With two weeks plus a Monday Night Football game remaining in the NFL regular season, the top teams are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
The New England Patriots continued their AFC dominance after clinching a bye in the playoffs for the sixth straight year in Week 15. The Carolina Panthers moved to 14-0, and even the Houston Texans and Washington reached .500 to stop at least some of the jokes surrounding their mediocre divisions.
Let's take a look at how the AFC and NFC wild-card pictures are shaping up, overall standings heading into Week 16 and a quick glance at which teams are favored to win Super Bowl 50.
All four Wild-Card Spots Still Up in the Air
|Wild-Card Playoff Picture|
|No. 5||Kansas City Chiefs 9-5||Seattle Seahawks 9-5|
|No. 6||Pittsburgh Steelers 9-5||Minnesota Vikings 9-5|
|Still in the hunt||New York Jets 9-5||Atlanta Falcons 7-7|
Only the Seattle Seahawks have wrapped up a wild-card spot with two weeks remaining, but there are only six teams still eligible for the four respective playoff spots and no seeds have been clinched.
In the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets are still alive for the wild-card spots. One will be eliminated, with the Jets currently on the outside looking in. All three teams are hot, as the Steelers have won three in a row, the Jets four and the Chiefs eight.
Kansas City's streak stands alone in the history books, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The Chiefs also host the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders the final two weeks of the season, giving them a good chance at one of the spots. However, Kansas City only trails the Denver Broncos by one game and holds the tiebreaker, which means it may not need to rely on the wild card.
Pittsburgh has the Baltimore Ravens and Browns remaining, while the Jets host New England and travel to play the Buffalo Bills.
The NFC wild-card picture is a little more clear. Seattle has a spot wrapped up, while the Atlanta Falcons trail the Minnesota Vikings by two games with two to play.
Atlanta got a much-needed victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15, but it plays the Carolina Panthers next week, which will put an end to its playoff hopes.
Even though Seattle will be a wild-card team, it's a squad nobody wants to play right now.
Quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown 19 touchdowns and no interceptions his past five games, while Doug Baldwin has had one of the most prolific four-game stretches in NFL history for a wide receiver, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Good luck to whichever team draws the two-time defending NFC champions, which, at the moment, is Washington.
Teams Starting to Lock Up Division Championships
|2015 NFL Standings|
|AFC East||Record||NFC East||Record|
|New England Patriots||12-2||Washington||7-7|
|New York Jets||9-5||Philadelphia Eagles||6-8|
|Buffalo Bills||6-8||New York Giants||6-8|
|Miami Dolphins||5-9||Dallas Cowboys||4-10|
|AFC North||Record||NFC North||Record|
|Cincinnati Bengals||11-3||Green Bay Packers||10-4|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||9-5||Minnesota Vikings||9-5|
|Baltimore Ravens||4-10||Chicago Bears||5-9|
|Cleveland Browns||3-11||Detroit Lions||4-9|
|AFC South||Record||NFC South||Record|
|Houston Texans||7-7||Carolina Panthers||14-0|
|Indianapolis Colts||6-8||Atlanta Falcons||7-7|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||5-9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||6-8|
|Tennessee Titans||3-11||New Orleans Saints||5-8|
|AFC West||Record||NFC West||Record|
|Denver Broncos||10-4||Arizona Cardinals||12-2|
|Kansas City Chiefs||9-5||Seattle Seahawks||9-5|
|Oakland Raiders||6-8||St. Louis Rams||6-8|
|San Diego Chargers||4-10||San Francisco 49ers||4-10|
The Patriots, Arizona Cardinals and Panthers have wrapped up their respective divisions, while the other five will come down to the final two weekends.
Kansas City and Denver are providing the most drama to this point. While Washington and the Houston Texans also lead their divisions by one game, the mediocrity has turned off fans.
In the AFC West, the surging Chiefs have turned a once five-game deficit into one after picking up their eighth straight victory in Week 15.
Denver is down to its second-string quarterback in Brock Osweiler, while Kansas City is using its second and third running backs but still scoring 28.2 points per game in its last five and playing better than any team in the AFC, per NFL on ESPN:
As noted earlier, the Chiefs have a great shot to win their final two games, and if they do and Denver loses one of its final two, Kansas City will have its first division championship since 2010.
The offense has been hot, but so has the defense, allowing just 12.3 points per game during the streak. Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith likes what he is seeing from his defense, per ESPN.com: "They've kind of got that mojo," Smith said. "The defense, you see them kind of salivate, so to speak."
With the way they are playing, the wild card may be a distant memory for the Chiefs and belong to the Broncos once the playoffs start.
Who Will Take Super Bowl 50?
|Current Super Bowl Odds for Top 10 Teams|
|New England Patriots||+375|
|Green Bay Packers||+1000|
|Kansas City Chiefs||+1600|
|New York Giants*||+5000|
|New York Jets*||+5000|
|OddsShark as of Dec. 14. *Tied for 10th|
The Panthers unsurprisingly are the favorites to win Super Bowl 50, but once the playoffs start, it's a new season for everyone.
In fact, even if Carolina wins out in the regular season, it means nothing in regard to the Super Bowl. Ask the 2007 Patriots how that worked out after they lost the Super Bowl with an 18-0 record.
That being said, it's going to be hard to bet against Cam Newton and the Panthers, per LaDainian Tomlinson of NFL Network:
Especially if they keep scoring at the same clip, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The Patriots are always going to be a tough out, but if the injuries keep piling up for them, it could be hard to get through a grueling playoff.
The Cincinnati Bengals might have the most overall talent, although they're currently playing without starting quarterback Andy Dalton. Arizona poses a huge threat to Carolina, but the Cards have had injuries to starting wide receivers and running backs that could hamper them.
Carolina is staying healthy and has one of the best quarterbacks in the game. Right now, the Panthers stand alone as the favorites, although Seattle is closing the gap fast with the play of Wilson, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The road to San Francisco for Super Bowl 50 should be a fun one.