Making Sense of the Ever-Changing NFL Playoff Chase Entering Week 13
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While likely to change over the final five weeks, the NFL playoff picture has begun to gain some clarity as the season heads into Week 13.
The NFC remains the most unclear, as only two teams look like rock-solid locks. Three teams are in very good shape, but so much can change in five weeks. The No. 6 slot in the conference is also completely up for grabs.
Things are taking shape in the AFC, where four teams could clinch a playoff spot this weekend. The two wildcards will likely come down to just four teams.
As we head into Week 13, here's an in-depth look at the NFL's playoff chase in both conferences:
National Football Conference (NFC)
Locks: Atlanta Falcons (10-1), San Francisco 49ers (9-2-1)
The Falcons can clinch the NFC South in Week 13 with a win over the Saints and a Buccaneers loss in Denver. At some point in the next couple of weeks, Atlanta will stamp its place in the postseason.
The 49ers have a comfortable lead in the NFC West and look like a good bet to lock up one of the top seeds. The schedule lines up for San Francisco to win at least 12 games.
Looking Good: New York Giants (7-4), Chicago Bears (8-3), Green Bay Packers (7-4)
The Giants proved Sunday night that there isn't a team in the NFL they can't beat this time of year. Knowing them, they'll make it interesting in the NFC East. But given their championship pedigree, the Giants are a likely playoff team.
Chicago survived the one-game apocalypse with Jay Cutler on the sidelines, and two wins over the last five should be enough for the Bears to get in. The goal for Lovie Smith will now be winning the division over Green Bay and securing a home game in the postseason.
At 7-4, and with a less-than-taxing final five games ahead, the Packers look safe. But four of the five are against division woes, and that offensive line can't be as porous as it was Sunday night in New York if two or three wins are to come of the final stretch. Still, Aaron Rodgers is good enough to push the Packers through.
Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
Seattle currently holds tiebreakers over both the Vikings (head-to-head win) and Buccaneers (conference record), giving it the edge heading into Week 13 for the final playoff spot. Tough games at Chicago (Week 13), at Buffalo (long road trip) and San Francisco could make staying there difficult.
Minnesota Vikings (6-5)
Which team has the best chance of securing the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC among these teams?
The schedule probably eliminates the Vikings from serious contention. The Vikings play the Packers twice (at Green Bay in Week 13) and also have games vs. Chicago, at Houston and at St. Louis.
Washington Redskins (5-6)
The Redskins may be the one team to watch over the final five games. Quarterback Robert Griffin III gives them a chance in every game, and there's still a looming matchup with the Giants that could make things really interesting in the NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys (5-6)
The Giants left the door open for the Cowboys to walk through, but instead, this team knocked its head of the frame and again fell backwards. A win over the lowly Eagles in Week 13 reopens that door, however.
New Orleans Saints (5-6)
The Saints are in one-and-done mode for the rest of the season. Drew Brees is an equalizer in any game, but expecting a five-game winning streak with games at Atlanta (Week 13) and at New York left is a stretch.
American Football Conference (AFC)
Locks: Houston Texans (10-1), Baltimore Ravens (9-2), New England Patriots (8-3), Denver Broncos (8-3)
Both the Texans and Ravens can clinch a playoff spot in Week 13 with a win. Houston plays at Tennessee, while Baltimore welcomes the Steelers. Both the Patriots and Broncos can clinch their respective divisions with a win. New England plays at Miami, while Denver hosts Tampa Bay. All four teams will make the postseason.
Looking Good: Indianapolis Colts (7-4)
The Colts don't exactly have a cakewalk final five games, but if this team wants to make the postseason, at least two wins need to come from matchups with the Texans (twice), at Detroit (Week 13), Tennessee and at Kansas City. Nine wins should do the trick in the AFC this season.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-5)
Which two teams have the best chance at being the AFC's two wild card teams?
The Bengals have come on strong, winning three straight games to really put the pressure on Pittsburgh. Traveling to San Diego doesn't seem like an easy task, but that team is fading quickly. A Week 16 visit to Pittsburgh looms large.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
The Steelers currently hold the tiebreaker over Cincinnati for the sixth and final playoff spot. If Pittsburgh can get back Ben Roethlisberger by at least Week 15 (more than reasonable), the Steelers are probably the front-runners to secure the No. 6 spot.
Miami Dolphins (5-6)
The Dolphins are long shots, but not completely out of it. Two games with New England and a trip to San Francisco over the last five games will ensure there's no playoff push in Miami.
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