It is crunch time in the NFL with playoffs on the horizon.
For now, the outcome of Week 14 has given us a solid look at the top seeds in both the NFC and AFC. Division crowns are still up for grabs in some, but for the most part we have a good idea of which teams will be in the top four in each bracket.
The wild card is a different story. Two teams from each conference currently clutch the No. 5 and 6 spots, but what about the teams close behind with three weeks to go?
Suffice to say, the last few weeks will be chaotic. The teams currently on the outside looking in if the playoffs started today still have a legit shot to sneak in with a strong finish.
|Playoff Standings Heading into Week 15|
|2||New England Patriots||10-3|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||10-3|
|2||New Orleans Saints||10-3|
|6||San Francisco 49ers||9-4|
|AFC & NFC Wild Card Outlook Before Week 15|
|AFC Wild Card||W||L|
|Kansas City Chiefs||10||3|
|San Diego Chargers||6||7|
|New York Jets||6||7|
|NFC Wild Card|
|San Francisco 49ers||9||4|
7. Miami Dolphins (7-6)
Don't sleep on the Miami Dolphins.
Week 14 was a major 34-28 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers despite adverse weather conditions that a team from Florida is surely not accustomed to battling.
The Dolphins have won two in a row and return home in Week 15 for a date with New England. The Dolphins lost to the Patriots in Week 8, 27-17, but this time the Patriots will be without tight end Rob Gronkowski (who is out for the year, per ESPN). The Dolphins held Tom Brady to 116 yards with a touchdown and interception in Foxborough.
A three-point loss to Baltimore in Week 5 is all that currently holds the Dolphins back.
Remaining Schedule: vs. Patriots (10-3), at Bills (4-9), vs. Jets (6-7)
8. San Diego Chargers (6-7)
Watch out for San Diego, too. The Chargers have won two out of their last three, including a major Week 12 win at Arrowhead Stadium over Kansas City.
Coincidentally enough, the Chiefs stand in the Chargers' way to close the season, but that dance will take place at Qualcomm Stadium.
Quarterback Philip Rivers (3,882 yards, 26 touchdowns) continues his return to prominence under coach Mike McCoy, which means San Diego has a better shot of gunning its way in than many think.
Remaining Schedule: at Broncos (11-2), vs. Raiders (4-9), vs. Chiefs (10-3)
9. New York Jets (6-7)
Rex Ryan's defense has been a mixed bag, and the overall ranks against the pass (No. 24) and run (No. 2) do well to demonstrate the strengths and struggles for New York this year.
The Jets would be in a much better position had they been able to win more games in the AFC, but the 3-7 mark in conference play holds the team back.
Two of the Jets' next three come against the conference, so it is now or never for rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who has seven interceptions to one touchdown in his last five games.
Remaining Schedule: at Panthers (9-4), vs. Browns (4-8), at Dolphins (7-6)
7. Arizona Cardinals (8-5)
The Arizona Cardinals continue to be a legitimate contender lost in the NFL's best division.
Arizona is propped up by an elite defense that allows an average of 19.8 points per game—only six teams allow fewer. From here on out, the unit will have to survive without starting rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu, who tore his ACL per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
The Cardinals have won five of their last six, but a brutal three-game stretch to close the season will sort the team into either the contender or pretender column.
Remaining Schedule: at Titans (5-8), at Seahawks (11-2), vs. 49ers (9-4)
8. Chicago Bears (7-6)
The Week 14 edition of Monday Night Football did much to help sort out the NFC picture.
Chicago embarrassed the Dallas Cowboys 45-28 thanks to another strong effort from backup quarterback Josh McCown.
While the win moved the Bears into a tie for first with Detroit in the NFC North, the Bears likely need to win out the rest of the way because McCown and Co. were swept by the Lions this season.
As friendly as the remaining schedule appears at face value, remember that Cleveland would love nothing more than to play spoiler, Philadelphia wants to remain in first in the NFC East and Green Bay has distant playoff hopes and a certain quarterback who may yet return this year.
Remaining Schedule: at Browns (4-9), at Eagles (8-5), vs. Packers (6-6-1)
9. Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys were on the wrong end of that blowout on Monday night.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's unit simply cannot help itself when it comes to giving up points. It is a fantasy football spectacle every time the unit takes the field—Monday marked the third time the Cowboys surrendered at least 45 points this year.
The silver lining? The Cowboys have a favorable remaining schedule. Week 15 is Green Bay, a team that may or may not have its starting quarterback. The following weeks are games against Washington and Philadelphia, teams the Cowboys have already defeated this year.
If the Cowboys are going to overcome the schedule, it will take an impressive performance from the offense each week against mediocre defenses, because Kiffin's unit will not be doing anything to pitch in and help.
Remaining Schedule: vs. Packers (6-6-1), at Redskins (3-10), vs. Eagles (8-5)