NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Breaking Down Postseason Outlook Ahead of Week 15

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 24:  Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens throws a first half pass against the New York Jets at M&T Bank Stadium on November 24, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Another week down and a little more clarity added to the NFL playoff picture. With that said, only three of the 12 postseason berths have been officially wrapped up with three weeks left to play, leaving plenty of drama for the stretch run.

Heading into Week 15, there are still races for first-round byes, divisional crowns and wild-card berths. And with so many teams still in the mixespecially in the race for the No. 6 seed in the AFCthe margin for error is extremely thin.

Even the top teams in their respective conferences, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, still have work left to do.

Knowing that, let's look ahead to how things break down for Week 15. To see where every team stands right now, visit the league's official site.



DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 5: Wes Welker #83 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with Eric Decker #87 of the Denver Broncos after catching a touchdown pass in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens during the game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High o
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Teams on the outside looking in at the AFC playoffs were hoping at least one of the top five seeds would begin to self-destruct in Week 14, but they didn't get their wish.

The only squad in that group to lose was the Indianapolis Colts, who clinched a playoff berth anyway thanks to old buddy Peyton Manning.

With a comeback win over the Tennessee Titans, Manning and the Broncos kept hold of the top seed in the AFC. Denver's only two losses have come on the road, including one to the second-seeded New England Patriots, so maintaining that spot is key to its playoff chances.

The Patriots are not only trying to earn home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs, but also trying to hold off the Cincinnati Bengals for a bye. Cincinnati knocked off Indianapolis to take control of third, which would ensure a matchup with the lower-ranked Wild Card if it isn't able to get a bye.

With the Kansas City Chiefs well on their way to locking up one of the wild-card berths, the most intriguing race in the AFC is for the other one.

Only one team, the Houston Texans, has been mathematically eliminated from the race.

Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens, who currently hold the No. 6 position, know as well as anybody that simply getting into the playoffs is enough. Anything can happen from there, as they showed during their Super Bowl run last season.

The Ravens face a difficult test this week, though. They have to go out on the road for a Monday night clash with the Detroit Lions. A loss would open the door for the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and New York Jets, among others.



SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 17:  Running back Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field on November 17, 2013 in Seattle, Washington. T
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Going into San Francisco to face the 49ers on short rest after an emotional win over the New Orleans Saints was always going to be a tall task for the Seattle Seahawks. They lost a hard-fought battle, but still control their own destiny for the top seed.

While a favorable schedule over the final three weeks should leave Seattle in a bye position, the race for the second one is up for grabs. The Saints took an inside track by beating the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but the teams play again in Week 16.

It's an important race because the Saints and Panthers are a combined 12-1 at home, but just 7-6 on the road. So New Orleans has to hold serve against the St. Louis Rams this week to get its slight edge going into the rematch.

The races in the North and East are just as interesting.

In the North, the Lions hold a tiebreaker advantage over the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers are just a half-game back. If Detroit can get past the Ravens this week, it finishes with very winnable games against the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings and will control its own destiny.

The East is down to the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. Philadelphia leads by a game, but the rivals will face off in the regular-season finale. The Eagles will try to lock up a berth before then, but a matchup with the Bears next week is going to pose a problem.

Finally, the Arizona Cardinals are a sleeper contender. They aren't getting much attention due to all of the division races in the NFC, but they are just one game behind both Wild Cards. A tough schedule down the stretch starting against the Titans this week could hold them back, though.