AFC, NFC seeds through Week 13
Here come the Seahawks and Ravens. Both team extended their winning streaks to three games in Week 14 of the NFL season, putting themselves solidly in their respective conference’s wild-card race. And in the Ravens’ case, the AFC North race remains within reach given the shaky post-Thanksgiving stretch of the Steelers.
Here is our weekly look at what the postseason would look like if the season had ended today.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-2)
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None of three long-shot scenarios to clinch a playoff spot in Week 13 materialized for the Chiefs. All of them would have required a win against the Raiders, which the Chiefs took care of, and a combination of losses by at least five other teams. But it remains a matter of time. The big question is how the Chiefs will respond on the field to the departure of running back Kareem Hunt. They managed 40 points and rolled up 469 yards on Sunday, but the Raiders’ defense might not be an appropriate litmus test.
Next up: vs. Baltimore Ravens
2. New England Patriots (9-3)
As they usually do this time of year, things look pretty good for the Patriots at the moment. They have only one game remaining against a team with a winning record — Week 15 at the Steelers — and they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Texans. So they’ll need to drop two games in these standings, with four to play, to lose out on a first-round bye. They can clinch the AFC East as early as Week 14 if they defeat the Dolphins.
Next up: at Miami Dolphins
3. Houston Texans (9-3)
When will the Texans lose again? They’ve won nine consecutive games after an 0-3 start and are poised to win the NFC South. None of their remaining opponents have winning records. If nothing else, the Texans are going to keep the heat on the Chiefs and Patriots as they all vie for first-round byes.
Next up: vs. Indianapolis Colts
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1)
Two consecutive losses after a six-game winning streak has threatened the Steelers’ standing in the AFC North. At a minimum, it has all but buried their chance for a first-round bye. They’ve still got two really difficult games — Week 15 against the Patriots and Week 16 at the Saints — and the Ravens are only a half-game behind them in the division.
Next up: at Oakland Raiders
5. Los Angeles Chargers (9-3)
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A December win in Pittsburgh is quite a measure of playoff readiness. The Chargers engineered a major second-half turnaround to maintain hold of their spot in the wild-card race — and be in position to capitalize in the AFC West if the Chiefs falter. A question to consider: Could the Chargers come back next month and do this again? If the seedings remain the same, the Chargers would visit the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs.
Next up: vs. Cincinnati Bengals
6. Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
A three-game winning streak has put the Ravens back into the AFC North discussion, not to mention given them control of a wild-card playoff spot. They’ve got a tough task ahead of them in Week 14 at Arrowhead Stadium, but the Ravens’ 6-3 conference record could come in handy in a tiebreaker situation. For that reason, among others, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) is giving them a 64.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.
Next up: at Kansas City Chiefs
1. Los Angeles Rams (11-1)
The Rams’ victory Sunday in Detroit clinched the NFC West, the earliest the division has been won since 2011. More importantly, the Rams took a one-game lead for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Can they hold it? After Sunday’s game in Chicago, their schedule is favorable. The Rams’ final three opponents are all below .500 and have a combined record of 10-25.
Next up: at Chicago Bears
2. New Orleans Saints (10-2)
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Reverberations of the Saints’ loss Thursday night in Dallas continued into the weekend. The Rams capitalized to take control of the race to the top seed. Had they managed to defeat the Cowboys, the Saints would have clinched the NFC South on Sunday, thanks to the Panthers’ unexpected loss in Tampa Bay. Ultimately, though, the division-clinching scenarios simply push back another week. And the Saints could be right back atop the conference given their more favorable Week 14 opponent (Buccaneers) than that of the Rams (Bears).
Next up: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Chicago Bears (8-4)
Sunday’s loss to the Giants could hurt the Bears if they find themselves in a tiebreaker situation for playoff seeding; conference records are often the deciding factor. Otherwise, it didn’t impact their path to the playoffs because all four NFC North teams lost. The Bears are still the strong favorites to win the division, especially with the Vikings set to play at the red-hot Seahawks in Week 14. FPI still gives these Bears a 79.1 percent chance to be NFC North champions, and a 93.7 percent likelihood that they will make the playoffs.
Next up: vs. Los Angeles Rams
4. Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
Look out. The Cowboys have won four consecutive games, and barring a complete collapse, they’re going to the playoffs. Their Thursday night upset of the Saints was a major swing game in the NFC East. ESPN’s FPI now gives the Cowboys a 76.9 percent chance of winning the division. (It would have been 54.1 percent with a loss.)
Next up: vs. Philadelphia Eagles
5. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
A three-game winning streak, along with some favorable outcomes elsewhere, was all it took to lift the Seahawks into the wild-card race. Two losses in three weeks by the Vikings were a huge help, and the Seahawks will have a chance to put more distance between the teams in Week 14. FPI loves the Seahawks’ chances to pull it off, giving them an 91.4 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Next up: vs. Minnesota Vikings
6. Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1)
The Vikings’ drop from the playoff race was brief. They pingponged back into the wild-card spot after the Redskins’ loss Monday night in Philadelphia. But the Vikings are in the midst of a tough stretch. After losing Sunday at the Patriots, they’ll travel to the Seahawks for a game on Monday Night Football. A loss to the Seahawks would open up the final NFC wild-card spot to a host of teams hovering near .500.
Next up: at Seattle Seahawks