The Bears and Texans will both be in the playoffs, but how will they be seeded?
It's now Week 11 in the 2012 NFL season, and there are no longer any unbeaten teams.
The Atlanta Falcons were surprised by the New Orleans Saints, and the Houston Texans beat a tough Chicago Bears team. Both the Falcons and the Texans are now 8-1 and in a great place headed into the stretch run of the season.
But looking at the rest of the playoff field, several key questions remain.
How do playoff-contending teams' schedules set up for the rest of the season? Which teams will win their respective divisions? And who will sneak into the playoffs as Wild Cards?
Read on, and we'll take a closer look.
Houston Texans: 19/4
Denver Broncos: 6/1
New England Patriots: 6/1
San Francisco 49ers: 7/1
Green Bay Packers: 15/2
Atlanta Falcons: 9/1
Chicago Bears: 10/1
New York Giants: 12/1
Baltimore Ravens: 14/1
Pittsburgh Steelers: 14/1
Dallas Cowboys: 33/1
New Orleans Saints: 33/1
Seattle Seahawks: 33/1
Indianapolis Colts: 66/1
San Diego Chargers: 66/1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 75/1
Minnesota Vikings: 100/1
Cincinnati Bengals: 150/1
Detroit Lions: 150/1
Miami Dolphins: 200/1
Philadelphia Eagles: 200/1
New York Jets: 300/1
Washington Redskins: 300/1
Arizona Cardinals: 350/1
Buffalo Bills: 500/1
Oakland Raiders: 500/1
St. Louis Rams 500/1
Tennessee Titans: 500/1
Carolina Panthers: 1000/1
Cleveland Browns: 1000/1
Jacksonville Jaguars: 3000/1
Kansas City Chiefs: 3000/1
Bold = Projected playoff teams.
Odds are according to TheSpread.com.
Houston is 8-1 and sitting pretty for the AFC playoffs.
Remaining schedule: vs. JAX, @ DET, @ TEN, @ NE, vs. IND, vs. MIN, @ IND
The Houston Texans have been perhaps the most consistent team in the NFL all season. Although they turned in a disappointing performance at home against the Green Bay Packers, the outlook for the Texans' season remains extremely bright.
Houston's schedule sets up favorably to go around 14-2 on the season. After a tough matchup at New England in Week 14, the Texans could be tested by the Indianapolis Colts in Weeks 15 and 17. Still, a 13-3 record will likely be good enough to secure the top seed in the AFC. Houston is sitting pretty.
Manning and the Broncos will run away with the AFC West and possibly into a first-round bye.
Remaining schedule: vs. SD, @ KC, vs. TB, @OAK, @ BAL, vs. CLE, vs. KC
Newsflash: Peyton Manning is still really, really good, and the Broncos are clearly the best team in the AFC West.
With four winnable divisional games remaining on the schedule, the Broncos are still very much in contention for a first-round playoff bye. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing very well right now, and they could provide a stiff test for Denver in Week 13.
Perhaps the most important game remaining on Denver's schedule is the Week 15 matchup at Baltimore. The matchup could determine who gets the No. 2 seed in the AFC, although a lot can change from now until then. Still, the Broncos are undoubtedly a threat to make it to the Super Bowl.
Rice and the Ravens are 7-2 and headed toward another deep playoff run.
Remaining schedule: @ PIT, vs. SD, vs. PIT, @ WSH, vs. DEN, vs. NYG, @ CIN
The AFC North always seems to come down to the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. And in all likelihood, 2012 will be the same. Personally, I picked the Baltimore Ravens to be the AFC's representative in the Super Bowl before the season.
Losing cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Ray Lewis will make that extremely difficult for Baltimore, but the Ravens have enough offensive firepower to make a deep playoff run. Baltimore faces a tough road to getting a first-round bye with two games against the Steelers and games against the Broncos, Giants and Bengals to end the season.
But don't make the mistake of overlooking the Ravens in January. They'll be there, and they'll be ready.
The Patriots (6-3) have had their struggles, but they'll be in Super Bowl contention in January.
Remaining schedule: vs. IND, @ NYJ, @ MIA, vs. HOU, vs. SF, @ JAX, vs. MIA
Prior to the season, the Patriots' schedule looked relatively easy. But that was before most people knew truly how good these NFC West defenses were. After suffering early-season losses to Arizona, Seattle and Baltimore by a combined four points, some people wrote the Patriots off.
But the Patriots should go at least 5-2 down the stretch relatively easily. They have two tough matchups in back-to-back weeks against the Texans and 49ers, but fortunately for the Patriots, both games are at home.
The Dolphins could be tougher to beat than most people expect, and the Colts could provide a test this week, but New England is certainly on its way to securing a playoff berth.
If Roethlisberger misses an extended period of time, the Steelers could be in trouble.
Remaining schedule: vs. BAL, @ CLE, @ BAL, vs. SD, @ DAL, vs. CIN, vs. CLE
Anytime a team's starting quarterback gets hurt, the immediate future gets incredibly cloudy. Ben Roethlisberger will not play this weekend (via ESPN.com), and he could potentially miss more than just a game. If he's in the lineup, the Steelers will push the Ravens for the AFC North title. But if Roethlisberger is on the sideline, Baltimore could run away with the division.
Still, the Steelers would have to completely collapse in the second half of the season to miss the playoffs. Pittsburgh still plays two games against the Ravens, as well as a tough matchup on the road against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Colts are headed for the playoffs. And what a story that would be.
