The NFL regular season begins its turn for home this weekend, crossing the halfway point as each team plays at least its eighth game. It is still early to project fully what the matchups might be come playoff time, but there is more than enough information on the table to figure out which teams might be headed to the postseason ... and which are in serious trouble.
Here's how the AFC and NFC playoff pictures sit as Week 9 welcomes in the month of November:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-0): AFC West leader
2. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2): AFC North leader
3. New England Patriots (6-2): AFC East leader
4. Indianapolis Colts (5-2): AFC South leader
5. Denver Broncos (7-1): Wild card
6. San Diego Chargers (4-3): Wild card
Wait 'Til Next Year: Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8)
Denver's Week 9 bye means that the Chiefs could open up a 1.5-game lead in the AFC West -- and in the race to the top playoff seed. Oddly enough, Kansas City is the only first-place team in this conference with a lead smaller than two games. New England, Cincinnati and Indianapolis all have a little cushion atop their respective divisions.
It does appear quite likely that one of two wild-card spots will be spoken for by the West's second-place team, leaving a gaggle of others hoping to claim that No. 6 seed. A loss by San Diego in Washington on Sunday could lead to a little shake-up at the bottom of the AFC's playoff picture; the other five teams in postseason position would stay there even with losses in Week 9.
For now, Cincinnati holds the No. 2 seed over New England and its matching 6-2 record because of the Bengals' win over the Patriots earlier this season. That's the only head-to-head matchup currently holding any sway over the placement of the AFC's top six. Indianapolis has a loss to San Diego and a win over Denver, but those results only become important here if: a) the Colts fall out of first in the AFC South; or b) either the Chargers or Broncos climb atop the AFC West.
The Bengals' Thursday night game with 3-4 Miami arguably is more important for the host Dolphins. A fifth loss this early in the season would make it exceedingly difficult for Miami to rally back.
A couple more critical games of note from the AFC's Week 9 slate: 3-4 Baltimore heads to 3-5 Cleveland and the 4-4 Jets host New Orleans.
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1. Seattle Seahawks (7-1): NFC West leader
2. New Orleans Saints (6-1): NFC South leader
3. Green Bay Packers (5-2): NFC North leader
4. Dallas Cowboys (4-4): NFC East leader
5. San Francisco 49ers (6-2): Wild card
6. Detroit Lions (5-3): Wild card
In the Hunt: Carolina Panthers (4-3), Chicago Bears (4-3), Arizona Cardinals (4-4)
The NFC division races are tighter than those in the AFC, at least for now, though Dallas, Green Bay and Seattle all hold head-to-head tiebreakers over the second-place teams in their divisions -- Philadelphia, Detroit and San Francisco, respectively. The Packers, though, could fall out of the top six entirely with a loss, as Chicago and Carolina could leapfrog them.
Four teams in the NFC are on byes this week: Arizona, Detroit, the Giants and San Francisco. (Two AFC teams are off: Denver and Jacksonville.) The Lions' Week 9 situation is still fairly volatile. A Green Bay loss would bump Detroit into first in the NFC North, by virtue of the Lions' earlier win over Chicago; Green Bay and Carolina wins would drop Detroit to seventh.
It's fair to consider this an important week in the NFC East, too. The 4-4 Cowboys are heavy favorites at home against 1-6 Minnesota, while second-place Philadelphia visits Oakland and third-place Washington hosts San Diego. Dallas could have a two-game edge on the divisional field by the end of the weekend.
And here is your believe-it-or-not scenario: Tampa Bay could be eliminated from the NFC South race by next Sunday, if the Saints win their next two (at the Jets, vs. Dallas) and the Bucs drop two more (at Seattle, vs. Miami)