NFL Playoff Picture, Week 15: Complete standings and hopefuls
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):
The biggest AFC developments this week came from the South division and the bottom of the wild-card race, where the Texans and Steelers, respectively, scored gigantic wins. The Texans—behind Brandon Weeden, of all people—rallied to win for the first time ever in Indianapolis. If they simply finish 2–0 (at Tennessee, vs. Jacksonville), they'll walk away with the division title at 9–7.
Both the Colts and Jaguars remain alive in the race, but their chances are far more complicated now. Indianapolis needs Houston to lose at least once to have a shot; Jacksonville needs both Indianapolis and Houston to go winless from here.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh jumped into the top six with a come-from-behind victory over Denver. The Steelers matched the Jets in the conference-record tiebreaker, pushing that comparison to record vs. common opponents. There, the Steelers hold the edge, so they leapfrogged New York. The Jets suddenly are in trouble, because both Kansas City (vs. Browns, vs. Raiders) and Pittsburgh (at Ravens, at Browns) will be favored in Weeks 16 and 17.
The Patriots maintained control of the AFC's top spot by dropping the Titans. They also clinched a first-round bye thanks to Pittsburgh’s rally. The defending champs visit the Jets next week, in a game that will have massive implications throughout the conference. New England could be in position to lock up the No. 1 seed, while New York remains in a fight for one of the two wild-card spots.
Cincinnati wrapped up a playoff spot Sunday and can secure the AFC North with a win or a Pittsburgh loss over the final two weeks.
The top six in the NFC will remain unchanged from a week ago. Carolina, Washington, Green Bay and Minnesota all took care of business.
The Panthers’ dramatic win actually helped out the Redskins quite a bit. That result dropped the Giants to 6–8, a full game back of Washington, which needs just one more win (or one more New York loss) to wrap up a tiebreaker edge over its division rival.
Minnesota moved to nine wins by knocking off Chicago. By beating Cleveland later on Sunday afternoon, Seattle leapfrogged the Vikings for the No. 5 seed and knocked the Rams, Buccaneers and Saints out of postseason contention. The Vikings are still within striking distance of first place in the NFC North, with a Week 17 trip to Green Bay looming. (They host the Giants next Sunday night.)
The Packers clinched a playoff spot before even playing Sunday, making them the third NFC team to secure a spot in the field, joining Carolina and Arizona. Their win locked the NFC East champion into the No. 4 seed, and it also gave them a chance to clinch the division next week with a win (at Arizona) and Minnesota loss (vs. Giants). Green Bay still could catch Arizona for a first-round bye.
Atlanta is alive by the slimmest of margins. Because of an earlier loss to Minnesota, the Falcons’ only chance to reach the postseason is if they, the Vikings and the Seahawks all finish tied at 9–7. In that scenario, Minnesota would be the odd team out.