Only four of the 12 spots in the NFL postseason have been accounted for, and with more than a dozen teams fighting for those final eight spots, each of the three remaining games on the schedules of those teams have become must-win contests.
A single loss could crush the playoff dreams of many.
The football gods have been kind to some teams when it comes to their remaining schedule, while others are left wondering what ills were committed to deserve such unfavorable matchups.
Let's take a look at three teams that are faced with a long, hard road to travel before reaching the promised land that is the postseason.
Baltimore Ravens (9-4)
The Ravens currently sit in first place in the AFC North, but Baltimore's remaining schedule is formidable.
Back-to-back home games against the Manning brothers—Peyton's Denver Broncos in Week 15 and Eli's New York Giants in Week 16—are games that the Ravens could easily lose.
With the Ravens in the midst of a two-game slide, that could quickly become a four-game losing streak, making its final game of the season—on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals—a game that decides the division.
Cincinnati, fresh off a 34-13 thumping of the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night, sit only 1.5 games behind the Ravens.
While Baltimore crushed Cincinnati in the season opener, 44-13, those were two drastically different teams.
Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
On the outside of the playoffs looking in, the Cowboys have a hard road ahead of them.
One game behind the New York Giants for the NFC East lead and one game behind Seattle and Chicago for the two NFC wild-card berths, Dallas must win its remaining games and get some help from other teams to have a shot at playing postseason football.
Winning out is easier said than done.
Both Pittsburgh in Week 15 and New Orleans in Week 16 are games that Dallas could easily lose—especially with its biggest offensive weapon, Dez Bryant, playing with a left index finger that requires surgery to repair. From ESPN's Ed Werder (via Twitter):
After meeting with hand specialist confirming fractured left index finger requiring surgery, Dez Bryant intends to delay and attempt play— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 13, 2012
Should the Cowboys overcome adversity and win their next two games, that would set up a final game against the Washington Redskins on the road in Week 17, a team that has already beaten Dallas once in 2012.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
Like the Cowboys, the Vikings sit on the outside of the NFC playoff picture looking in.
Minnesota's Week 15 game against St. Louis is a game that the Vikings should win—but things get significantly more difficult after that.
A Week 16 meeting against the Houston Texans and a Week 17 trip to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers awaits the Vikings, neither one an easy game by any stretch of the imagination.
While Adrian Peterson has re-established himself as the best running back in the NFL, Minnesota has no passing game, and that could come back to bite them against Houston and Green Bay. These are two teams that are going to put points on the board against the Vikings.
Minnesota needs to win out—and get help from elsewhere—if it's going to be playing football after Week 17.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!