NFL Playoff Picture: An Updated Look at Every Seed After Week 13

John Degroote@john_degrooteCorrespondent IIDecember 3, 2012

NFL Playoff Picture: An Updated Look at Every Seed After Week 13

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    Just a few days into December and with four weeks remaining in the regular season, the NFL playoff picture is already starting to take shape.

    Four teams clinched playoff berths in Week 13: Atlanta, Houston, Denver and New England.

    However, a lot can and will change before the postseason. Several teams are still in the hunt, especially in the NFC, and the wild-card berths likely won't be decided until the final second ticks off the clock in Week 17.

    Let's take a look at the updated playoff picture after Week 13.

NFC Teams in the Hunt

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    Washington Redskins (6-6)

    Robert Griffin III led the Redskins to a 17-16 Monday Night Football victory over a strong Giants team that embarrassed the Packers in Week 12.  

    The rookie signal caller has been electric on the ground and through the air and broke Cam Newton's record for rushing yards by a rookie quarterback with his prime time performance. The Redskins potential seems unlimited with RG3 under center. He even turned a fumble into a highlight reel touchdown!

    Washington has a tough matchup with Baltimore next week at home, but then face the Browns and Eagles in two very winnable games. The NFC East is setting up to be a race that comes down to the wire.


    Dallas Cowboys (6-6)

    The Cowboys won a shootout with the lowly Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football, but they have not looked like a playoff-caliber team. The talent is there, but something is missing.

    Tony Romo and the Cowboys have a fairly tough schedule to wrap up the season (Bengals, Steelers, Saints and Redskins).

    Could Dallas make a run for a playoff spot? Yes, but with the Giants playing well and the Cowboys a game behind the Seahawks and Bears, I wouldn't put my money on it.


    Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

    The Vikings have been an up-and-down team. In their six wins, the Vikings have looked great, most notably against the 49ers in Week 3 and the Lions in Week 10.

    The Vikings have the hardest schedule of all the NFC teams in the playoff hunt, with the Bears, Packers and Texans all remaining on the docket. It would not be surprising if the Vikings finished the season a few games under .500.

    Adrian Peterson is the NFL's leading rusher, but there are too many holes on the roster, especially with Percy Harvin out.


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)

    After reeling off four wins in a row, the Bucs have narrowly lost consecutive games to the berth-clinching Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos.

    Tampa Bay's defense is a strange unit. It is allowing the most passing yards in the NFL but has surrendered the fewest rushing yards, a league-best 82.3 per game.

    Rookie running back Doug "The Muscle Hamster" Martin has impressed, and Josh Freeman is looking like the quarterback of the future the Bucs expected when they drafted him four seasons ago.

    A rematch with the Falcons in Week 17 will likely decide the fate of the Bucs. Luckily for them, Atlanta has locked up a playoff spot and may be resting starters the final week of the season.


    St. Louis Rams (5-6-1)

    The Rams are still in the playoff hunt. The team's overtime win Sunday against the 49ers was their landmark victory of the season and showed the team's potential.

    Four of the Rams' five wins (and one tie) have come against division rivals. Outside of those games, the Rams have played poorly.

    They are only 1-3-1 on the road, and three of the Rams' final four games are away from home.

    Jeff Fisher has the Rams going in the right direction, but they will probably need another season before they are legitimate playoff contenders.

AFC Teams in the Hunt

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    Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)

    The Bengals have not lost since facing the Denver Broncos in Week 9, but they have been beating up on bad teams (Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego).

    Cincinnati does have weapons, though. A.J. Green is among the best receivers in the game, Andy Dalton is a solid signal-caller, and the defense is among the better units in the NFL.

    Two divisional games against the Steelers and Ravens to wrap up the season will decide the fate of the Bengals.


    New York Jets (5-7)

    Third-string quarterback Greg McElroy played for the Jets in Week 13 and won them the game.

    That's how things are going in New York for Rex Ryan and the Jets.

    The Jets are two games behind the nearest playoff team, but they do have a favorable schedule to finish the season. All four remaining games are against teams with losing records (Jaguars, Titans, Chargers and Bills).

    It is possible the Jets could go on a tear to end the season, but unlikely.


    Buffalo Bills (5-7)

    The Bills beat the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, keeping the team alive in the playoff hunt. Ryan Fitzpatrick has picked up his play, and C.J. Spiller looks like the Bills' back of the future. But the Bills still seem to be a few pieces away from being a playoff team.

    Upcoming games against the Dolphins and the Jets will be huge, but it will take the Colts or Steelers having a bad conclusion to the season for the Bills to sneak in.


    Miami Dolphins (5-7)

    The Dolphins are yet another AFC East team with a 5-7 record that is on the outside looking in on the playoffs.

    The Dolphins were a popular pick to be a playoff surprise in October, but they have only won one game since Halloween. An injury to Jake Long won't help either.

    Upcoming games against New England and San Francisco will be huge for Miami. If the Fins win those games, which they have to, they will have proven themselves as playoff contenders and deserve a spot.

