A sure sign that winter is upon us: playoff scenarios.
Oh yeah, cold and snow, too.
Clinchings may be at hand in Week 14 of the schedule, no matter what the weather brings.
Unbeaten Carolina already owns the NFC South title and can secure a first-round playoff bye by beating Atlanta.
New England, Denver and Arizona also are on the verge of grabbing division crowns.
Not that they all want to recognize it.
''We're worried about the next game, that's the most important thing,'' Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe says. We're not worried about what's after that, what's going to happen, what everybody else is doing. All we know is we've got to win. It doesn't really matter what everybody else does. If you start looking around ... I mean, you've got to keep blinders on. You can't be looking to the side and behind you and in front of you. You've got to look right directly in front of you.''
Directly in front of the Cardinals on Thursday night were the Vikings. With a 23-20 victory, its seventh straight, Arizona secured a playoff spot. Should Seattle lose at Baltimore on Sunday, the NFC West would belong to the Cardinals.
Chandler Catanzaro's 47-yard field goal with 1:23 provided the winning score as Arizona (11-2) won its seventh in a row. Bridgewater passed for 335 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings (8-5), who were playing without four defensive starters.
Carson Palmer threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinals.
Atlanta (6-6) at Carolina (12-0)
While the Falcons have been floundering, dropping five in a row to fall behind in the NFC wild-card chase, the Panthers keep reaching franchise highs. A victory Sunday means they will be home for a minimum of one postseason game.
Oh, and there is that little zero in the loss column.
''Right now, 16-0 isn't as important as going 13-0,'' says DT Kawann Short. ''We're trying to focus on one game at a time and right now 13 is the big number we're trying to get to.''
Pittsburgh (7-5) at Cincinnati (10-2)
Nothing would suit the Bengals more than walking off with the AFC North by sweeping the season series with the Steelers. Indeed, even if Pittsburgh wins this one, its chances of surpassing Cincinnati are not strong.
The Steelers have won their last eight games in December and their offense is on fire: 30 points in four straight games for the first time in club history. They could meet their match, though, because the Bengals have allowed the fewest points in the league with 196.
New England (10-2) at Houston (6-6)
Both sides need to make statements in this contest, which was flexed to prime time.
For the Patriots, it's a chance to show they won't keep sliding with a myriad of injuries and a dangerous penchant for allowing big plays. Their second straight defeat last week, against Philadelphia, featured three returns for touchdowns by the Eagles.
Houston is tied with Indianapolis for the AFC South lead and visits the Colts next week. The Texans' staunch defense was blistered in Buffalo and needs a quick turnaround against Tom Brady. Of course, with J.J. Watt on their side, that could happen for the Texans, though Watt is playing with a broken left hand.
Oakland (5-7) at Denver (10-2)
If Denver wins out, it stays at home for the AFC playoffs. That won't be easy with matchups against the Steelers and Bengals upcoming.
But with a defense that ranks first overall and against the pass, has 41 sacks and has yielded fewer points (210) than anyone but Cincinnati, the Broncos will be in every game. They have won eight straight over the Raiders.
Oakland's inexperience has hurt it in the last month, with the Raiders dropping four of five.
San Diego (3-9) at Kansas City (7-5)
While Oakland and San Diego have faltered, the Chiefs are among the league's hottest teams. Credit Alex Smith for avoiding interceptions - 305 and counting - along with a solid running attack despite Jamaal Charles' absence, and a defense that can turn games. KC is a plus-13 in turnover margin and leads the AFC wild-card pack.
The Chargers could be entering their final four games representing San Diego. Considering what this season has been like, who says the folks in Los Angeles have any interest in getting the Bolts?
Tennessee (3-9) at New York Jets (7-5)
Tennessee finally got a win at home last Sunday after 11 consecutive defeats. The Jets won a road game in their own stadium. Go figure.
