Upon the conclusion of tonight's Monday Night Football matchup between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots, each NFL team will have only three games remaining in the 2012 season.
Each game is as significant as the next, as teams are either hanging on to thin hopes of making the playoffs or jockeying for postseason position.
However, other teams are playing their way out of the NFL playoff picture entirely.
Once the leaders of the NFC North just a couple short weeks ago, the Chicago Bears (8-5) are riding a two-game losing streak—and losers of four out of their last five contests. They find themselves in a must-win situation at home against the Green Bay Packers next week.
Now the sixth seed, the Bears have three teams ready to take their spot sitting right behind them with 7-6 records.
The Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings all enter Week 15 coming off of victories. Washington is on a four-game winning streak, while Dallas has won two straight.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the streakiest teams in the NFL this season.
After beginning the year at 2-4, Tampa Bay used a four-game winning streak to get to 6-4 and bolt into the playoff picture. Though against lesser competition, Josh Freeman and Doug Martin couldn't be stopped.
However, the Buccaneers are now losers of three straight and find themselves in a tough position to even finish the season with a .500 record.
After Week 15's road game against the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay draws a suddenly-hot St. Louis Rams team at home in Week 16 before closing on the road with the Atlanta Falcons.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints stumbled out of the gate with four-straight losses, including handing a game to the two-win Kansas City Chiefs this season. However, Drew Brees and Co. navigated their way back to a .500 record, putting the entire NFC on alert.
The Saints are a very dangerous team and—if able to make playoffs—have the experience and talent to make a deep run.
Instead, New Orleans got extremely cold again and are now losers of three straight—including Sunday's 52-27 loss to the New York Giants.
Closing the season on a positive note would do the Saints well in order to go into 2013 with momentum and with a clean slate—void of Bounty Gate and hopefully with head coach Sean Payton back in place.
All things considered, what team grabs the final spot in the AFC?
Pittsburgh Steelers or Cincinnati Bengals
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals are in a similar position in the AFC playoff picture. Both AFC North teams own 7-6 records and both are coming off inexplicable losses.
While the Steelers currently hold the sixth seed, the Bengals are technically the hotter team as they had won four-straight games before last week's loss to the Cowboys—the same Cowboys who host the Steelers this week.
Cincinnati will also be on the road against an NFC East, traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.
Though the Bengals are in a more favorable position in Week 15, a showdown in Pittsburgh against the Steelers in Week 16 could ultimately decide which team settles into the last playoff spot in the AFC.
If both teams stumble to close the season, however, the New York Jets are lurking with a 6-7 record and a favorable final slate.
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