Remaining schedule: @ NE, vs. BUF, @ DET, vs. TEN, @ HOU, @ KC, vs. HOU
The Colts have been the story of the 2012 season so far. Since first-year head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, this team has rallied around one another and put together an impressive season. Quarterback Andrew Luck has lived up to the hype in his rookie season, and everyone has filled in around him.
Looking ahead, the Colts face an extremely tough game at New England, a difficult game at Detroit and two games against the 8-1 Houston Texans. If the Colts can go 4-3 down the stretch, a 10-6 record will likely be good enough to sneak into the playoffs. And what a story that would be for the NFL.
Atlanta just lost its first game of the season, but the Falcons are headed toward the No. 1 seed.
Remaining schedule: vs. ARI, @ TB, vs. NO, @ CAR, vs. NYG, @ DET, vs. TB
Atlanta started the season with a perfect 8-0 record before losing to New Orleans this past week. But often times, a loss can be a blessing in disguise for a team chasing perfection. Atlanta has two tough games against the Buccaneers still on the schedule, another game against the Saints and a potential playoff preview game against the New York Giants.
The Falcons barely snuck by the Panthers, Raiders and Cowboys before they finally lost a game. Still, Atlanta remains the most likely candidate for the No. 1 seed in the NFC if it is able to go 13-3.
The Falcons have a much-improved defense and an explosive, yet balanced offense that will make them a tough out in January. However, everything begins and ends with postseason success in the NFL, and the Falcons haven't had a lot of that recently.
The Packers are 6-3, but their schedule allows for a possible late-season winning streak headed into the playoffs.
Remaining schedule: @ DET, @ NYG, vs. MIN, vs. DET, @ CHI, vs. TEN, @ MIN
At the beginning of the season, football fans were perplexed in regards to the Packers. Through three weeks, Green Bay had a 1-2 record, and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers had thrown just three touchdowns compared to two interceptions. But over the next four games, the Packers went 3-1, and Rodgers threw 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Now headed into Week 11, Rodgers is back in MVP contention, and the Packers are in the thick of the conversation to earn a first-round playoff bye.
Even if the Packers split these next two games at Detroit and New York, their Week 15 matchup at Chicago will likely be for the NFC North division crown. And in all likelihood, a 12-4 record will earn the No. 1 or 2 seed in the NFC.
The offense hasn't been stellar, but the 49ers defense will keep them in every game.
Remaining schedule: vs. CHI, @ NO, @ StL, vs. MIA, @ NE, @ SEA, vs. ARI
After a disappointing tie last week against the St. Louis Rams, the San Francisco 49ers face an uphill battle to earn a first-round playoff bye. San Francisco needs to get a win this week against the Chicago Bears, and next week will not be easy at New Orleans.
After Chicago and New Orleans, the 49ers will play difficult back-to-back games against New England and Seattle in Weeks 15 and 16.
It certainly appears that 12 wins will be enough to earn a first-round bye, but that would mean San Francisco would have to go 6-1 over their final seven games. That's certainly a possibility, but it would be quite difficult. Still, the 49ers will make noise in the NFC playoffs.
The defending Super Bowl champs are headed toward another playoff run.
Remaining schedule: vs. GB, @ WSH, vs. NO, @ ATL, @ BAL, vs. PHI
With Eli Manning under center and perhaps with the best defensive line in football. the Giants remain a very dangerous team. But after losing consecutive games, the Giants sit at 6-4 on the season entering their bye week.
Coming out of the bye, the Giants will face a six-week gauntlet. First, the Green Bay Packers will come to New York in Week 12 followed by road games against Washington, Atlanta and Baltimore in the coming weeks. Fortunately for the Giants, it doesn't look like anyone in the NFC East will compete with them for the division crown.
But their schedule to end the season is tough, and the Giants could again enter the playoffs with a 9-7 or 10-6 record. But fear not Giants fans, that seems to work out pretty well for this team.
Cutler and Marshall have played well together, but will that continue into the playoffs?
Remaining schedule: @ SF, vs. MIN, vs. SEA, @ MIN, vs. GB, @ ARI, @ DET
There's no way around it: The Bears defense has been terrific through nine games. But looking ahead at the rest of the season, the NFC North division is still wide open. Chicago has several tough games remaining, starting with the San Francisco 49ers this weekend.
The Packers defeated the Bears 23-10 in Week 2, so a lot will come down to the Packers-Bears matchup in Week 15. In all likelihood, the Bears will need to win that game if they have any intentions of winning the NFC North.
The Packers' schedule sets up favorably to make up a game on the Bears, but in all likelihood, both teams will be in the postseason.
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and head coach Pete Carroll are getting the job done for the Seahawks.
Remaining schedule: @ MIA, @ CHI, vs. ARI, @ BUF, vs. SF, vs. StL
Coming into the season, not much was expected from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. But the former Wisconsin star has been consistent in his first NFL season, leading Seattle to a 6-4 record at the bye week. Obviously, one of those "wins" was due to the "Fail Mary" against the Green Bay Packers.
But nonetheless, Seattle has been a pleasant surprise this season. And although the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys could be poised to make late-season runs into the playoff picture, Seattle certainly has the upper hand at this point.
Don't be surprised to see the Seahawks in the postseason this year. And keep an eye on a potential Packers-Seahawks rematch in January. Great television, I know.