NFL Playoffs 2011: Key Games Left on Each Potential Playoff Team's Schedule
The second half of the NFL season is underway and the playoff picture is slowly taking shape.
While a team like the Packers seems almost guaranteed to make the playoffs, a team like the Oakland Raiders is going to have some fighting to do.
As playoff contenders build up their resumes, some crucial matchups could determine a few teams' fate. Here is a look at key games coming up for some potential playoff teams.
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
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The AFC East is a three-way battle right now between the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.
With the AFC East likely to gain a wild card bid, two of these teams will make it and one will not.
If the playoff spots have not already been determined by the final week of the season, the New England Patriots Jan. 1 home game against the Buffalo Bills could be particularly crucial.
The Bills edged out the Patriots the first time the teams played, and this game could be a deciding factor.
With that said, New England's matchup with the Jets next week could be equally important, especially coming off back-to-back losses.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
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Sitting atop the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals have definitely overachieved thus far into the season.
Still, they still have two critical division matchups against the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers left to help prove their case.
With the Ravens having beat the Steelers in both of their head-to-head matchups this season, the Bengals most important game may be against the Ravens, but they will likely need to win at least two of these four to reach the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
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Piggybacking off the last slide, Pittsburgh's Week 10 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals may be the most important game on their schedule.
Having already lost both matchups to the Ravens, the Steelers are going to have to win at least one, if not both, of their games against the Bengals.
San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders
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The AFC West is another tight race with Oakland, San Diego and Kansas City all neck and neck. However, with a Thursday night road win against San Diego, Oakland took a small lead in the race.
In the event that it comes down to these two teams, the Chargers have set themselves up for a tough challenge, facing a crucial Week 17 matchup on the road against the Raiders.
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears
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At 8-0, the Green Bay Packers are the runaway favorite to win the NFC North, but it's currently looking like the NFC North will receive a wild card bid.
With that said, the Lions' upcoming matchup with the Chicago Bears will be especially crucial in determining Chicago's playoff fate.
The Lions are 6-2 and the Bears are 5-3; a win for the Lions would put them in comfortable position for at least a wild card, but a loss puts the Bears right back in the race.
Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints
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The Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints are in a close battle in the NFC South, with the Saints at 6-3 and the Falcons 5-3.
The two teams still have both matchups against each other left—in Week 10, Atlanta hosts New Orleans, and Week 16, the Saints host the Falcons.
If Atlanta can win at home this week, the Week 16 game in New Orleans could determine both teams' playoff standings.