NFL Playoff Picture: An Updated Look at Every Seed After Week 10
The seeding for this NFL season's playoff picture became a little more complicated in the NFC East and a lot clearer in the AFC East.
The AFC North sees two old rivals and regular conference contenders again leading the way. The AFC West, by contrast, is a clear one-horse race. Over in the AFC South, an upstart team is looking to spring some surprises.
The NFC North is developing a nice three-team battle, after the division front-runner suffered defeat. Things are thankfully getting a little more complex than expected in the NFC West.
Here is a look at every playoff seed after Week 10, beginning with the outsiders for postseason play.
All seeding information courtesy of NFL.com.
AFC Outsiders: Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers
These three 4-5 teams remain in the hunt for postseason entry in the AFC. Week 10 was kindest to the Cincinnati Bengals, who raised their stock by hammering the defending Super Bowl champions.
The problem for the young Bengals is their 3-4 record against AFC opponents. They are a poor 1-3 in AFC North play, and they must sill face the Steelers in Pittsburgh and entertain the Baltimore Ravens.
The Miami Dolphins face a similar problem, having gone 2-5 against conference opponents so far. Joe Philbin's rebuilding team still has two games apiece against AFC East foes in the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.
That gives them a chance to repair the damage and improve their odds.
The San Diego Chargers seem to be sinking faster and faster out of playoff contention each week. Despite a 3-1 record in the AFC West, the Chargers now need a serious run to chase down the Denver Broncos.
NFC Outsiders: Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys
Despite being 6-4, the Minnesota Vikings face tough odds to make it as a wild card. They completed the double over division foes the Detroit Lions in Week 10.
However, the Vikings still have to face the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers twice each. They may come up short against the NFC North front-runners.
The 5-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are finally starting to look legitimate under first-year head coach Greg Schiano. With an offense powered by rookie runner Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson, the Buccaneers will remain in the mix.
With six NFC opponents left on the schedule, including four divisional games, the Buccaneers are perfectly placed to decide their own fate.
Normally a 4-5 mark would be considered a disaster for the Dallas Cowboys. Such is the mediocrity of the NFC East that Jason Garrett's inconsistent team still has a playoff shot.
With the New York Giants stumbling, the Cowboys could back their way into the postseason. Two games against the archrival Washington Redskins could prove decisive.
AFC 6th Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
The Pittsburgh Steelers are projected as the AFC's sixth seed. At 5-3, the six-time Super Bowl winners remain a dangerous prospect.
Their defense is still as stout as ever, thanks to outstanding contributions from linebacker Lawrence Timmons and cornerback Ike Taylor.
However, it is on offense where the Steelers pose the biggest threat. Their young wide receiving corps should be the envy of the rest of the league.
With Ben Roethlisberger in fine form, it would take a brave man to bet against the Steelers making the playoffs. It will take a similarly brave opponent to get the better of them once the postseason begins.
AFC 5th Seed: Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
Andrew Luck's rookie dominance continues to propel an inspired Indianapolis Colts team into the playoff hunt. Playing in the weak AFC South also helps the 6-3 Colts' chances.
Luck is delivering peerless performances lately, and he is ably supported by superb veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne. However, two games against the Houston Texans and a trip to the New England Patriots could yet ruin their hopes.
AFC 4th Seed: Denver Broncos (6-3)
The Denver Broncos have the right attributes for a playoff push. Being the lone outstanding team in their division doesn't hurt either.
Peyton Manning is engineering a prolific pass offense, and Von Miller is sparking a swarming pass rush. This potent combination dismantled the Carolina Panthers in Week 10.
It makes the Broncos a team to fear in the coming weeks. They have four games against weak divisional opponents and a home encounter with the Cleveland Browns to come.
So expect Manning and the Broncos to improve their seeding.
AFC 3rd Seed: New England Patriots (6-3)
To no great surprise, the New England Patriots stand alone in the AFC East. Their versatile and dynamic offense makes them no match for anyone in the conference.
The only concern for Bill Belichick is a defense that continues to surrender big plays. With the Texans and San Francisco 49ers still on the schedule, the Patriots need their offense to stay at its best.
