Live NFL Playoff Picture Tightens as Chiefs, Bucs Look Poised for Repeat Bids

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 13, 2021

Live NFL Playoff Picture Tightens as Chiefs, Bucs Look Poised for Repeat Bids

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    By the time Week 14 wraps up on Monday night, every team in the NFL will have played exactly 13 games. The home stretch has officially arrived as we prepare for the final four weeks of this extended regular season, and almost nothing is set in stone when it comes to the playoff picture. 

    Incredibly, 26 of the league's 32 teams are either in a playoff spot or within two games of a playoff spot, so the next four weeks should be quite spicy. 

    With that in mind, here's a rundown of the playoff situation in both conferences following the 14th Sunday of the 2021 campaign.

Playoff Picture Through 14 Weeks

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press


    1. New England Patriots (9-4)
    2. Tennessee Titans (9-4)
    3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)
    4. Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
    5. Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)
    6. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

    7. Buffalo Bills (7-6)
    8. Cleveland Browns (7-6)
    9. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
    10. Denver Broncos (7-6)
    11. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)
    12. Las Vegas Raiders (6-7)
    13. Miami Dolphins (6-7)


    1. Arizona Cardinals (10-2)
    2. Green Bay Packers (10-3)
    3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)
    4. Dallas Cowboys (9-4)
    5. Los Angeles Rams (8-4)
    6. San Francisco 49ers (7-6)
    7. Washington Football Team (6-7)
    8. Minnesota Vikings (6-7)
    9. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
    10. Atlanta Falcons (6-7)
    11. New Orleans Saints (6-7)
    12. Carolina Panthers (5-8)
    13. Seattle Seahawks (5-8)

A Repeat of Last Year's Super Bowl Is Increasingly Likely

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Buccaneers peaked at just the right time during their Super Bowl-winning 2020 campaign, and that again appears to be the case for a veteran squad that has won four consecutive games to take firm control of the NFC South. 

    Meanwhile, the reigning AFC champion Chiefs have somewhat quietly won six games in a row to stay atop the AFC West. And while neither team has yet to move into the top spot in either conference, it's become clear there's a good chance we'll have the first repeat Super Bowl since 1993. 

    Tom Brady's squad entered the week ranked first in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders before taking out a Bills team that ranked third in that metric. The Chiefs still rank outside of the top tier in that respect, but they have an edge in terms of pedigree over both the Patriots and Titans since they've gone to the Super Bowl the last two years. 

    Kansas City absolutely smashed a competitive Raiders team 48-9 on Sunday. It was promising that the previously underperforming offense woke up and encouraging that the defense kept rolling. That unit has surrendered fewer than 10 points in three consecutive games and has given up just 10.8 points per game during the team's current six-game win streak. 

    Obviously, the Patriots, Cardinals and Packers can't be discounted, and anybody could emerge, but an encore performance of Super Bowl LV looks like a real strong possibility right now. 

The Bills Are in Trouble

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Meanwhile, one of the league's most hyped teams entering 2021 appears to be on the verge of collapsing. With that loss to Tampa Bay, the Bills are now just 3-5 in their last eight games. 

    The good news is three of their last four games come at home against teams with losing records, but the bad news is the other comes in New England. Buffalo has also formed somewhat of a habit of slipping up against inferior opponents this season, so a 2-2 or 1-3 finish wouldn't be overly shocking. 

    That could result in Josh Allen's squad missing the playoffs entirely, which would indeed be shocking considering how strong Buffalo looked entering the year.

    What's incredible is they still have the second-best points differential total (plus-134) in the NFL, mainly because all of their wins have come by 15-plus points. Allen hasn't been consistent, the running game has disappeared far too often, and the defense has lacked bite at times despite being a strength overall. 

    Oh, and now Allen's in a walking boot.

    Maybe Buffalo gets it together and sneaks into the playoffs, and the AFC East crown is still within reach. But at this point, it's hard to imagine this team stringing together four consecutive strong performances in January and February. 

Both Wild-Card Races Are Gong Shows

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    It's utter chaos.

    There's a five-way tie for two of the three wild-card spots in the AFC and three other teams within a game of that crowd. And there's also a five-way tie for the final wild-card spot in the NFC, with two other teams one game back of that crowd.

    And it's not as though Chargers and 49ers are far clear of those two groups. Both are currently occupying wild-card spots while one game up on the aforementioned packs.

    Which games might shape those races between now and Week 18? Keep a close eye on Washington-Philadelphia and Cincinnati-Denver in Week 15, Baltimore-Cincy in Week 16, Philadelphia-Washington (again) and Cleveland-Pittsburgh in Week 17, and Pittsburgh-Baltimore, Cincinnati-Cleveland, and San Francisco-Los Angeles on the final Sunday of the season.

Don't Count Out the Seahawks

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    And then there are the Seahawks, wh many left for dead following a 3-8 start but have kept hope alive with consecutive victories to move just one game back of that loaded pack chasing down one or two NFC wild-card spots.

    They haven't been right for much of this season, but Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll have a winning pedigree that few others in that battle possess. They've got their groove back following wins over San Francisco and the Houston Texans, and a Week 15 victory over the short-rested Rams would likely position them to make a run.

    They follow that up with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions at home, so it's easy to envision them entering a Week 18 matchup with the Cardinals while riding a five-game winning streak.

    The bad news? They're still just 2-6 in conference games, and they lack the tiebreaker with Washington, New Orleans and Minnesota. Still, they 8-9 could do the job considering the state of the NFC beyond the top tier right now.

Monday's Rams-Cardinals Game Is Critical

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    Speaking of that top tier in the NFC, the Cardinals still lead that pack but must beat the division-rival Rams Monday night to remain a game clear of Green Bay and Tampa Bay.

    They did beat L.A. earlier this season, and they are favored Monday night, but now we'll see how the team with the league's best record thus far handles extreme pressure with sole possession of the top seed on the line in prime time.

    The Cards have sort of flown under the radar, but that'd likely change if they take care of the Rams.

    Meanwhile, Monday night is the Rams' last realistic shot at making a run at the NFC West title. It's a crucial opportunity to establish some distance between them and that comically massive pack fighting for wild-card positioning. They close out the season with four pretty challenging games (Seattle, at Minnesota, at Baltimore, San Francisco), so a fourth loss in a five-game span could crush this L.A. team entirely.