NFL Playoff Picture: Updated Look at Playoff Races After Week 14

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 9: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates a touchdown during the first quarter of the game against the Chicago Bears on December 9, 2012 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Entering Week 14 looking for answers, we have been left with only more questions.

Only four teams know for sure that their season won't come to an abrupt end following Week 17, making every game left on the NFL schedule even more important than it was before.

Join me as we swim through the murky waters of the NFL playoff picture and try to make sense of it all.


NFC East

Current Leader In Contention
New York Giants (8-5)  Washington Redskins (7-6) 
  Dallas Cowboys (7-6)

With their win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, the New York Giants hold onto their slim one-game lead over the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, who both kept pace with the division leaders.

Washington won a thrilling game against Baltimore in overtime, 31-28, while Dallas beat Cincinnati 20-19 on a 40-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.

New York has split the season series with both Washington and Dallas while the Cowboys lost their first meeting against the Redskins.

Should the Giants falter down the stretch while Dallas and Washington continue to win, the NFC East could be decided when the Cowboys travel to FedEx Field to face the Redskins in Week 17.


NFC West

Current Leader In Contention
San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) Seattle Seahawks (8-5) 

San Francisco's lead in the NFC West remains at 1.5 games after both the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks came out of Week 14 with victories under their belts.

The 49ers took care of business against the Miami Dolphins, 27-13 while the Seahawks absolutely crushed the Arizona Cardinals, 58-0.

With the two teams facing the AFC East next week—San Francisco gets New England while Seattle takes on Buffalo—their Week 16 meeting in Seattle could be an epic battle for the division.


NFC South

Division Winner
Atlanta Falcons (11-2)

Atlanta clinched the NFC South in Week 13 with their victory over the New Orleans Saints coupled with Tampa Bay's loss to the Denver Broncos, so this week's game against the Carolina Panthers didn't mean much in the big picture.

That's a good thing as the Falcons came out flat, trailing by 23 points with less than five minutes to go in the third quarter before they finally put some points on the board. It was all for naught, however, as the Falcons suffered their second defeat of the season, losing 30-20.


NFC North

Current Leader In Contention
Green Bay Packers (9-4)  Chicago Bears (8-5) 
  Minnesota Vikings (7-6)

Things just got very interesting in the NFC North.

Adrian Peterson's two touchdowns and a timely pick-six by Harrison Smith led the Minnesota Vikings to a 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday in what was a crucial divisional showdown.

Chicago now trails Green Bay by a game while Minnesota pulls to within two games of the division lead.

Green Bay didn't lose any ground Sunday night, downing Detroit at a snowy Lambeau Field, 27-20.

With games remaining against Chicago next week and Minnesota in Week 17, the Packers control their own destiny for the division crown.


NFC Wild Card

Current Leaders In Contention
Chicago Bears (8-5) Washington Redskins (7-6) 
Seattle Seahawks (8-5) Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
  Minnesota Vikings (7-6)

After a win against the Eagles, the Cowboys moved up a few spots in the NFC Wild Card picture. However, they were surpassed by the Redskins after Robert Griffin III and company beat the Giants.

Trailing close behind both Washington and Dallas is Tampa Bay and Minnesota. The Vikings and Buccaneers have the same record, but the Redskins and Cowboys are ahead by way of tiebreakers.


AFC East

Division Winner
New England Patriots (9-3)

 New England clinched its fourth consecutive AFC East crown with a win over the Miami Dolphins, improving to 5-0 against divisional opponents. The Patriots will try and hand the Houston Texas their second loss of the season and pull within a game of the top overall seed in the AFC on Monday night.

This makes it four four consecutive division titles for New England, who has won the AFC East nine times in the past 10 years—and 10 times in the past 12 years.


AFC West

Division Winner
Denver Broncos (10-3)

The Denver Broncos clinched the division with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, their seventh win in a row.

Peyton Manning led the Broncos to their eighth consecutive victory of the season on Thursday night, besting the Oakland Raiders by a score of 26-13.

To illustrate how much better Denver is than the rest of their division, the Broncos' 10 wins on the season equal the combined totals of San Diego (5-8), Oakland (3-10) and Kansas City (2-11), three teams who wish that Manning never left Indianapolis.


AFC North

Current Leader In Contention
Baltimore Ravens (9-4) Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) 
  Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)

All three teams lost on Sunday, with Baltimore's loss perhaps being the most troubling.

Baltimore blew an eight-point lead over the Robert Griffin III-less Washington Redskins with under 30 seconds left in regulation before falling in overtime, failing to clinch the NFC North or a playoff spot.

The return of Ben Roethlisberger did nothing to boost the Pittsburgh Steelers, who fell to the San Diego Chargers, while the Cincinnati Bengals saw their four-game winning streak snapped by the Dallas Cowboys.

Of the the three teams, Cincinnati has the greatest chance of a victory in Week 15 as they travel to Philadelphia, while Baltimore takes on Denver and Pittsburgh plays Dallas on the road.


AFC South

Current Leader In Contention
Houston Texans (11-2) Indianapolis Colts (9-4) 

Andrew Luck refuses to acknowledge that he's a rookie, and rookies aren't supposed to have their teams in playoff contention.

Luck notched his fifth comeback victory of the year for Indianapolis on Sunday, leading the Colts back from a 13-point deficit to beat the Tennessee Titans, the team's third victory in a row and seventh in their last eight games.

Houston, who already clinched a playoff spot, was thoroughly trounced by New England on Monday Night Football and now have a slim one-game lead over the Patriots for the top overall seed in the AFC.

Indianapolis and Houston face each other twice over the last three weeks of the regular season: next week in Houston and in Week 17 in Indianapolis.

Should the Colts beat the Texans next week, the division won't be decided until the final week of the regular season.


AFC Wild Card

Current Leader In Contention
Indianapolis Colts (9-4) Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) New York Jets (6-7)
While the Colts take on the Texans in two of their last three games, they have a date with Kansas City sandwiched in between, so they are almost assured of a playoff spot even if they drop both games to Houston.

Despite losing on Sunday, the Steelers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bengals, so they still hold the second, and final, Wild Card berth. But with the two teams set to face each other at Heinz Field in Week 16, this race is far from over.

As for the Jets, they are technically still in the hunt, but they’ll need to keep winning—and get some help from other teams—to really get back into the thick of the race.