NFC No. 6 Seed: Seattle Seahawks (7-5)

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    Seattle's win against the Bears was a testament to rookie quarterback Russel Wilson's growth. He threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns and added 71 yards on the ground.

    Marshawn Lynch has been the team's most important offensive weapon, though. Lynch has racked up more than 1,000 rushing yards for a second consecutive season and is on pace for his best year as a pro.

    The Seahawks sit at the No. 6 spot in the NFC, but due to the 49ers' stunning loss to St. Louis Sunday, they still have a shot to win the division.

    The NFC West may well be decided in Week 16 when the Seahawks play the 49ers.

    The win against the Bears was Seattle's second road win of the season. Three of the Seahawks' final four games are at home, but they still need to play better on the road. If the Seahawks manage to get to the playoffs, there likely won't be a lot of home games in the postseason.

    Remaining Opponents: vs. Cardinals (4-8); at Bills (5-7); vs. 49ers (8-3-1); vs. Rams (5-6-1).

5. NFC No. 5 Seed: Chicago Bears (8-4)

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    The Bears have lost three of their last four, and for the first time this season they are not in control of the NFC North.

    All the losses have come against playoff teams, so there is not too much cause for concern. But another loss would be a major blow to Chicago's playoff hopes.

    It is obvious that the Bears don't want to be a wild-card team; they want to win their division. In Week 15, the team will get a chance to avenge an early-season loss to rival Green Bay. The victor will have a major leg up in the division race.

    The Bears defense is just too talented to be sitting at home for the playoffs. It ranks second in points allowed per game and is a top-10 unit in every major defensive category.

    Remaining Opponents: at Vikings (6-6); vs. Packers (8-4); at Cardinals (4-8); at Lions (4-8).

NFC No. 4 Seed: New York Giants (7-4)

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    The defending champion Giants bounced back in a big way by beating Green Bay 38-10 in Week 12, and they looked thoroughly dominant while doing it.

    On Monday Night Football in Week 13, the Giants will take on Robert Griffin III and a Redskins team that is barely grasping to playoff hopes. The Giants edged the Redskins, 27-23, in the team's first matchup of the season.

    The Giants need a win against Washington. If not, the team's lead will shrink to a single game over both Dallas and Washington.

    Last time we saw the Giants, they looked like the class of the NFC. Eli Manning and the Giants will have to keep it up to lock up a spot in the postseason.

    Remaining Opponents: at Redskins (5-6); vs. Saints (5-7); at Falcons (11-1); at Ravens (9-3); vs. Eagles (3-9).

NFC No. 3 Seed: Green Bay Packers (8-4)

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    After getting pounded by the Giants in Week 12, the Packers bounced back with a big divisional win against the Vikings.

    However, the defense allowed Adrian Peterson to rack up 210 yards on the ground, and Jordy Nelson re-aggravated a hamstring injury.

    The Packers are beaten up, but they should be healthy come playoff time, and that's very dangerous. Clay Matthews has been missed, and even the stable of receivers has been impacted by injury.

    The Packers' Week 15 matchup against Chicago will likely decide the NFC North. That game should be circled on the calender of every NFL fan.

    Remaining Opponents: vs. Lions (4-8); at Bears (8-4); vs. Titans (4-8); at Vikings (6-6).

NFC No. 2 Seed: San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1)

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    Has Jim Harbaugh created a monster?

    Colin Kaepernick had his first bad game as the starting quarterback for the 49ers. The second-year QB was directly responsible for 10 of the Rams' 16 points. Two came on a safety when Kaepernick was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, and the other eight came after a botched pitch that the Rams defense took into the end zone and then converted on a two-point conversion.

    However, Kaepernick's tremendous upside isn't negated by one tight loss to the Rams.

    The loss does make things interesting in the NFC West, a division the 49ers looked like they would lock up early. The Seahawks are now only a game behind and are coming off a huge win against the Bears.

    In Week 16, the 49ers have to travel north to visit the Seahawks. Kaepernick will face a huge test against the Seattle defense in the gauntlet of CenturyLink Field.

    Remaining Opponents: vs. Dolphins (5-7); at Patriots (9-3); at Seahawks (7-5); vs. Cardinals (4-8).

NFC No. 1 Seed: Atlanta Falcons (11-1)

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    The Falcons are tied for the best record in football at 11-1 and are the only NFC team that has already punched its ticket to the postseason. But they are still not getting a lot of respect.

    Atlanta avenged its only loss of the season against the Saints Thursday. The defense picked off Drew Brees five times and pulled out a 23-13 victory.

    Matt Ryan and the Falcons will not get respect until they win in the playoffs. It's as simple as that. Three one-and-done appearances have given Ryan the reputation that he can't win when it matters.

    Is this the year?

    Remaining Opponents: at Panthers (3-9); vs. Giants (7-4); at Lions (4-8); vs. Buccaneers (6-6).