New York, which has struggled in games against some lesser opponents, can't afford that vs. the Titans, and was fortunate to get by the Giants, who pretty much handed them an overtime win last week. The Jets have a big edge in the passing game with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker against a slumping defense.
Buffalo (6-6) at Philadelphia (5-7)
That stunning win at Foxborough last week makes the Eagles viable again in the weak NFC East. Or maybe it was a fluke built on New England mistakes.
Regardless, there is plenty of intrigue here, from the playoff positioning for both teams to LeSean McCoy's ongoing feud with Chip Kelly.
During the week, the Bills running back said he wouldn't be shaking hands with the Eagles coach who traded him away in the offseason. If McCoy gets into the end zone, there might be some extra celebrating, with Kelly in mind.
Seattle (7-5) at Baltimore (4-8)
The rest of the NFL has noticed that, just like in 2014, the Seahawks are finding their stride down the stretch of the schedule. What is surprising is how well they've played on offense, even without injured Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham.
Seattle's defense was pretty staunch in last week's rout of Minnesota, too. Although winning the division seems a long shot after Arizona's win Thursday night, no one will be eager to face a Seahawks wild-card squad.
Baltimore can only imagine what might have been: all of the losses are by eight points or less, and a slew of injuries ruined this season.
Dallas (4-8) at Green Bay (8-4)
The Packers are a desperation pass away from being 7-5 and scrambling to make the postseason. They usually are strong in the final month of the schedule: 14-6 in the last four games of the season since 2010. And the Cardinals helped them by beating Minnesota.
But without a more reliable running game, the Packers will be hard-pressed to beat out the Vikings in the NFC North, and Green Bay has dropped its last two games at Lambeau Field, where it finishes the season against Minnesota.
Dallas still has a pulse in the putrid NFC East, though it has shown no ability to beat a good team this season.
Indianapolis (6-6) at Jacksonville (4-8)
The Colts get back to their comfort zone. Indy is 19-2 within the division over the last four seasons, or since Andrew Luck replaced Peyton Manning at quarterback. Luck won't be behind center as he recovers from a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle, but until last week's loss at Pittsburgh, Matt Hasselbeck has been an able fill-in, and he's 2-0 within the AFC South in 2015.
Jacksonville's youth betrays it most weeks, but the Jaguars can move the ball through the air.
New York Giants (5-7) at Miami (5-7) Monday night
So what unique way will the Giants find to blow this one?
New York remains tied for the NFC East lead despite wasting leads in the fourth quarter in five of its defeats. Strange coaching decisions, bad clock management, poor execution, full moons - all have contributed. Coach Tom Coughlin is on a very hot seat.
The Dolphins have displayed some moxie under interim coach Dan Campbell. They're in their 50th season, and their 50 greatest players will be honored at halftime.
Washington (5-7) at Chicago (5-7)
Just as in Giants-Dolphins, two teams with matching records and entirely different situations.
The Bears are cooked in the postseason race and will spend the final month figuring out who is worth keeping.
Washington is in a three-way tie atop the NFC East and is good enough (and bad enough) to finish pretty much anywhere in the division. The Redskins are 0-5 on the road.
New Orleans (4-8) at Tampa Bay (6-6)
No team has shown more improvement with a youthful cast than the Bucs over the last four games, three of them wins. Top overall draftee Jameis Winston has been money recently, helped by a finally healthy Doug Martin in the backfield. Tampa's defense is banged-up, so slowing Drew Brees could be problematic.
Detroit (4-8) at St. Louis (4-8)
The Rams changed offensive coordinators as their slump with the ball reached epidemic proportions.
Detroit comes off a brutal last-second loss to Green Bay that stalled a mini-revival.
San Francisco (4-8) at Cleveland (2-10)
Johnny Football gets the start, perhaps kicking off his final chance to show he belongs on the field in Cleveland. Of course, more reliability off the field needs to accompany any production at quarterback for Manziel.
The Niners play hard for coach Jim Tomsula and their win at Chicago last week was their first away from San Francisco after five losses.
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