Here's what the playoff picture looks like right now, with some help from ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) to inform our analysis.
Note: X denotes a team that has clinched a playoff berth, Y shows a team that has clinched its division, and Z indicates a team that has secured a first-round bye. An asterisk shows home-field advantage.
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1. Baltimore Ravens (11-2) - x
Sunday brought loads of good news for the Ravens. First, they clinched a playoff spot by defeating the Bills. They can secure their seemingly inevitable AFC North division title as early as Thursday with a victory over the Jets (or a Steelers loss). Most importantly, they are now strong favorites for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In essence, the Ravens have a two-game lead over the Patriots with three games to play, courtesy of the head-to-head tiebreaker. FPI gives them a 95.6% chance to win the top seed.
Next up: vs. New York Jets
2. New England Patriots (10-3)
The Patriots have lost two consecutive games and haven't clinched a playoff spot, let alone the AFC East title. Sunday's loss to the Chiefs dropped their FPI chances to secure home-field advantage to 3.8%. But it isn't difficult to see the parallel between this mini-slide and the Patriots' two-game losing streak in December 2018, which they reversed with consecutive victories to end the regular season before going on to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots have three quite winnable games remaining: at Cincinnati in Week 15 followed by home games against the Bills and Dolphins. They'd clinch a playoff berth with a win next weekend.
Next up: at Cincinnati
3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4) - y
Sunday was productive for the Chiefs. Their victory over the Patriots clinched the AFC West, their fourth consecutive division title. It also allowed them to leapfrog the Texans, who were trounced at home by the Broncos. And it put them in the conversation for a first-round bye if the Patriots lose another game. FPI gives the Chiefs a 16.9% chance to climb to the No. 2 seed by the end of the regular season.
Next up: vs. Denver
4. Houston Texans (8-5)
Once assumed to be the runaway AFC South winners, the Texans have almost no room for error remaining. Their stunning home loss to the Broncos, combined with the Titans' victory at Oakland, has narrowed the division race considerably. Yes, FPI is still giving the Texans a 73.9% chance to win it. But the Titans are hot, having won six of their past seven games, and they still have both matchups remaining against the Texans. The first will be next Sunday in Nashville. These should be nervous times in Houston.
Next up: at Tennessee
5. Buffalo Bills (9-4)
Sunday marked the first of three consecutive games against likely playoff teams, by far the toughest stretch of a season in which the Bills' strength of victory is .310, lowest in the AFC. They couldn't overcome the Ravens at home, so next they'll see what they can do in Pittsburgh and then New England. Chances are the Bills could lose both of those games and still make the playoffs if they beat the Jets at home in Week 17. That's why FPI is giving them a 95.9% chance to advance to the postseason, and they can lock that up with a win next weekend.
Next up: at Pittsburgh
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)
The Steelers' seventh victory in eight games allowed them to keep pace in the AFC wild-card race. The Titans are keeping the pressure on the field, and FPI is giving Tennessee a 50.6% chance to make the playoffs either as a division winner or as a wild card. The Steelers, meanwhile, can overtake the Bills in the standings with a victory Sunday, which would give them head-to-head tiebreaker advantage. Overall, FPI has the Steelers at 59.6% to make the playoffs.
Next up: vs. Buffalo
1. San Francisco 49ers (11-2)
Wow. The 49ers just completed a three-game gauntlet that included the Packers, Ravens and Saints. They won two of the three games and, after a brief dip in the standings, have retained controlled of the top spot in the conference. The 49ers will be the No. 1 seed if they win their final three games, which include a Week 17 matchup in Seattle. It's true that they have not yet clinched a spot in the postseason (they would in Week 15 with a win or a Rams loss), but after beating the Packers and Saints -- and losing on a field goal to the Ravens -- the 49ers don't have to convince anyone that they are a playoff team.
Next up: vs. Atlanta
2. Green Bay Packers (10-3)
Close followers of this team are sometimes left wondering why it must work so hard to beat inferior opponents such as the Giants and Redskins, as has been the case the past two games. But the bottom line is that the Packers have stacked enough wins -- pretty or ugly, against contenders or bottom-feeders -- to put themselves in the conversation for a first-round playoff bye. At the moment, they are holding the tiebreaker over the Saints because they have one fewer conference loss. FPI is giving the Packers a 34.2% chance of holding on to the No. 2 seed, which will probably require them to win their final three games.
Next up: vs. Chicago
3. New Orleans Saints (10-3) - y
In one wild loss to the 49ers, the Saints lost control of the NFC and whether they'll manage a first-round bye. FPI is taking a dim view of their chances to regain the top seed (8.2%) and is split between whether they'll climb back to No. 2 (48.2%) or stay at No. 3 (46.3%). It would certainly work in the Saints favor if the Seahawks win the NFC West, considering that New Orleans holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Seattle.
Next up: vs. Indianapolis
4. Dallas Cowboys (6-7)
The Cowboys have to hope that the Eagles won't capitalize on their losing streak, which reached three games last Thursday in Chicago. Although they didn't lose the division lead Monday night, it stands to reason that the Cowboys are going to have to win at least one more game this season to secure a trip to the playoffs. We can all guess how that trip will end, but this is about the NFL's playoff picture, and that's what the Cowboys' looks like.
Next up: vs. Los Angeles Rams
5. Seattle Seahawks (10-3)
After a short week of rest, the Seahawks seemed tired Sunday in Los Angeles. Their 28-12 loss dropped them behind the 49ers in the NFC West and back into the fifth spot in the NFC. They'll have to collect themselves quickly for a cross-country trip to Carolina in Week 15. The good news is they won't need help to jump back ahead of the 49ers. That would happen if they win their final three games, capped by a victory over the 49ers in Week 17. The Seahawks would then win the tiebreaker based on a head-to-head sweep. In other words, there is plenty left in this NFC West story.
Next up: at Carolina
6. Minnesota Vikings (9-4)
The Vikings secured the fourth winning season of Mike Zimmer's six-year coaching tenure, and they are a nearly 90% lock for a playoff spot, per FPI. But their path to anything beyond the sixth seed remains difficult. The Vikings likely need the Packers to lose at home to the Bears or at Detroit in Week 17 in order to overtake Green Bay for the NFC North title. Minnesota would lose in a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Seahawks for the No. 5 spot, if it comes to that. Next a trip to play the Chargers might not be the breeze it once appeared.
Next up: at Los Angeles Chargers
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