NFL Playoff Picture Week 13: Updated AFC, NFC Wild Card Scenarios, Predictions

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2016

Dak Prescott has led the Cowboys to the best record in the NFL.
Dak Prescott has led the Cowboys to the best record in the NFL.Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

The last month of the year means that the NFL season has taken shape, and it's a fight to the finish from this point forward.

At this point, every team knows where they stand and every coach knows his team's capabilities. There are few surprises when it comes to talent and ability. 

However, now that the NFL has reached its final full month of the regular season, coaches can unleash certain strategic changes that give their team a better chance to win and earn a playoff position.

The Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns have four regular-season games remaining, the remaining 28 teams have five games remaining.

Here's a look at the playoff standings heading into Sunday's action, and we'll examine potential Wild Card scenarios as the season hits the home stretch.

LeGarrette Blount
LeGarrette BlountThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In the AFC, the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders appear to be in a tight race for the No. 1 seed. 

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Both teams have 9-2 records, and while the Pats are almost always near the top of the standings, the Raiders have been one of the biggest surprises in the league.

After hosting Buffalo this week, the Raiders have three tough games against their AFC West rivals in the final four weeks, and it could be difficult to stay with the Patriots.

The Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans are leading the AFC North and AFC South, respectively, but both teams are in tenuous positions with their 6-5 records.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are also 6-5, but the Ravens hold the current edge because they won their first meeting of the year with the Steelers. The two teams will meet again in Pittsburgh in Week 16.

The Texans have a half-game lead over the Titans and a one-game lead over the Indianapolis Colts, and their divisional lead could disappear if they lose on the road at Green Bay Sunday.

The Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins are holding down the two AFC Wild Card spots, and both have been playing solid and consistent football. The Chiefs should have an excellent chance at chasing down the Raiders, while the Dolphins have found a running game with Jay Ajayi and have seen their defense improve in recent weeks.

The Cowboys have been the dominant team in the NFC, having reeled off 11 straight wins after losing to the New York Giants in Week 1. Dallas has met several significant challenges this season from hungry teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, the Washington Redskins and Minnesota, and they have a two-game lead in the NFC East over the Giants.

New York has won six in a row and features a dynamic passing game with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., but the Giants have a tough closing schedule that includes Pittsburgh, Dallas, the Detroit Lions and Washington. The Giants are in an excellent position to earn a Wild Card spot heading into Sunday's game at Pittsburgh, but they have several difficult games in front of them.

The Redskins have the No. 2 Wild Card spot at this point, and they will have to play three of their final five games on the road.

The Lions have garnered the top spot in the NFC North, and that's a surprising development. The Green Bay Packers and Vikings were expected to battle for that position, but the Lions have shown the ability to play come-from-behind football and avoid key turnovers.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has matured into an excellent quarterback, and he has completed 66.8 percent of his passes and has a 19-5 TD-interception ratio.

The Vikings have lost six of their last seven games following a 5-0 start, and they will have a difficult time running down the Lions. Minnesota dropped both of its regular-season games against Detroit.

The Packers have been struggling badly with a defense that allowed 38.3 points per game in its previous four games before beating Philadelphia 27-13 Monday night.

The Seattle Seahawks have a three-game lead over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West, while the Atlanta Falcons have a two-game lead in the NFC South.

Pass-rusher Dee Ford of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Pass-rusher Dee Ford of the Kansas City Chiefs.Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Predictions

Look for the Patriots to earn the top seed in the AFC even though they have almost certainly lost tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season. 

The Raiders will not hold onto the lead in the AFC West, as the consistent Chiefs will catch and pass them in the final weeks of the regular season.

Look for the Steelers to win the AFC North, while the upstart Tennessee Titans will steal the AFC South.

The Raiders will win the top Wild Card spot, while the Buffalo Bills will rally to edge out the Dolphins for the second Wild Card spot.

The Cowboys will earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and the Lions, Falcons and Seahawks will hold onto their current division leads and secure those playoff spots.

The Giants are in for a rough finish, and the belief here is that they will lose four of their final five games. That will open the door for the Redskins to take the top Wild Card spot and for the Green Bay Packers to corral the final spot.

The Packers will win four of their final five to finish with the same 9-7 record as the Giants, and since Green Bay beat New York in Week 5, the Packers will go to the playoffs.