New England and Carolina are entrenched as the top seeds in their respective conferences, but fascinating races in the AFC South and NFC East should make for a lot of movement among lower seeds.
Here’s what the AFC and NFC playoff pictures look like through Week 11 (a primer on tiebreaking procedures can be found here):
Heads up for the Chiefs. They have ripped off four wins in a row following a 1–5 start, and have a cushy schedule down the stretch—their final five opponents currently hold a combined 15–35 record.
The AFC South also has become far more intriguing, in a good way, over the past few weeks. That division looked like it was headed toward a sub-.500 division champ. Now, with the Colts and Texans both 5–5 and the Jaguars at 4–6, the South has a chance to sneak two teams into the postseason.
Next week's big matchup features the Patriots and Broncos, in Denver. New England could take huge step toward locking up the conference's No. 1 seed with a win.
The Bengals are lurking should the Patriots falter. They visit Denver, too, in Week 16. Otherwise, they should be favored in all of their other remaining games.
The Packers' Week 11 win over the Vikings flipped the top of the NFC North standings—Green Bay now holds the lead by virtue of that head-to-head win. (The teams meet at Lambeau on the season's final weekend.) It also pushed the division closer to two bids, as Minnesota is still in comfortable wild-card position.
The NFC is set up for a mad scramble to the Nos. 5 and 6 seeds, particularly the latter. Once 5–0, the Falcons have come unglued in recent weeks. They also still have two meetings with the Panthers, a game at Tampa Bay and a visit from Minnesota next week still on their schedule.
And speaking of the Buccaneers, they may be the biggest surprise playoff contender right now. Should they win their next two (at Indianapolis, vs. Atlanta), they would jump into a wild-card spot by virtue of sweeping the season series with the Falcons.
Seattle is not going away, either. The two-time defending NFC champs have a difficult back-to-back upcoming (vs. Pittsburgh, at Minnesota), but then find a favorable three-game stretch afterward (at Baltimore, vs. Cleveland, vs. St. Louis).
The Cowboys are "in the hunt" entirely because of their residence in the NFC East, where they're just two games back. In the overall conference race, the Cowboys actually rank dead last within the conference—No. 16 overall—behind fellow 3–7 squads Detroit and San Francisco.