NFL Playoff Picture through Week 13
Here’s what the AFC and NFC playoff pictures look like after Sunday's action:
1. New England Patriots (9-3)
2. Denver Broncos (9-3)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1)
4. Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
5. San Diego Chargers (8-4)
6. Miami Dolphins (7-5)
Frustrating as it might have been for the Patriots (see: Tom Brady's sideline reactions), their loss in Green Bay only becomes a problem if they drop another game or two. For now, they're still atop the AFC thanks to their earlier win over the Broncos.
Denver is knocking on the No. 1 seed door again, though, thanks to a Sunday night win in Kansas City. A bonus for the Broncos: That result more or less eliminated the Chiefs from the AFC West race.
Cincinnati and Indianapolis also won, further tightening the AFC leaderboard. (New England has wins over both of those teams, as well.) The Bengals' nail-biting victory in Tampa Bay, combined with an 0-3 mark from their division rivals in Week 13, finally created a little separation in the competitive North -- their lead now stands at 1.5 games with four weeks left. Indianapolis still has a two-game cushion on Houston and could clinch the division by beating the Texans in Week 15.
San Diego stayed hot on Denver's heels and delivered a blow to Baltimore's playoff hopes by rallying past the Ravens. The road ahead remains brutal: New England, Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City. Two wins might get it done for the Chargers, at least for the wild card; anything less and they probably head home.
Behind them as the calendar flips to December is a cluster of teams at 7-5 -- six of them to be exact, as Miami got a key win over the Jets Monday night to slide into the No. 6 seed for now. Pittsburgh, inconsistent as all get-out this season, has the best chance of shaking up the top four thanks to two remaining games against the Bengals.
1. Arizona Cardinals (9-3)
2. Green Bay Packers (9-3)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-3)
4. Atlanta Falcons (5-7)
5. Seattle Seahawks (8-4)
6. Detroit Lions (8-4)
Realistically, the chase has narrowed to nine teams.
The team suddenly feeling the most heat may be the Arizona Cardinals, just two weeks removed from taking full charge of the conference at 9-1. Since then, the Cardinals have dropped back-to-back games as their Carson Palmer-less offense has hit the skids. Still to come are matchups with the Chiefs, Rams, Seahawks and 49ers. With surging Seattle now just a game back in the NFC West, that Week 16 game between the Seahawks and Cardinals could decide things.
And because of Arizona's slide, the Packers are pushing to grab home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. A win over New England on Sunday kept Green Bay ahead of Detroit in the NFC North, and its upcoming schedule puts 13-3 very much on the table.
The Eagles are in the top-seed discussion, too, ahead of a critical Week 14 showdown vs. Seattle. Their Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas means that they could sew up the NFC East as early as in a Week 15 rematch with the Cowboys.
Atlanta and New Orleans won Sunday, a borderline miracle for the South this season. The Falcons currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker there, but they visit the Saints three weeks from now and must head to Lambeau Field next Sunday; the Saints do not play a team with a winning record the rest of the way.
Lastly, we come to the 49ers, who offer a world of intrigue. While they are not out of the NFC West race yet, they now have the most losses (five) of any legitimate wild-card contender and have to finish at least 3-1 to have any hope of stealing a spot. Could the team most heavily rumored to be interested in Jim Harbaugh, the Raiders, start to bury San Francisco's hopes next Sunday?