With 14 weeks in the books and just three regular-season games remaining, the NFL’s playoff picture is finally taking shape.
Unfortunately, since the NFC is so top-heavy, the drama in that conference may only be found in the lowly NFC East as three mediocre teams battle it out while in a tie for first place. On the other side, the AFC appears to have three teams fighting for two wild card spots and, of course, there’s still the ongoing pillow fight for the AFC South title.
Here’s an in-depth look at the NFL’s postseason picture as the schedule hits Week 15:
1. New England Patriots (11-2)*
2. Cincinnati Bengals (10-3)
3. Denver Broncos (10-3)
4. Indianapolis Colts (6-7)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (8-5)
6. New York Jets (8-5)
Other contenders: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5), Oakland Raiders (6-7), Buffalo Bills (6-7), Houston Texans (6-7), Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8), Miami Dolphins (5-8)
*Clinched the AFC East
Biggest games in Week 15:
Broncos at Steelers
The Broncos are capable of both clinching a playoff berth and the AFC West with a win and a Chiefs loss. At 8-5 but on the outside looking in to the postseason, the Steelers need more wins. A 3-0 finish guarantees Pittsburgh a playoff spot.
Packers at Raiders
The Packers are looking good for a playoff spot with nine wins, but an 0-3 finish could set up a scenario where Green Bay doesn’t make it. However, they can clinch with a win in Oakland and some help. The Raiders are in a position where they need to win out to give themselves a shot at cracking the AFC field.
Texans at Colts
Both teams are 6-7. Both teams might start backup quarterbacks. This is still the biggest game in the AFC South this season. Enough said.
Falcons at Jaguars
The Falcons are still in the playoff hunt despite one win in the last eight games. Atlanta needs a 3-0 finish. The Jaguars are 5-8 but capable of winning the AFC South. The loser of this one will be pushed to the brink of elimination.
1. Carolina Panthers (13-0)*
2. Arizona Cardinals (11-2)+
3. Green Bay Packers (9-4)
4. Washington Redskins (6-7)
5. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
6. Minnesota Vikings (8-5)
Other contenders: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7), Atlanta Falcons (6-7), Philadelphia Eagles (6-7), New York Giants (6-7), Dallas Cowboys (4-9)
*Clinched the NFC South, first-round bye
+Clinched playoff berth
Biggest games in Week 15:
Cardinals at Eagles
The Cardinals are two games up on the Packers for the No. 2 seed, but two games back of the Panthers for the conference’s top seed. A win in Philadelphia would clinch the NFC West. The Eagles are 6-7 and in a three-way tie atop the NFC East.
Buccaneers at Rams
The 5-8 Rams are all but out, but the Buccaneers still have an outside chance at 6-7. There are various scenarios where Tampa Bay can make the postseason at 8-8 or 9-7. The Bucs can’t afford to throw away anymore opportunities for much-needed wins.
Jets at Cowboys
The Jets are currently in the postseason field at 8-5, but with the dangerous Steelers also at 8-5, New York must take care of business against Matt Cassel and the Cowboys. Dallas technically isn’t eliminated yet, but a 3-0 finish and a ton of help is the only way to have a shot at the miracle.
Bills at Redskins
The Bills are two games back of a wild card spot and in serious danger of missing the playoffs. The Redskins have an identical 6-7 record, but they are leading the NFC East. The NFL’s playoff system can be cruel to teams that play in tough divisions and have to win nearly every week just to stay alive.
Bears at Vikings
The Bears have all but thrown away their chance at making the postseason with back-to-back home losses. However, the Vikings can clinch a spot in the field with a win and a ton of help.