Breaking down the NFL playoff picture heading into Week 12

Denver Broncos v Oakland Raiders

As unbelievable as it may sound, the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys—two non-playoff teams from a year ago—enter Week 12 holding the top seeds in the NFL playoff standings. If the season ended today, the Raiders would have home-field advantage in the AFC, while the NFC road to the Super Bowl would go through Dallas.

Here’s a closer look at the playoff picture as the 2016 NFL season enters Week 12:


1. Oakland Raiders (8-2)

2. New England Patriots (8-2)

3. Houston Texans (6-4)

4. Baltimore Ravens (5-5)

5. Kansas City Chiefs (7-3)

6. Denver Broncos (7-3)

Other contenders: Miami Dolphins (6-4), Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5), Indianapolis Colts (5-5), Buffalo Bills (5-5), Tennessee Titans (5-6)

Biggest games in Week 12:

Steelers at Colts

Both teams are 5-5 and chasing shaky division leaders. The short week might mean the Colts are without Andrew Luck, who remains in concussion protocol. If Scott Tolzien starts, the Steelers can’t afford to waste the opportunity.

Bengals at Ravens

The Bengals are probably done at 3-6-1, but they can play spoiler over the final six games. The Ravens, who got throttled by the Cowboys last Sunday, need to get back into the win column, especially if the Steelers win on Thanksgiving night.

Chargers at Texans

At 4-6, the Chargers probably need to win out to have any chance at the postseason. The Texans, meanwhile, are 6-4 and on top in the AFC South. With the Colts and Titans lurking, Houston has to find a way to bounce back from Monday night’s defeat in Mexico City.

Panthers at Raiders

The Raiders are now the leaders in the AFC, but holding that spot will require beating Cam Newton and the desperate Panthers. That might be easier said than done. Carolina enjoyed a mini bye after winning last Thursday, while Oakland had to make the long trip to Mexico City to play a “home game” on Monday night.


1. Dallas Cowboys (9-1)

2. Seattle Seahawks (7-2-1)

3. Detroit Lions (6-4)

4. Atlanta Falcons (6-4)

5. New York Giants (7-3)

6. Washington Redskins (6-3-1)

Other contenders: Minnesota Vikings (6-4), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5), Philadelphia Eagles (5-5), Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1), New Orleans Saints (4-6), Carolina Panthers (4-6), Green Bay Packers (4-6), Los Angeles Rams (4-6)

Biggest games in Week 12: 

Vikings at Lions

The winner of the early Thanksgiving Day game will become the leader and favorite in the tumultuous NFC North. The Vikings, who lost to the Lions at home less than a month ago, need the win more.

Redskins at Cowboys

The Redskins are still holding onto the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC, but a run at a division title isn’t out of the question. Any late-season push would need to start with a Thanksgiving win over the Cowboys, who—despite a nine-game winning streak—still need victories to hold off the Seahawks for the conference’s top seed.

Cardinals at Falcons 

Arizona’s season has been pushed to the brink. Another loss and the Cardinals can probably start looking ahead to 2017. The Falcons suddenly need to hold off a surge from the Buccaneers, who are just one game back in the unpredictable NFC South.

Rams at Saints

Both teams are on postseason life support, making Sunday’s matchup in New Orleans a de facto elimination game. The Saints look more alive than Jeff Fisher’s sinking team, especially with Drew Brees at quarterback and the increasingly unstable standings in the NFC South.

Seahawks at Buccaneers

The Seahawks are surging, but don’t sleep on the Bucs. Tampa Bay has won two straight and four of the last six, including last Sunday’s impressive victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City. A win over Seattle could seriously legitimize the Bucs’ playoff push.

Packers at Eagles 

The Packers have lost four straight games and five of the last six. The Eagles are 2-5 since starting 3-0. The Monday night matchup really is a battle of desperation, with neither team truly capable of withstanding another loss.

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