With Thanksgiving behind us, the NFL season is heading into the home stretch, and the playoff picture is starting to take shape. Although no teams have clinched playoff berths, the Seahawks, Broncos and Chiefs all have a chance to clinch this weekend. And eight of the 12 playoff teams are close to sure things.
We take a look at the state of the playoff race below.
Safe: Broncos, Patriots, Chiefs, Colts, Bengals
The winner of Sunday’s Broncos-Chiefs game is the favorite to win home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, while the loser will become the favorite to get the No. 5 seed. The Patriots have all but locked up the AFC East, with a three-game lead and the tiebreaker edge over the Dolphins and Jets, and the Colts have all but locked up the AFC South, with a two-game lead and the tiebreaker edge over the Titans. The Bengals lead the AFC North by a game and a half over the Ravens, and even if the Bengals blow their big division lead, they’d probably end up with the final wild card spot.
Wild card scramble: Ravens, Titans, Chargers, Jets, Dolphins
At 6-6, the Ravens have a half-game lead over the other four teams in the wild card mix. Baltimore also owns head-to-head wins over the Jets and Dolphins, who play each other on Sunday and again in Week 17. The bad news for the Ravens is that their schedule is tough: Baltimore’s last three games are all against teams with winning records, the Lions, Patriots and Bengals. The Titans and Chargers both have three games remaining against teams with winning records as well. This race is wide open, and a 9-7 record might be enough to win it.
Long shots: Steelers, Browns, Bills
The Steelers would have been in great position to earn a wild-card berth with a win in Baltimore, but their loss means they’d probably need to run the table, and even that might not be enough to make the playoffs. The Browns and Bills also have seven losses and are extreme long shots.
Safe: Seahawks, Saints, Panthers
The winner of Monday night’s Seahawks-Saints game has the inside track for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks are heavy favorites to win the NFC West even if they lose to the Saints on Monday. The Saints and Panthers play each other twice in December, and if one team sweeps those two games, that team would all but lock up the NFC South. The team that doesn’t win the NFC South is virtually assured of a wild card.
Control their playoff chances: Lions, Cowboys, Eagles, 49ers, Cardinals
The Lions have a half-game lead over the Bears in the NFC North and own the tiebreaker, so the Lions know they just need to keep winning to win the division. The Cowboys currently have a half-game lead over the Eagles in the NFC East and own the tiebreaker, but the Eagles still get another shot at the Cowboys in Week 17, so if the Eagles can keep pace with the Cowboys in the standings, that meeting on the last day of the season will determine the division. The 49ers and Cardinals are both 7-4 and play each other in Week 17, so they may meet with a wild card on the line in the last game of the year.
Need help: Bears
The Bears will need the Lions to lose at least once to win the NFC North, as Detroit owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. It’s still possible that the Bears could earn a wild-card berth, but those odds are long. The Bears’ best chance is to win out and hope the Lions lose one.
Long shots: Packers, Rams
Green Bay needs to win out while Detroit loses twice and Chicago loses at least once before hosting the Packers in Week 17. The Rams have to win out and get help, and winning out is almost impossible considering the remaining five games for St. Louis are at the 49ers, at the Cardinals, vs. the Saints, vs. the Buccaneers and at the Seahawks.