Here’s how the AFC and NFC playoff pictures look as Week 11 begins:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-0): AFC West leader
2. New England Patriots (7-2): AFC East leader
3. Indianapolis Colts (6-3): AFC South leader
4. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4): AFC North leader
5. Denver Broncos (8-1): Wild card
6. New York Jets (5-4): Wild card
The Ravens remain a very flawed team, but they're back in the race -- both in the AFC North and the wild-card hunt -- after a win last week over Cincinnati. Should they follow that performance up with a victory in Chicago this week, they can avoid falling nearer to that Danger Zone category.
The Titans are in a similar situation heading into Thursday night's showdown with Indianapolis. They might be able to chip back into the wild-card picture should they fall to 4-6, but a three-game deficit in the division this late in the year (and with a home loss to the first-place team) would be almost insurmountable.
Baltimore, Tennessee and the other wild-card hopefuls are trying to track down the Jets at the moment. Rex Ryan's team is on the road for a tricky game at Buffalo this week. But a win there coupled with a Patriots loss in Carolina would close the AFC East gap to a mere one game. For their part, the Bills have been downgraded to the Wait 'Til Next Year category on account of their seventh loss. They'll be cemented there if they cannot take down the Jets on Sunday.
The big swap could happen up top: If the Broncos beat the Chiefs, they would exchange spots in the standings, with Denver rising to No. 1 in the AFC and Kansas City slipping to No. 5. The Patriots should be rooting for that scenario, as a Broncos victory would give them a chance to pull within a game of the top seed, pending Monday's outcome in Carolina.
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1. Seattle Seahawks (9-1): NFC West leader
2. New Orleans Saints (7-2): NFC South leader
3. Detroit Lions (6-3): NFC North leader
4. Dallas Cowboys (5-5): NFC East leader
6. Carolina Panthers (6-3): Wild card
5. San Francisco 49ers (6-3): Wild card
Why are the Giants and Redskins still in the "Danger Zone" while 4-6 St. Louis fell lower? Simple: The NFC East is mediocre and very, very wide open.
The NFC wild-card race is just as thrilling at the moment, but St. Louis is 2.5 games back there and has at least five teams to crawl over to get to the No. 6 seed. Considering that 10-6 might not even cut it for a wild-card spot, the Rams' six losses are problematic. They likely need to win out to even get in the discussion -- that they're on the verge of being eliminated from division title contention doesn't help matters.
Carolina and San Francisco flip-flopped at Nos. 5 and 6 with the Panthers' win last Sunday. San Francisco could drop out of the top six with a loss at New Orleans this weekend; Carolina would stay put in the picture regardless of its outcome Monday, thanks to a 6-2 record within the conference. Also, no matter what happens this weekend, the Panthers will be behind the Saints in the NFC South heading into Week 12.
The NFC East and NFC North division leads, however, could change hands this weekend. An Eagles win would leapfrog them into first, with the Cowboys on their bye. Detroit's a little safer thanks to its season sweep of the Bears, but a Lions loss coupled with a Packers win could propel Green Bay back to the top of the division. (The one scenario where it wouldn't: Detroit loses and both Green Bay and Chicago win, thereby creating a three-way tie in the division. The Lions, via tiebreakers, would maintain their status.)
One key number to keep in mind given how the standings look now: Arizona's 0-3 record within the NFC West. The Cardinals have lost one matchup to each of their division rivals, meaning that, for the moment, they could not climb over San Francisco with a matching mark.
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