NFL Playoff Picture Week 13: Latest AFC, NFC Standings and Bracket Scenarios

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistNovember 29, 2018

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 26:  Angelo Blackson #97 of the Houston Texans celebrates after a sack in the third quarter against the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium on November 26, 2018 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Tim Warner/Getty Images

The NFL playoff picture comes into direct focus post-Thanksgiving. With about a month left in the season, teams either push for the postseason or fold under pressure.

It's not always the best team that hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February but rather the squad that rides a hot streak into the playoffs. Late-November and early-December football brings out the best among competitors.

Looking at the standings, a number of clubs have a pathway to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII. Eight squads have at least seven wins. On the flip side, don't count out the handful of teams creeping into the playoff picture after slow starts.

Let's take a look at the records and bracket scenarios and examine the hottest teams as well as the sleeper clubs in each conference.


Week 13 AFC Standings and Playoff Picture

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2, first-round bye)

2. New England Patriots (8-3, first-round bye)

3. Houston Texans (8-3, vs. Baltimore Ravens)

4. Los Angeles Chargers (8-3 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers) 

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1 vs. Los Angeles Chargers) 

6. Baltimore Ravens (6-5 vs. Houston Texans) 

7. Indianapolis Colts (6-5) 

8. Miami Dolphins (5-6)

9. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)

10. Denver Broncos (5-6)

11. Tennessee Titans (5-6) 

12. Cleveland Browns (4-6-1)

13. Buffalo Bills (4-7)

14. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8) 

15. New York Jets (3-8) 

16. Oakland Raiders (2-9)


Hottest AFC Team: Houston Texans

Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

When the Houston Texans opened the season with three consecutive losses, many questioned the buzz surrounding quarterback Deshaun Watson and placed head coach Bill O'Brien on the hot seat. They have since become the first team start 0-3 and rack up eight consecutive wins, per Elias Sports Bureau (h/t ESPN Stats & Info):

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

The @HoustonTexans are the first team in NFL history to win 8 straight games immediately following an 0-3 start (via @EliasSports) https://t.co/bJrTim1cfL

Watson has thrown 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions in his past five outings. Coming off a torn ACL, he's not afraid to tuck the ball and run, logging 345 yards and two scores on the ground. The 23-year-old possesses true qualities of a dual-threat quarterback. Defenses have struggled to spy him with a linebacker and drop enough players in coverage to defend his options downfield.

The Texans' top two pass-rushers, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, have a combined 18.5 sacks, and the defense has been stingy with points, ranking fifth in scoring.

Beneath an impressive 8-3 record, there's one glaring weakness in Houston. Though the unit flashed improvements at certain points this season, the offensive line remains a concern. Watson has taken the third-most sacks (37). In some cases, he must make quicker decisions in the pocket or throw the ball away.


Sleeper AFC Team: Denver Broncos

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 25:  Phillip Lindsay #30 of the Denver Broncos celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Broncos Stadium at Mile High  on November 25, 2018 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos rode a roller coaster through 12 weeks, opening the regular season 2-0 then dropping six of the seven following games and winning the last two contests.

According to Mike Klis of 9News, head coach Vance Joseph assumed some defensive play-calling duties after his group allowed 323 rushing yards to the New York Jets in Week 5. The front office then decided to trade wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who recorded the second-most receiving yards (9,055) in franchise history.

Still, the Broncos have a chance to finish the 2018 campaign with a playoff spot. Quarterback Case Keenum isn't lighting up defenses from the pocket, but he doesn't turn the ball over and leans on a top-10 ground attack to move the chains if necessary.

Undrafted running back Phillip Lindsay has been one of the biggest surprises this year. Somehow, every club passed on him multiple times. Now, he's the seventh-leading rusher with 780 yards. Paired with rookie third-rounder Royce Freeman, who's back in action after missing two games with an ankle injury, Denver has a winning formula.

The Broncos' next four opponents have sub-.500 records. In the season finale, they will host the Los Angeles Chargers, looking for a season series sweep. At 5-6, Denver is in play for a postseason berth.


Week 13 NFC Standings and Playoff Picture

1. New Orleans Saints (10-1, first-round Bye)

2. Los Angeles Rams (10-1, first-round Bye) 

3. Chicago Bears (8-3, vs. Washington Redskins) 

4. Dallas Cowboys (6-5, vs. Minnesota Vikings)

5. Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1, vs. Dallas Cowboys

6. Washington Redskins (6-5, vs. Chicago Bears)

7. Seattle Seahawks (6-5) 

8. Carolina Panthers (6-5) 

9. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) 

10. Green Bay Packers (4-6-1) 

11. Atlanta Falcons (4-7) 

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) 

13. Detroit Lions (4-7) 

14. New York Giants (3-8) 

15. Arizona Cardinals (2-9) 

16. San Francisco 49ers (2-9)


Hottest NFC Team: New Orleans Saints

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07: Mark Ingram #22 of the New Orleans Saints and Alvin Kamara #41 react during the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams started the year 8-0 as the last club to lose a game. For the majority of the season, analysts placed them atop the power rankings—until Week 9.

The Rams traveled to face the New Orleans Saints and ran into an offensive buzz saw. The Saints put up 45 points on Los Angeles' suspect defense, which ranks 20th in scoring and yards allowed.

Overall, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen's group ranks 15th in points and yards allowed—slightly better than the Rams. New Orleans' defense experienced its periodic lapses, but the front line has allowed the fewest rushing yards through 12 weeks. Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport have logged a combined 19 sacks.

With quarterback Drew Brees completing 76.4 percent of his passes and handing off to running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram—both averaging at least 4.7 yards per carry—New Orleans' defense doesn't need to shut down its opponents. The offense leads the league in scoring, putting up a stunning 37.2 points per contest.


Sleeper NFC Team: Seattle Seahawks

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 25:  Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 25, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

OddsShark showed sportsbook set the Seattle Seahawks' win total at eight to open the season, projecting a mediocre year for the club.

General manager John Schneider traded Michael Bennett and released Richard Sherman. Cliff Avril retired because of a neck injury. Kam Chancellor (neck) hasn't been cleared to play. In Week 4, Earl Thomas suffered a lower-leg fracture, ending his season.

Yet the Seahawks rank eighth in points allowed. Unheralded names such as Bradley McDougald and Jarran Reed have elevated their play to compensate for the losses on defense. Shaquill Griffin continues to develop into a solid boundary cornerback. Defensive end Frank Clark will likely sign a massive deal in the offseason; he's recorded 10 sacks in 11 contests. 

Offensively, the Seahawks have established a physical identity in the trenches with the No. 1 ground attack, featuring Chris Carson, Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny. Quarterback Russell Wilson isn't likely to lead the league in passing touchdowns again, but a run-heavy offense allows him to pick his spots. He's also clutch down the stretch. The 29-year-old has engineered three game-winning drives this season.

At 6-5, the Seahawks have three NFC West games left on the schedule—two against the San Francisco 49ers and one with the Arizona Cardinals. A win over the Minnesota Vikings or Kansas City Chiefs at home could seal a 10-win season and an NFC wild-card spot.