AFC 2nd Seed: Baltimore Ravens (7-2)
Two games against their nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers, will once again decide the Baltimore Ravens' season.
Joe Flacco and company still look good for a playoff berth and would seal the AFC North by besting the Steelers. However, they know, from bitter experience, that's easier said than done.
Despite their injuries and issues on defense, the Ravens have the happy knack of finding big plays. Jacoby Jones is a menace in the return game, and Torrey Smith can stretch any secondary deep.
Fifty-five points against the Oakland Raiders in Week 10 didn't do their seeding any harm. However, things could change a lot after they meet the Steelers.
AFC 1st Seed: Houston Texans (8-1)
The Houston Texans continue to dominate with their old-fashioned mix of a marauding defense and a punishing ground game.
With J.J. Watt terrorising quarterbacks and Arian Foster tearing through defenses, it's hard to find weaknesses in the Texans' armoury. Mauling the Chicago Bears on the road in Week 10 only boosted their already impressive stock.
Before that, a heavy home defeat to the Green Bay Packers raised serious doubts about Houston's credibility against elite opposition. Of the remaining schedule, only Tom Brady and the Patriots present an acid test.
NFC 6th Seed: Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
An equally bruising defense and offense makes the Seattle Seahawks a tough proposition during the business end of the season.
Their powerful defensive front and battering ram-like runner Marshawn Lynch proved too much for the New York Jets this week.
Pete Carroll's team needs rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to win the close games that can take them to the playoffs.
With three home games left against NFC West opponents, don't rule out the Seahawks.
NFC 5th Seed: Green Bay Packers (6-3)
The Green Bay Packers will be smelling blood after the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears were wounded in Week 10. As well as the Bears have played, it's still easy to expect the Packers to get the better of them.
Aaron Rodgers is approaching MVP-calibre form, and that's bad news for the teams left on the Packers' schedule. That schedule includes five games against NFC North teams.
The Packers have a great chance of improving their seeding.
NFC 4th Seed: New York Giants (6-4)
A tough overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers can be explained, even accepted. However, many eyes around the league have surely been opened by the New York Giants struggles in Cincinnati.
The ease with which the Bengals handled the Giants was alarming. Defensively, Big Blue's vulnerability against the pass was exposed one week after Pittsburgh made them look soft against the run.
The Giants aren't a healthy team, nor are they a confident one at the moment. Their inspired late run last season still provides hope.
However, with the Falcons, Packers and Ravens on the schedule, banking on a similar run looks like a big risk.
NFC 3rd Seed: San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)
A home tie against the St. Louis Rams isn't exactly an emphatic endorsement of the San Francisco 49ers as Super Bowl contenders.
Losing quarterback Alex Smith is a blow, despite the running dimension offered by youngster Colin Kaepernick. It puts even more pressure on the usually reliable defense.
The unit is missing some of last season's spark and needs a complement to the pass-rushing exploits of Aldon Smith.
The Niners remain the class of the NFC West. However, how they fare against the Bears and on the road against the Patriots will determine their eventual seeding.
NFC 2nd Seed: Chicago Bears (7-2)
The Bears' stock has inevitably dropped after their damaging defeat at home to the Texans. Losing Jay Cutler took away Chicago's offensive potency.
That leaves the Bears too reliant on their aging defense. The group has been superb this season, but only true balance will win the big games for Lovie Smith's team.
Things don't get any easier with a road trip against the 49ers looming. Yet it will be the crunch home game against the Packers that decides things for the Bears.
After last season's injury-induced slide, Bears fans will be getting nervous about a possible repeat.
NFC 1st Seed: Atlanta Falcons (8-1)
Despite their first defeat, the Atlanta Falcons stand pat as the favourites for home-field advantage in the NFC. The main worry for the Falcons has to be their sudden lack of balance on offense.
The running game was pitiful against the New Orleans Saints. Michael Turner's efforts in short-yardage situations are the shame of the league.
Just as concerning has to be their struggles stopping the run, which were exposed by the Saints running back rotation.
Despite this, the Falcons still have the weapons in the passing game to trouble any opponent. With five divisional games left, they still control their own destiny.