No team is flying higher than the Philadelphia Eagles through 15 weeks of the 2017 NFL season.
Despite losing quarterback Carson Wentz to a torn ACL in Week 14, the Eagles defeated the New York Giants 34-29 on Sunday behind four touchdown passes from backup Nick Foles, good enough to clinch a first-round bye in the postseason and maintain their status as the top seed in the NFC.
At the top of the opposite conference, the New England Patriots won a thrilling Sunday showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 to secure their ninth straight AFC East title and a playoff spot with it, as well as move into the top spot in the AFC.
The Patriots sealed the win in the final seconds on a Duron Harmon interception, just two plays after a would-be winning touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to tight end Jesse James was reversed by the officials.
Here's the wild finish, per NFL:
PICKED! 😱😱😱 #NEvsPIT https://t.co/4OerTkMB5c2017-12-18 00:19:31
And here's KXAN's John Dabkovich's take on the controversial ruling by the officials just two plays prior, the latest chapter in the ongoing saga on what exactly constitutes a catch in the NFL:
John Dabkovich @JohnDabkovich
If you catch a ball and have 2 feet or a knee in bounds it's a completed pass. Also, if the first atom of the ball crosses the goal line, it's a TD But if you catch it, get a knee down and the ball crosses the plane, that's NOT a TD. #NEvsPIT #steelers #herewego https://t.co/wBNlrYsz3v2017-12-18 00:31:12
While the teams at the top did well to establish their dominance, plenty of other squads secured playoff spots or improved their position in the push for the postseason.
Here's an updated look at the NFL playoff picture after Sunday's main slate of games.
NFL Playoff Picture
1. New England Patriots (11-3)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4)
4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)
5. Tennessee Titans (8-6) (Wild Card)
6. Buffalo Bills (8-6) (Wild Card)
7. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
8. Los Angeles Chargers (7-7)
9. Oakland Raiders (6-8)
10. Miami Dolphins (6-8)
1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-2) (First-round bye)
2. Minnesota Vikings (11-3)
3. Los Angeles Rams (10-4)
4. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
5. Carolina Panthers (10-4) (Wild Card)
6. Atlanta Falcons (8-5) (Wild Card)
7. Detroit Lions (8-6)
8. Seattle Seahawks (8-6)
9. Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
10. Green Bay Packers (7-7)
Five teams have secured playoff spots through Week 15: the Steelers, Patriots, Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings.
The Patriots, Jaguars and Vikings all accomplished that task Sunday, while the Steelers and Eagles did it in Week 14. For the Jaguars, their playoff ticket might be more treasured than others, as it marks their first trip to the postseason since 2007. as ESPN's Field Yates notes, the Jaguars have come a long way from several years of ineptitude:
Field Yates @FieldYates
In April, the Jaguars became the first team in the modern era of the NFL draft to pick in the top five for five straight seasons. Today, they clinch a playoff spot. Incredible turnaround.2017-12-17 21:21:45
A first-round bye is still in the offering if the Jags can manage to win their final two games and see the Steelers and/or Patriots falter at the end. They are also oh-so-close to clinching the AFC South with a two-game lead over the Tennessee Titans with two games to play.
The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 30-13 on Saturday on the strength of four takeaways. The Chiefs hold a one-game lead over the Chargers in the AFC West, who have battled back from a 0-4 start but have dimming playoff hopes after the loss.
The Bolts get the Jets and Raiders in their final two games, both very winnable, but the Chiefs should also feel confident about holding on to the division with the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos on the schedule to close out the regular season.
Of course, the Chargers still have an extremely slim shot at the postseason via the wild card. Right now, the Buffalo Bills and Titans hold the spots with 8-6 records, though the latter could have done much more to improve their chances had they not lost 25-23 to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. That loss keeps the door open wider for the likes of the Chargers, Ravens and Dolphins.
The Titans will certainly rue the missed opportunity, as WGRZ's Jonah Javad notes they have tough opposition in their final two games:
Jonah Javad @JonahJavad
Good as Gould! #49ers walk-off win vs. #Titans. HUGE for #Bills (8-6) playoff hopes. Titans (8-6) still hold 1st Wild Card, but final 2 games: vs. #LARams (10-4) vs. #Jaguars (10-4)2017-12-18 00:38:18
Over in the NFC, the Eagles are in control for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, though the Minnesota Vikings are right behind them at 11-3 and likely feeling pretty confident after a 34-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that saw them wrap up the NFC North.
The Los Angeles Rams crushed the Seattle Seahawks 42-7 on Sunday and now have a two-game lead in the NFC West with two weeks remaining. Todd Gurley was the hero for the Rams, rushing for 152 yards and three scores while adding a touchdown reception to boot.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Recap of Todd Gurley’s 4 TD day. https://t.co/XbBDUhWRMS2017-12-18 00:23:16
The NFC South remains a virtual toss-up with two weeks to go. The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers both moved to 10-4 with wins over the New York Jets and Green Bay Packers, respectively. The Saints maintain the division lead, but they have to play the 8-5 Atlanta Falcons in Week 16, while the Panthers get the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Cowboys have no hopes of catching the soaring Eagles in the NFC East, so a wild-card berth is their only ticket into the postseason. Sunday's win vs. the Raiders moves them to 8-6 and puts them in good position over the final two weeks, though a win by the Falcons over the Buccaneers (already eliminated from playoff contention) on Monday night would diminish their chances of making a return trip to the playoffs.
A Falcons win would also officially eliminate the Packers from the playoffs, though their chances are already incredibly remote after a loss to the Panthers Sunday.