With a month to go in the 2012 NFL season, there's plenty to discuss and analyze regarding the playoff picture, especially the compelling battle for the final wild-card spot in both conferences.
In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons are the only team to have secured a postseason spot, having clinched the NFC South division title.
In the AFC, the picture is much clearer. The Houston Texans, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos all have won their respective divisions and will play football in January.
Let's dive into a comprehensive breakdown.
NFC Playoff Picture
1. z — Atlanta Falcons (11-1)
The Falcons haven't won pretty of late, but that doesn't matter in the win-loss column. They're an elite team in a league watered down by vast mediocrity this season. If Jacquizz Rodgers continues to produce, watch out.
2. San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1)
The 49ers couldn't figure out Jeff Fisher's St. Louis Rams in Week 13. Ease up on Colin Kaepernick, however. He put San Francisco in a position to win and had 292 total yards. The youngster gives San Fran the best chance to win and allows them to reach their full potential on offense. They must play well down the stretch to hang onto that No. 2 spot.
3. Green Bay Packers (8-4)
Aaron Rodgers was scary efficient in the impressive win over the Minnesota Vikings. Greg Jennings returned from injury, but Jordy Nelson hurt his hamstring. With a full receiving corps, the Packers are extremely difficult to beat.
4. New York Giants (7-4)*
Their immediate playoff positioning depends on their duel with Robert Griffin III in Washington on Monday Night Football. If New York plays like it did a week ago against Green Bay, they'll win tonight and ultimately win the NFC East again.
5. Chicago Bears (8-4)
Chicago was primed to overtake the Packers for the NFC North lead, but they ran into Russell Wilson and a steady Seattle defense. This is still a good team that should make the playoffs. Week 15's clash with the Packers will decide the division.
6. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
The 2012 quarterback class is having quite the year, and it's not just because of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Russell Wilson, the too-small third-rounder out of Wisconsin, has the Seahawks looking to be bound for the playoffs and hasn't thrown an interception since before Halloween.
With three divisional games remaining, the NFC West crown isn't the 49ers' yet.
7. Dallas Cowboys (6-6)
The Tony Romo to Dez Bryant connection has become one of the most deadly in the NFL over the last month. In the last three games, the Oklahoma State alum has 29 receptions, 475 yards with 6 touchdowns.
If the Cowboys can tighten up their defense, they have a shot at the postseason.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)
The Buccaneers held tough but ultimately lost to another elite quarterback. The defense simply has let them down too often in 2012.
9. Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
Adrian Peterson needs to win the Comeback Player of the Year. This guy is a different species. After tearing his ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve, the Vikings back is on pace for his best statistical season of his illustrious career.
Too bad Christian Ponder hasn't been able to turn the corner this year.
10. St. Louis Rams (5-6-1)
The Rams are a tough team to figure out. The defense is improving, but Sam Bradford is stuck in the mud without receiving talent and an offensive line that can adequately protect him.
AFC Playoff Picture
1. x — Houston Texans (11-1)
The Texans experienced a little mid-season lull in Week's 11 and 12, but after losing Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed, that was bound to happen.
The important thing is that they managed back-to-back wins in overtime against poor teams, a testament to how good they really are.
A team built for the postseason.
2. z — New England Patriots (9-3)
New England keeps on rolling. Tom Brady wasn't spectacular against the Miami Dolphins, but the defense played well and forced another turnover.
If those turnovers keep coming, it will be a daunting task to unseat the Patriots in January.
3. Baltimore Ravens (9-3)
The Ravens, someway, somehow, lost to Charlie Batch and the Pittsburgh Steelers at home in Week 13. Oh, wait, I know how they lost. Ray Rice had 12 carries and didn't have a touch in the fourth quarter. Baltimore is good, but not if it doesn't give the ball to its best player.
4. z — Denver Broncos (9-3)
Josh Freeman almost went Peyton Manning on Peyton Manning's Broncos on Sunday, but Denver held on for another impressive victory.
Von Miller is in the running with J.J. Watt for Defensive Player of the Year. You don't want to play the Broncos in January.
5. Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
Andrew Luck has selective amnesia, something that's needed if you're a quarterback in the NFL. He had three interceptions against the Detroit Lions, but led a stunning comeback and tossed the game-winner on the last play of the game.
From 2-14 to, in all likelihood, a playoff berth—what an unbelievable turnaround for Indy.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
The Steelers were the biggest winners of Week 13. A loss, and the AFC wild-card race would have been super muddled, but Charlie Batch played marvelously in Baltimore. Week 16's showdown against the Cincinnati Bengals has major postseason implications.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
The Bengals weren't great against the Chargers but held on to get a much-needed win when everyone around them emerged victorious. The defense, especially the line, is special. The end of the schedule isn't easy, and they'll likely need to win in Pittsburgh to sneak into the postseason again.
8. New York Jets (5-7)
The Jets will likely turn to Greg McElroy from here on out. What would be the point of playing Mark Sanchez anymore? Theoretically, they're still in the postseason race, which is almost unfathomable.
9. Buffalo Bills (5-7)
The same goes for the Bills. They're still alive for that last wild-card spot, which seems unreal. The defense has recently played better, and if they can beat the Rams and Seahawks in consecutive weeks—certainly not an easy task—Chan Gailey could keep his job.
10. Miami Dolphins (5-7)
Ryan Tannehill was the hero in Week 12, but couldn't out-duel Tom Brady in Miami. Still, a season on which the Dolphins can build.
z — clinched division
x — clinched playoff spot
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