X

NFL Playoff Picture Week 14: Breaking Down AFC and NFC Postseason Outlook

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 2, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 24: Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks looks on against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 24, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The most competitive NFL playoff races could be for home-field advantage in the AFC and NFC. 

Baltimore and New England are on top of the AFC, while Seattle could create a three-way tie at 10-2 atop the NFC with a win over Minnesota on Monday. 

While the contests for the No. 1 seed gained intrigue after Week 13's results, the respective wild-card races gained some clarity. 

Buffalo is the clear front-runner for the AFC's No. 5 seed, and Pittsburgh and Tennessee gained separation from the rest of the contenders. 

Even if they lose to Seattle on Monday Night Football, the Vikings would still be in good shape to earn a wild-card spot with few contenders in good position to challenge them. 

                 

NFL Standings

AFC 

Division Leaders

1. Baltimore (10-2) 

2. New England (10-2) 

3. Houston (8-4) 

4. Kansas City (8-4) 

Baltimore overtook New England for the No. 1 seed after the Patriots fell to Houston on Sunday night. The Ravens own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the AFC East leader, but they are not guaranteed home-field advantage yet. 

John Harbaugh's team visits Buffalo in Week 14 and could take on a Pittsburgh team in Week 17 that might need a win to clinch a wild-card position. 

After Sunday's home meeting with Kansas City, New England visits Cincinnati and then hosts Buffalo and Miami. 

The Bills are the true wild card in this situation because if they beat the top two AFC teams, they could finish in a three-way tie at 13-3 with a victory over Baltimore and splitting their series with New England. 

In that situation, Buffalo would earn the top spot through a better conference record than the Patriots since they would both sit at 5-1 in the AFC East. If the Ravens win in Week 14, they would remain as the front-runner for the No. 1 seed. 

Houston is in good shape right now, but it still has two divisional hurdles to clear to secure a home playoff game. 

The Texans face Tennessee in Weeks 15 and 17. At the moment, the Titans are one game behind in the AFC South and have an additional divisional loss compared to Bill O'Brien's team. 

Kansas City could complicate the order of the top four seeds by downing the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. 

If that happens and the Patriots lose another game, the AFC East leader may slip to No. 4 due to losses to Houston and Kansas City. 

The Chiefs have a two-game AFC West buffer on Oakland and their final two divisional contests are at home, so they should lock up that crown with relative ease. 

                

Wild-Card Race

5. Buffalo (9-3)

6. Pittsburgh (7-5) 

7. Tennessee (7-5) 

8. Oakland (6-6) 

9. Indianapolis (6-6) 

10. Cleveland (5-7) 

11. Jacksonville (4-8) 

12. Denver (4-8)

13. Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) 

14. New York Jets (4-8) 

Buffalo passed a huge test in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day to move to 9-3. 

Even if the Bills fall to the Ravens, they will enter their Week 15 Sunday night clash with Pittsburgh as the No. 5 seed. If Sean McDermott's team wins that contest, all it has to do is beat either New England or the New York Jets to land the first wild-card position. 

Pittsburgh finishes December with three of four games on the road, starting in Week 14 against Arizona. Mike Tomlin's squad should be able to qualify for the postseason at 9-7, as long as they beat the Cardinals and Jets. 

Tennessee has the most difficult schedule of the wild-card contenders, as it visits Oakland, plays Houston twice and hosts New Orleans. 

The Titans are 5-2 with Ryan Tannehill under center, but a Week 14 defeat could drag the Raiders and Indianapolis back into the race. 

Oakland owns a win over the Colts, and a triumph over the Titans would make it the main contender to the Steelers for the No. 6 seed. 

With Jacksonville, the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver to conclude the season, Jon Gruden's team could make a late push. 

The Colts finish with three games against NFC South foes and a road trip to Jacksonville. Losses to Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tennessee, as well as a 5-6 conference record, put them in a less-than-ideal situation. 

Cleveland may linger on the fringe of the wild-card competition since it plays Cincinnati twice and faces Arizona. But the Browns can't afford an eighth loss, which means they have to beat Baltimore for the second time in Week 16 to have a realistic chance at the No. 6 seed. 

                                

NFC

Division Leaders

1. San Francisco (10-2) 

2. New Orleans (10-2) 

3. Green Bay (9-3)

4. Dallas (6-6) 

San Francisco's loss brought drama to the home-field advantage race, as New Orleans and Seattle could be level with the Niners at 10-2. 

If Pete Carroll's team downs Minnesota on Monday, it will take over the NFC West lead on a head-to-head tiebreaker from its road win over the Seahawks in Week 3.

Sean Payton's team could put a tighter grip on the top spot by beating San Francisco at home in Week 14. After that, the NFC South leader plays Indianapolis, Tennessee and Carolina, while the 49ers host Atlanta and the Los Angeles Rams before a Week 17 trip to Seattle. 

Seattle's ideal situation features the 49ers beating the Saints and then a Week 17 triumph at home to clinch the top spot. 

Green Bay can't be counted out yet, as it sits one game behind the leaders with Washington, Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit left on the schedule. The Packers have to hope for the 49ers to lose twice, thereby  taking away the head-to-head tiebreaker earned by Kyle Shanahan's team in Week 13. 

If the Saints, Seahawks and Packers finish with the same record, Matt LaFleur's team may have a shot at home-field advantage with a possible 10-2 conference mark. 

The NFC East winner will have the No. 4 seed, but right now, it looks like neither Dallas nor Philadelphia wants the title. The Cowboys lost to the Bills on Thanksgiving Day, and the Eagles stumbled in Miami on Sunday. 

Dallas and Philadelphia meet Week 16 at Lincoln Financial Field, and Doug Pederson's team has the easier schedule with two upcoming contests versus the New York Giants and Washington. Jason Garrett's side plays Chicago and the Los Angeles Rams before visiting Philadelphia and closing out with the Redskins. 

                        

Wild-Card Race

5. Seattle (9-2)

6. Minnesota (8-3) 

7. Los Angeles Rams (7-5)

8. Chicago (6-6) 

9. Tampa Bay (5-7) 

10. Philadelphia (5-7) 

11. Carolina (5-7) 

As we mentioned above, a Seattle win over Minnesota would rearrange the order of the NFC West. However, it would keep the second-place team in the No. 5 seed with Minnesota two games back. 

The Rams need the Vikings to lose in order to pull within one game of the No. 6 seed, but they face a tough conclusion to the campaign. Los Angeles hosts Seattle in Week 14 and then visits Dallas and San Francisco before its second meeting with Arizona. 

Chicago is technically still alive as well, but it has to face Dallas, Green Bay, Kansas City and Minnesota in the final four weeks. Making up a two-game gap on the Vikings is possible, but the Bears need the Rams to exit the picture to make the Week 17 trip to U.S. Bank Stadium meaningful.

The Rams own a win over Matt Nagy's team. If Minnesota collapses and the Rams and Bears finish with the same record, Sean McVay's side would get in.

                   

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.