NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Breaking Down NFC and AFC Outlooks for Week 14

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NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Breaking Down NFC and AFC Outlooks for Week 14
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The playoff races in both conferences are still very open heading into the final quarter of the regular season. Of the 12 available postseason berths, only one has been clinched so far, with the Seattle Seahawks punching their ticket in the NFC.

Right now, there are two separate races setting up. Most importantly, there's the battle just to get into the playoffs, which is especially intense in the AFC. Then there's the battle for first-round byes. Some teams belong in both categories for the time being.

Let's examine how things set up in both conferences for Week 14, including how things look for teams that have already entered must-win territory. For a complete look at where every team stands heading into the weekend's action, check out the league's official site.

 

NFC

As mentioned, the Seahawks are in. With a spot secured, they now turn their focus to locking up the top overall seed in the conference, which would force opponents to enter one of the league's toughest stadiums to play in and beat one of the most complete teams—a tall task, to say the least.

The New Orleans Saints—a formidable team, which Seattle made look weak last week—and Carolina Panthers are among the teams hoping to challenge the Seahawks. But first, the NFC South rivals face off in one of the week's marquee matchups.

Which team is the biggest threat to Seattle?

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As it stands, the Saints and Panthers are tied atop the division at 9-3, which is also good enough for the second seed. They play twice over the next three weeks, and if either side could sweep those games, there's a very good chance they end up with a bye.

Another key NFC matchup pits the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles against each other in a battle of 7-5 teams. The Lions lead the North, while the Eagles are currently on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Philadelphia is tied with the Dallas Cowboys but is at a tiebreaker disadvantage for now.

Since each of those division races are still up for grabs, both teams have extra incentive (as if they needed any more) because the win could come in handy for a potential wild-card battle.

On Monday night, two other teams involved in those same division struggles square off. The Cowboys and Chicago Bears could both use the win, but the pressure is on Chicago since it's at home and is further behind in the wild-card race.

The Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and St. Louis Rams are the teams that just have to win and see how the chips fall, as their margin for error is basically eliminated.

 

AFC

There aren't as many spots available in the AFC, barring some complete meltdowns over the final four games. In fact, five of the six teams should be playoff bound as long as they stay on the same track as they have been on for the past three months.

The Denver Broncos are in the driver's seat after sweeping the season series from the Kansas City Chiefs. Last week's win left them all alone atop the AFC and gave them what amounts to a 1.5-game lead in the division.

If the top five hold, which team will claim the sixth spot?

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For the second bye, it's a good three-team race between the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals.

The Patriots have the inside edge with a one-game lead and a favorable schedule. That starts this week with a matchup against the Cleveland Browns, who are still technically alive in the race at 4-8 but would need to win out and have things fall their way.

If New England does slip up, however, this week's game between the Colts and Bengals could very well decide which team gets that coveted second spot. Cincinnati is at home, where it's unbeaten this season, giving it the advantage.

The real intrigue comes in the race for the second wild card. The defending champion Baltimore Ravens are currently sitting in sixth place, but there are eight other teams within two games of the playoff berth, which could lead to chaos down the stretch.

Baltimore should be able to take care of business against the Minnesota Vikings at home, which should keep it out front for at least another week.

A couple of games featuring chasing teams to keep tabs on feature the Oakland Raiders against the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Each week, a couple more teams will watch their hopes fade.

 

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