NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Top Storylines Set to Unfold in Coming Weeks

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NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Top Storylines Set to Unfold in Coming Weeks
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL playoff picture is beginning to take shape with Week 15 on the horizon, and while some of the major storylines are obvious, there are some not-so-obvious things going on under the hood of the machine.

Fans know about the majority of the teams in the hunt for a wild card. Fans know which players to watch, when, how and why.

But what about some lesser-known tidbits of info? How about a suffering team still very much in the thick of the playoff race, not to mention a divisional title? Or, a Super Bowl favorite just weeks ago moments from potentially throwing it all away? Or even surprise coaches in danger of losing their jobs?

It is that time of year. Here are some nuggets worth monitoring the rest of the way.

Playoff Standings Heading into Week 15
1 Denver Broncos 11-3
2 New England Patriots 10-3
3 Cincinnati Bengals 9-4
4 Indianapolis Colts 8-5
5 Kansas City Chiefs 10-3
6 Baltimore Ravens 7-6
1 Seattle Seahawks 11-2
2 New Orleans Saints 10-3
3 Philadelphia Eagles 8-5
4 Detroit Lions 7-6
5 Carolina Panthers 9-4
6 San Francisco 49ers 9-4

AFC & NFC Wild Card Outlook Before Week 15
AFC Wild Card W L
Kansas City Chiefs 10 3
Baltimore Ravens 7 6
Miami Dolphins 7 6
San Diego Chargers 7 7
New York Jets 6 7
Tennessee Titans 5 8
Pittsburgh Steelers 5 8
NFC Wild Card
Carolina Panthers 9 4
San Francisco 49ers 9 4
Arizona Cardinals 8 5
Chicago Bears 7 6
Dallas Cowboys 7 6

Green Bay in the Hunt

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers, despite a 6-6-1 record, are very much alive in the playoff hunt.

Oh, and the hunt for the NFC North crown.

The Packers are only a half-game behind Detroit (7-6) and Chicago (7-6) in the division. Green Bay split the season series with Detroit and has a chance to do so with Chicago when the two sides meet in Week 17.

But the Packers have to win two games before their trip to Solider Field. For at least Week 15, they will once again have to do so without quarterback Aaron Rodgers as head coach Mike McCarthy explained via Vic Ketchman of the team's official site:

Aaron Rodgers is declared out for Sunday’s game. It’s been a difficult morning going through the conversation with Aaron and Dr. McKenzie. He’s very disappointed. He’s frustrated. He was not scanned this morning. He felt like he was ready to play. It’s in our best interests as a football team for Aaron not to play.

As ESPN illustrates, that is bad news for Green Bay:

However, it is somewhat a surprise the Packers have managed to stay in the hunt. They are 1-4-1 in their last six, and must make the trip to take on Dallas next week.

Rodgers sounds close to a return. In the meantime, Green Bay gets a shot at a defense that ranks horribly against the pass (No. 32) and rush (No. 28). Anything is possible. Stay tuned.

Denver Choking Away No. 1 Seed

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos opened up a can of worms of the AFC playoff variety on the Week 15 edition of Thursday Night Football.

The Broncos were upended at home 27-20 by the San Diego Chargers, which in turn has opened the door for a few different scenarios as it pertains to the No. 1 seed. Now .500 in their last four games, the Broncos are not the favorite they once were to claim the top spot.

As ESPN's Mike Reiss reports, the New England Patriots now control their own destiny as it pertains to the top seed:

With games against Miami (7-6), Baltimore (7-6) and Buffalo (4-9) to close the season, fans know better than to put the feat past Tom Brady.

Heck, even 9-4 Cincinnati has an outside shot at the No. 1 seed now. The AFC North leaders must win out and get help from losses by Denver, New England and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Still, Denver has the most favorable remaining schedule of all against Houston (2-11) and Oakland (4-9). But crazier things have happened, and the Broncos giving away the top seed is not all that outlandish.

Coaches on the Hot Seat

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Which playoff hopeful is most in danger of losing his job?

Submit Vote vote to see results

The hot seat is a common occurrence this time of year, but forget the obvious stuff like coaches of teams with miserable records—bigger names on the cusp of playoff berths could get the ax this year.

Time is about up for a few names. Look at Jason Garrett in Dallas. The 7-6 Cowboys have lost the NFC East lead to Philadelphia and are in grave danger of going 8-8 for the third straight year.

Should Dallas miss the postseason, Garrett has to be gone, right?

Look at Jim Schwartz in Detroit. The 7-6 Lions should win the NFC North, but a collapse resulting in a wild card or worse could spell the end to an era. They already had a mini-collapse after a 6-3 start. Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News thinks Schwartz's job should be on the line the rest of the way:

One could even make an argument for Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Yes, it is only Kelly's first year, but it is hard to remember such hype around a rookie coach. The Eagles are 8-5 and lead the NFC East, but tough games against Chicago and Dallas close the season.

Philadelphia has won five straight, but knowing that town with those expectations, is Kelly one Nick Foles mediocre streak away from the open market?

Hard to say, but keep a watchful eye. Not every organization and set of fans will put up with just missing the postseason.

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