NFL Playoff Picture: Bubble Teams That Will Sneak into Playoffs

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NFL Playoff Picture: Bubble Teams That Will Sneak into Playoffs
USA TODAY Sports

Playoff bids are still open in both the NFL’s AFC and NFC wild-card races. The NFC East Division winner will also be determined down the final stretch of the season.

Every game from here on out will have the feeling of a playoff matchup. Even teams that have been eliminated from playoff contention often step up in December and play spoiler to their opponents' playoff chances.

But which teams have the best opportunity to break back into the playoff picture as the season winds down?

Dallas, New York (Giants), Chicago and Pittsburgh are all right in the thick of things. That means Cincinnati, Seattle and Minnesota are in must-win positions throughout the rest of their 2012 campaigns.

Let's take a look at which teams will bounce back in the final two weeks and sneak into the postseason at the last moment.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Next up for the Pittsburgh Steelers is their biggest game of the season. In fact, it’s perhaps the biggest game in recent memory for the storied Steelers franchise.

The game is an AFC Divisional matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, in Pittsburgh, with the team’s season riding on the outcome.

A loss and the Steelers are eliminated. A win and their playoff hopes live on until they host the Cleveland Browns in Week 17. If they can get the better of these two Ohio teams, they could return to the postseason for the third consecutive season.

That isn’t out the realm of possibility for a team that has posted a 23-5 record against Cleveland and a 21-7 mark against Cincinnati since 1999.

For the Steelers, every week is a playoff game until they lose. It is truly win or go home for the Steel Curtain.

 

Chicago Bears (8-6)

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The once 7-1 Chicago Bears have fallen down but are not out of playoff contention yet. However, not only do the Bears need to win out, but they need some help as well.

After a promising start, the team has fallen into free-fall mode, losing five of its last six games. The team hasn’t played too poorly with exception of its blowout loss against San Francisco in Week 11.

Injuries have brought the once red-hot Bears back down to reality. Nevertheless, those filling in have been tested along the way.

Final matchups against Arizona and Detroit are both very winnable contests.

A slip-up from the one-dimensional Vikings and wins during these final two weeks will propel a Bears team that is currently grasping at the edge of a cliff into the playoffs.

Neither Arizona or Detroit is a complete team. Each does something relatively well.

The Cardinals are a defensively sound team that will cause problems for Jay Cutler and the Bears’ struggling offensive line. But on offense the Cards pose little threat, even to the injury-riddled Chicago defense.

Meanwhile, Detroit played the Bears tough in Week 7 and could end Chicago's playoff hopes. But defensively, Chicago should be able to do enough to contain its NFC North Divisional rivals.

 

NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

USA TODAY Sports

DIVISION LEADERS

 No. 1 Seed Atlanta Falcons (12-2) Clinched NFC South

 No. 2 Seed San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) Lead NFC West; Clinched Playoff Berth

 No. 3 Seed Green Bay Packers (10-4) Clinched NFC North

 No. 4 Seed Washington Redskins (8-6) Lead NFC East

 

WILD CARD LEADERS

 No. 5 Seed Seattle Seahawks (9-5)

 No. 6 Seed Minnesota Vikings (8-6)

 

IN THE HUNT

 Chicago Bears (8-6)

 Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

 New York Giants (8-6)

 St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)

 New Orleans Saints (6-8)

 

AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

DIVISION LEADERS

 No. 1 Seed Houston Texans (12-2) Clinched AFC South

 No. 2 Seed Denver Broncos (11-3) Clinched AFC West

 No. 3 Seed New England Patriots (10-4) Clinched AFC East

 No. 4 Seed Baltimore Ravens (9-5) Lead AFC North; Clinched Playoff Berth

 

WILD CARD LEADERS

 No. 5 Seed Indianapolis Colts (9-5)

 No. 6 Seed Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

 

IN THE HUNT

 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)

 Miami Dolphins (6-8)

 

REMAINING SCHEDULE

NFC

Atlanta: vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago

San Francisco: at Seattle, vs. Arizona

Green Bay: vs. Tennessee, at Minnesota

Washington: at Philadelphia, vs. Dallas

Seattle: vs. San Francisco, vs. St. Louis

Minnesota: at Houston, vs. Green Bay

Chicago: at Arizona, vs. Detroit

Dallas: vs. New Orleans, at Washington

New York: at Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia

St. Louis: at Tampa Bay, at Seattle

New Orleans: at Dallas, vs. Carolina

 

AFC

Houston: vs. Minnesota, at Indianapolis

Denver: vs. Cleveland, vs. Kansas City

New England: at Jacksonville, vs. Miami

Baltimore: vs. New York Giants, at Cincinnati

Indianapolis: at Kansas City, vs. Houston

Cincinnati: at Pittsburgh, vs. Baltimore

Pittsburgh: vs. Cincinnati, vs. Cleveland

Miami: vs. Buffalo, at New England

 

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