There are only three weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, and while some teams have already secured a playoff berth, many are still fighting for a chance to play deep into January.
The Atlanta Falcons punched their ticket by clinching the NFC South, but they are the only team to secure a spot in the NFC thus far.
The AFC picture is much clearer. The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos locked down their divisions, and the Houston Texans are guaranteed at least a playoff berth, but haven’t sewn up the AFC South.
That technically leaves five divisions and four wild card spots up for grabs, with the NFC races being the tightest.
Let’s take a look at each team currently in contention, and where they stand.
Houston Texans (11-2): A win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 15, and the division is theirs. Should Denver and New England lose this week as well, Houston will have a first-round bye.
New England Patriots (10-3) : Their wins over Denver and Houston are huge, especially for a first round bye and home-field advantage. This week’s matchup against San Francisco is the most difficult, but they end the season against Jacksonville and Miami. If Houston slips once more and New England runs the table, the playoffs will go through Foxboro.
Denver Broncos (10-3): The Broncos will need at least one more New England loss and two more from Houston, otherwise they can only hope to contain the No. 3 seed, since they lost to both this season. Sunday they face Baltimore, and a win puts them on track to secure the No. 3 and at least one home playoff game, assuming they win out.
Baltimore Ravens (9-4): The Ravens have a difficult three week tilt with Denver and the Giants coming to town, followed by a Week 17 matchup with NFC North rival Cincinnati. Still they can clinch the division with a win, or a playoff spot if the Bengals lose in Week 15.
Indianapolis Colts (9-4): They can clinch a playoff spot by beating Houston Sunday, and can win the AFC South if they win out, but will have to beat Houston again in Week 17 to do so.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6): They currently hold the tiebreaker over Cincinnati, but their Week 16 clash could decide the final wild card spot in the AFC.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-6): The Bengals defense has put them just on the outside of the playoff picture, but their final two games are at Pittsburgh and hosting Baltimore. Cincinnati will need Pittsburgh to drop at least one, but that would also require the Bengals to win out.
New York Jets (6-7): The Jets are still in contention, and have the best chance to make it by winning out, and need both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to drop. Their Week 3 loss to Pittsburgh, gives the Steelers a decided advantage should their be a tie.
Atlanta Falcons (11-2) : Atlanta currently has the No. 1 seed, with the New York Giants up next in Week 15. But their last two matchups come gainst 4-9 Detroit and 6-7 Tampa Bay. Atlanta has the inside track to the top seed and two home playoff games in the NFC. If Atlanta beats the Giants and San Francisco and Green Bay lose, they own home field advantage.
San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) : Thanks to their tie with and loss to the St. Louis Rams, San Francisco is in a much tighter race with the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC West crown. However, a win Sunday and a Seattle loss would clinch the division.
Green Bay Packers (9-4): Aaron Rodgers and the Pack have survived a wide array of injuries on both offense and defense to hold down the No. 3 seed and the NFC North, thanks to Chicago’s recent slide. If Green Bay wins Sunday over the Bears, they will clinch the division. They are also still in the mix, for the No. 2 seed should the 49ers falter.
New York Giants (8-5): New York has a one-game lead over Dallas and Washington for the NFC East crown, but have Atlanta and Baltimore in consecutive weeks. They can’t win the division during Week 15, but can create some distance. Also a win in their Week 17 matchup against Philadelphia could boost their division record, and nix any possible ties with the Cowboys or Redskins
Seattle Seahawks (8-5): Should they take care of the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Seattle can then focus on their final two games against the 49ers and Rams. Russell Wilson and Seattle may need to win out just to keep the next team at bay.
Chicago Bears (8-5): The Bears have lost three of their last four games, which spoiled a promising start and a play for a bye week. They can stay in the division mix and make a strong play for the No. 2 seed by beating Green Bay this week.
Washington Redskins (7-6): An injury to RG3 came at the worst time. Week 15’s game against the Cleveland Browns may not worry the Redskins, but their last two games against Philadelphia and Dallas are crucial. Should they beat Cleveland, and the Giants and Chicago lose as well, they can move up the NFC East and the wild card standings, holding a tiebreaker over both.
Dallas Cowboys (7-6) : The Cowboys finish the season with a two-game homestand against Pittsburgh and then New Orleans, and then travel to Washington. Dallas has a 3-2 division record, which is better than both New York and Chicago, giving them a tiebreaker edge. Still the Cowboys should focus on winning out.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6) : Minnesota is near the bottom due to their loss to Washington, and Dallas holding a better winning percentage against similar foes. They will need both teams to fall, and win out to be safe in the wild card.
Currently covering NBA, NFL, MLB, along with Real Madrid and Barcelona, focusing on trades, controversy, and injury updates. Joined IB Times in August 2012.