishing up with a third straight home game against Miami, and then at Denver. The Chiefs already beat the Chargers in LA earlier this year for their seventh straight victory in the series; an eighth straight at Arrowhead in Week 15 would make it very difficult for the Chargers to get into the playoffs.
- Baltimore picked up a one-game lead for the sixth spot in the AFC playoffs as a result of their win and a Buffalo loss. However, they essentially have a two-game cushion since they own a 5-3 conference record, which would play a key role in any potential tiebreaker; no other team behind them in the race has a better than .500 conference record or a head-to-head victory over the Ravens. Even if they lose at Pittsburgh this week, winning just two of three against the Colts, Browns and Bengals would give them a good shot of getting into the postseason.
- Believe it or not, Denver and Indianapolis still have a mathematical shot at the last AFC Wild Card spot. Each team lived to see another day after the Steelers beat the Bengals last night.