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

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 6, 2021

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

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    The 2021 NFL playoff picture is fascinating.

    The AFC North and AFC West are as crowded as can be. The AFC East looks like it should belong to the Buffalo Bills on paper, but they're sitting in second and sandwiched between two of the hottest teams in football.

    The NFC is a bit more straightforward with every division leader enjoying at least a two-game cushion. Switch the focus to the wild-card race, though, and you'll find a traffic jam featuring every non-division leader but the Detroit Lions.

    It's all a mess, so let's try to clean it up with deeper dives into each conference before predicting how things could play out.

AFC Outlook

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    Division Leaders

    1. New England (8-4)

    2. Tennessee (8-4)

    3. Baltimore (8-4)

    4. Kansas City (8-4)


    Wild-Card Race

    5. Buffalo (7-4)

    6. Los Angeles Chargers (7-5)

    7. Cincinnati (7-5)

    8. Pittsburgh (6-5-1)

    9. Indianapolis (7-6)

    10. Las Vegas (6-6)

    11. Cleveland (6-6)

    12. Denver (6-6)

    13. Miami (6-7)


    Don't bother studying these standings too closely. The top-seeded Patriots could fall all the way to No. 5 if they fall to the Bills on Monday night.

    The Titans are sitting pretty in the No. 2 spot, as they would climb to No. 1 with a New England loss on MNF and might barely break a sweat during the final stretch run. Of Tennessee's final five opponents, only one has a winning record.

    It's a different story for the Ravens at No. 3.

    Lamar Jackson and Co. always seem to find themselves in a nail-biter, and Sunday's loss to the Steelers wasn't sealed until Baltimore failed a two-point conversion in the closing seconds. Baltimore, which has gone .500 since a 5-1 start, doesn't have a game left against an opponent with a sub-.500 record.

    Finally, the fourth-seeded Chiefs might not have their offensive rhythm, but Patrick Mahomes' crew does have a hold on the AFC West thanks to a five-game winning streak. They will face all three division rivals over the final five weeks, including a critical Week 15 trip to L.A., where they will look to avenge a Week 3 loss to Justin Herbert and the Chargers.

NFC Outlook

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    Division Leaders

    1. Arizona (10-2)

    2. Green Bay (9-3)

    3. Tampa Bay (9-3)

    4. Dallas (8-4)


    Wild-Card Race

    5. Los Angeles Rams (8-4)

    6. Washington (6-6)

    7. San Francisco (6-6)

    8. Philadelphia (6-7)

    9. Minnesota (5-7)

    10. Carolina (5-7)

    11. Atlanta (5-7)

    12. New Orleans (5-7)

    13. New York Giants (4-8)

    14. Chicago (4-8)

    15. Seattle (4-8)


    The mostly drama-free division races in the NFC give way to an overcrowded competition for the wild-card spots.

    The Rams are in the driver's seat, although they likely haven't abandoned their NFC West dreams just yet. Matthew Stafford has fit like a glove, Cooper Kupp has made the leap and Odell Beckham Jr. has touchdown catches in back-to-back games. This team is good, which will make for a thrilling Week 14 matchup with the Cardinals on Monday night.

    Washington, meanwhile, ran its conference-leading winning streak to four games on Sunday and still has a chance to track down Dallas. The Football Team and the Cowboys will lock horns twice in the next three weeks, which will determine whether Washington is coming for the division crown or hoping to survive all of the wild-card congestion.

    The 49ers hold the No. 7 spot for now, but they may have missed out on a golden opportunity when they couldn't find their way past the Seahawks on Sunday. San Francisco entered the game on a three-game winning streak, while Seattle came in having lost six of its last seven. But Russell Wilson made just enough big plays, and Jimmy Garoppolo couldn't find a counter punch.


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    It's still too early to make micro projections about which teams will land where in the final playoff bracket. So, why not take a macro view of the field and plot out a few Super Bowl picks instead?

    The NFC is strong at the top, but does anyone have a good reason not to take Tom Brady? The Buccaneers are one of four teams in the NFL with a triple-digit scoring differential, they've lost just two games since September, and Brady leads everyone in passing yards and passing touchdowns at 44 years young.

    The AFC is more about depth than elite talent at the top, so there are halfway reasonable arguments to make about handful of teams. But if the Bills win on Monday night, why couldn't Josh Allen rally them for a Super Bowl run? Their upside is tremendous; they have just had issues with inconsistency. There is still time to iron them out, though, and look out if they do.

    A Bucs-Bills Super Bowl collision could be all kinds of fun, but it would be hard to pick against Brady. Something around a 10-point win for Tampa seems right, with Buffalo coming close enough to perhaps fuel Allen for a championship run down the line.