Some people have said that the NFL stands for "Not For Long," and while that is not the actual acronym, the sentiment remains true.
Entering Week 14, the Seattle Seahawks had already clinched a postseason berth, and another 22 teams are realistically striving for one of the 11 remaining playoff spots. At this time of year, one misstep can effectively end a team's season.
The path to the playoffs is completely different in each conference.
The wild-card spots are all but decided in the NFC with two of the divisions far outpacing the other two, while the AFC wild-card race is tighter than Mike Ditka's sweater.
NFC Divisional Races: Good, Bad and Ugly
The Seattle Seahawks have only one loss this season, so they have already reserved their playoff spot despite playing in the best division in football (the only division in which all teams have a positive point differential).
There are other good division races to watch, but the Wild Cards are much clearer.
With the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers tied in the NFC South at 9-3, both are very likely bound for the playoffs, but they play each other twice in the final four weeks to decide the division crown.
The 8-4 San Francisco 49ers and 7-5 Arizona Cardinals are each looking up at Seattle knowing whoever finishes third in the NFC West will very likely be home for January.
They will play each other in the desert in a potentially huge Week 17 matchup, but the Niners won the first meeting and they have the softer schedule this month.
Both have to play Seattle again, but the Cards must go on the road for it a week after they visit Tennessee.
Meanwhile, San Fran can tune up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons before the final game against 'Zona. All told, the deck is stacked against Arizona's playoff chances, and they could easily miss the postseason despite potentially having a better record than the division winner in the NFC East or NFC North.
There are two huge games between those divisions in Week 14 with the Philadelphia Eagles hosting the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys visiting the Chicago Bears.
The results could drastically alter the shape of each division.
Philly and Dallas are tied atop the NFC East at 7-5, but the Cowboys won their first meeting this season. They host the Eagles in Week 17, giving them the inside track for the playoffs. Despite Nick Foles' fantastic play of late, the deck is stacked against the Eagles.
The Lions have a huge advantage in the NFC North since they won both meetings with Chicago, giving them a superior division record as well for the top two tiebreakers.
The Green Bay Packers 5-6-1 record will almost certainly keep them from the playoffs, and that's why everyone hates ties. The New York Giants are also toast as their 5-7 record includes a pair of losses to the Cowboys and a 2-3 mark in the division.
Look for Detroit and Dallas to win their divisions and join the 49ers, Saints, Panthers and Seahawks in the playoffs.
The AFC Wild-Card Jumble
The AFC playoff race is so murky that even teams at 4-8 still have a feasible route to playing in January.
All four division leaders look assured of a playoff berth, but the two wild-card slots are totally up for grabs.
Each of the division leaders enjoy at least a two-game cushion except the most successful team, the 10-2 Denver Broncos. They lead the slumping Kansas City Chiefs by one game, but both will make the postseason regardless.
In the AFC North, the 8-4 Cincinnati Bengals are poised to edge the defending champion Baltimore Ravens who are 6-6.
The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots each lead their divisions by three games.
You can punch the playoff tickets for each of the four current division leaders and 9-3 KC. The Broncos and Pats will likely scoop up the first-round byes, but the battle for the final spot is a wide-open race.
Baltimore currently holds the tiebreaker over the Miami Dolphins and both sit on the cusp of the No. 6 seed with their 6-6 records. It's likely that 9-7 would be good enough for the playoffs but who will get there first?
Between the two .500 teams, Miami has the easier remaining schedule.
After the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Ravens' last three contests will be at Detroit, at home against the Patriots and at Cincinnati. The Dolphins travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday and then get the Pats too, but they close their season at Buffalo and in South Florida against the New York Jets, giving them the better path to the playoffs.
Speaking of the Jets, they are at the bottom of the 5-7 logjam in the AFC, along with Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers.
Tennessee owns the tiebreaker over the other three and they would be a sure playoff team if it weren't for their 0-4 record in the division.
The Jets have a disaster at the quarterback position so they are out. The Chargers still have to play at Denver before finishing the season at home against Kansas City, which sounds the death knell for them. Pittsburgh has the most favorable schedule of any 5-7 team—Miami, Cincinnati, at Green Bay, Cleveland—but their Week 1 loss at home to Tennessee could loom large on the final Sunday.
The Titans will decide their own fate over the next two weeks when they visit Denver and host Arizona.
They finish up with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, but two losses in the next two weeks would doom them. With so many teams crowded for that final playoff spot, look for the Dolphins to come away with it thanks to their favorable schedule.
What Are the Odds?
What are the odds for theses teams to win the Super Bowl? Well it turns out there are only six squads with a decent shot at the Lombardi trophy.
Seattle is the clear Vegas front-runner to win the Super Bowl with 5-2 odds.
Denver stands close behind at 13-4 and New England is 13-2. Three NFC teams round out the most likely champs with San Fran at 9-1 and both Carolina and New Orleans at 10-1. The next closest team is Cincinnati at 20-1 (per Bovada).
Those seven teams are locks for the postseason and will be joined by the Colts, Chiefs, Dolphins, Lions and Cowboys.
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