AFC No. 6 Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)

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    Charlie Batch balled out for the Steelers on Sunday. That is a statement I never thought I would write.

    Batch went 25-of-36 passing for 276 yards and one touchdown, and he also moved the Steelers 61 yards before Shaun Suisham's game-winning field goal.

    However, there is nothing close to a quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger should be coming back soon after missing three games, and he will provide a big spark for the Steelers to finish the season.

    The Steelers secondary ranks first in the league, and the defense is allowing a NFL-best 259.8 yards per game—exactly what you expect from a Dick LeBeau defense.

    The Bengals have the same record as the Steelers, but Pittsburgh holds the tiebreaker over Cincinnati due to the team's Week 7 win. The teams will face off at Heinz Field in Week 16, likely with the final spot in the AFC up for grabs.

    Remaining Opponents: vs. Chargers (4-8); at Cowboys (6-6); vs. Bengals (7-5); vs. Browns (4-8).

AFC No. 5 Seed: Indianapolis Colts (8-4)

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    The Indianapolis Colts remained "Chuckstrong" against Detroit Sunday. Andrew Luck found Donnie Avery with a touchdown pass on the last play of the game, allowing the Colts to knock off the reeling Lions, 35-33.

    The Colts are the best story in the NFL this season.

    Not much was expected of a team that had the NFL's worst record a season ago. After saying goodbye to the Peyton Manning era, the team brought in Luck with the No. 1 pick in the draft and hired Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as head coach.

    Then Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in September, but his team has played inspired in his absence and is now in the driver's seat for a spot in the postseason.

    The Colts still have to face Houston twice, but once is in Week 17 when the Texans may be resting starters. Tennessee and Kansas City are the other two games left on the Colts' schedule, and both are must-wins.

    Remaining Opponents: vs. Titans (4-8); at Texans (11-1); at Chiefs (2-10); vs. Texans (11-1).

AFC No. 4 Seed: Denver Broncos (9-3)

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    Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos clinched the AFC West Sunday with a 31-23 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    The win was the Broncos' seventh consecutive, as both the offense and defense are clicking on all cylinders.

    The Manning experiment is working in Denver. The 15-year pro has been the leading passer in every game but one this season (Week 9 vs. Cincinnati) and is at the top of most fans' MVP ballots.

    Von Miller has been to the defense what Manning is to the offense. The Texas A&M product has 15 sacks, one interception and five forced fumbles.

    The Ravens are the toughest opponent remaining on the Broncos' schedule. It would not surprise me to see the Broncos enter the postseason as the hottest team in football.

    Remaining Opponents: at Raiders (3-9); at Ravens (9-3); vs. Browns (4-8); vs. Chiefs (2-10).

AFC No. 3 Seed: Baltimore Ravens (9-3)

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    The Ravens allowed 10 fourth-quarter points, thereby permitting a Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers team to escape with a 23-20 win on Sunday.

    The Ravens could have clinched a playoff berth with a win. Instead, Baltimore had its 15-game home winning streak snapped, and the Ravens also lost for the first time in 13 contests against division foes.

    The Steelers controlled the clock and wore down the Ravens' depleted defense.

    The loss does cause some concern, and the path does not get much easier for the Ravens. After a matchup with a Redskins team that is capable of playing better than its 5-6 record indicates, the Ravens take on the Broncos, Giants and Bengals to conclude the season.

    The Ravens are far from a lock to win their division, despite having a two-game lead with just four games left.

    Remaining Opponents: at Redskins (5-6); vs. Broncos (9-3); vs. Giants (7-4); at Bengals (7-5).

AFC No. 2 Seed: New England Patriots (9-3)

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    After routing the Jets and Colts in consecutive weeks, the Patriots came back to earth a little against the Dolphins, but they still pulled out a 23-16 victory.

    The Patriots have won six games in a row, assuring themselves of their 12th consecutive winning season, and they have clinched the AFC East.

    Since 2010, the Patriots are 19-0 in the last eight games of the regular season, averaging 412.8 yards per game with a turnover differential of plus-51.

    The Patriots will be tested against the Texans next week and the 49ers the week after. Those games against two of the NFL's elite will show how good the Patriots really are.

    Remaining Opponents: vs. Texans (11-1); vs. 49ers (8-3-1); at Jaguars (2-10); vs. Dolphins (5-7).

AFC No. 1 Seed: Houston Texans (11-1)

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    The Texans are proving to be the real deal and are poised for a deep playoff run.

    After squeaking out two close wins against Jacksonville and Detroit, the Texans cruised over the Titans, 24-10, in Week 13. 

    With that victory, the Texans secured a second consecutive playoff berth and set a franchise record for wins.

    Their offense is only behind the Patriots in points per game, and the J.J. Watt-led defense is allowing only 18.4 points per game.

    The Texans are the most well-rounded team in the NFL, and they have talent at every position.

    Remaining Opponents: at Patriots (9-3); vs. Colts (8-4); vs. Vikings (6-6); at Colts (8-4).