The Chiefs and Jets held serve to hold onto their wild-card spots in the AFC playoff race.
Here’s what the AFC and NFC playoff pictures look like through Sunday’s early afternoon games (a primer on tiebreaking procedures can be found here):
Well, this is getting fun.
The race for the No. 1 seed has taken several twists and turns the past few weeks. The latest came Sunday, when Cincinnati fell to Pittsburgh and Denver was stunned by Oakland. The Bengals also lost QB Andy Dalton for at least the next week (and likely longer). Because both the Jets and Chiefs won, the Bengals still have not clinched a playoff berth. They are still in great position to wrap up the AFC North eventually, though, which they would do barring an 0–3 finish (and a 3–0 close by Pittsburgh).
Denver also will have to wait until next week to clinch. Pending Sunday night's result, the Broncos also could find themselves outside of first-round bye position—mere hours after controlling their own destiny for the top seed.
They suddenly now have to worry about holding onto the AFC West lead. Next week, they visit the surging Steelers prior to a two-game homestand wraps their regular season. The Broncos and Chiefs split their head-to-head matchups, and the Chiefs now hold a better record within the division. (K.C. hosts Oakland in Week 17; Denver hosts San Diego.) So, should those two teams wind up deadlocked, Kansas City would take the crown.
Pittsburgh badly needs to hold serve against Denver. It still sits outside of the top six because of that 5-4 record within the AFC. The Steelers could catch the Jets at 6-4 (and 9-5 overall) next. They would leapfrog the Jets should that occur, thanks to the common-opponents tiebreaker—the Jets' loss to Oakland (a team Pittsburgh beat) would loom large in that case.
The Chiefs’ intra-conference record has them in great shape. So, too, does their remaining schedule: at Baltimore, then at home against Cleveland (Week 16) and Oakland (Week 17). They’re in if they stretch their win streak to 10 games.
Jacksonville joined the playoff picture again after its blowout victory over Indianapolis. Suddenly, the 5–8 Jaguars are right in the thick of the AFC South race again, with a Week 17 game at Houston still on the docket. Indianapolis, possibly with Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback, hosts the Texans in Week 15.
Buffalo is all but toast following its loss at Philadelphia. The Bills have to win out and get a ton of help to nab a wild-card spot.
For all the drama in the AFC, the only undecided races in the NFC soon may be the East and North division titles. Barring a collapse by Minnesota (slightly plausible) or Seattle (not happening), five of the conference’s playoff teams are accounted for, with the sixth spot belonging to whichever team takes the NFC East.
Speaking of, both Washington and Philadelphia took care of business in Week 14, and the Giants followed suit on Monday night. The Redskins notched their first road win of the season, 24–21 at Chicago. Thanks to an earlier victory over the Eagles, they’re still sitting in the driver’s seat, but those two teams meet again in Week 16. Chip Kelly’s team scored a three-point victory over Buffalo to pull within a game of .500.
Minnesota has watched the NFC North slip from its grasp over the past four weeks. Its second consecutive loss on Thursday night at Arizona coupled with Seattle’s Sunday afternoon romp in Baltimore pushed the Vikings down to the No. 6 spot. They could be facing two straight weekends in Lambeau Field: Week 17 for the regular-season finale and the following Saturday or Sunday in the wild-card round’s No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup.
The Panthers locked up a first-round bye with their win Sunday. They could clinch the NFC’s overall top seed next week with a win at the Giants plus a Cardinals loss.
Arizona also has a playoff spot secured, via its victory over Minnesota. One win or one Seattle loss the rest of the way would lock up the NFC West (there are other, more complex scenarios, too). Any combination of two out of Arizona’s wins and Green Bay’s losses the rest of the way would hand the Cardinals a first-round bye.