NFL Playoff Picture: State of Play and Standings in Each Conference

2023-12-05 07:53:07

It seems like only yesterday the Lions were upsetting the Chiefs to open the season – but we’ve suddenly reached the closing stretch of the NFL campaign.

With five weeks to play, the playoff picture has firmly emerged, with roughly eight true Super Bowl contenders sitting at 8-4 or better, and plenty of surprises. runs through the standings in each conference and where each side sits in the NFL State of Play!

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1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)

2. San Francisco 49ers (9-3) [Tiebreak over Detroit via conference win percentage]

3. Detroit Lions (9-3)

4. Atlanta Falcons (6-6)

5. Dallas Cowboys (9-3)

6. Minnesota Vikings (6-6) [Tiebreak over Green Bay via head-to-head, Los Angeles via conference win percentage, Seattle via LA’s head-to-head]

7. Green Bay Packers (6-6) [Tiebreak over Los Angeles via head-to-head]

8. Los Angeles Rams (6-6) [Tiebreak over Seattle via head-to-head]

9. Seattle Seahawks (6-6)

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7) [Tiebreak over New Orleans via head-to-head]

11. New Orleans Saints (5-7)

12. New York Giants (4-8) [Tiebreak over Chicago via conference win percentage]

13. Chicago Bears (4-8)

14. Washington Commanders (4-9)

15. Arizona Cardinals (3-10)

Eliminated: Carolina Panthers (1-11)

Current Week 1 Playoff Schedule

1. Philadelphia BYE

7. Green Bay at 2. San Francisco

6. Minnesota at 3. Detroit

5. Dallas at 4. Atlanta

The race for the No.1 seed and the all-important bye could’ve been almost over – but with San Francisco fit and firing, suddenly Philadelphia have been pulled back to the pack.

While the Eagles still hold a one-game lead over the chasers, they’ve got a huge clash at Dallas next Sunday night which should decide both the NFC East division and whether Jalen Hurts’ side can be caught.

Having already beaten the Cowboys at home, a sweep would basically guarantee the Eagles the division title (they’d be two games up with the tiebreaker with four to play), and with their remaining games being at Seattle (dangerous but they’ll be favoured), home to Arizona and home-and-away to the Giants, you’d suspect they hold onto the No.1 seed too.

If the Cowboys win, both teams sit on three losses, and while the Eagles would have the better conference winning percentage they could still be surpassed by fellow three-loss sides the 49ers or Detroit.

As is becoming traditional, the NFC East runner-up will get a very easy wildcard round game at the NFC South champion. (Seriously, what a horrendous division. Just let Alabama or Georgia play the Cowboys instead.) But being the No.5 seed should still force them into road games through the divisional and conference rounds, making the task that much harder.

After their super-impressive win over the Eagles, San Francisco are best-placed to pinch the No.1 seed, now owning the tiebreaker – though they still need the reigning NFC champions to lose a game, and to avoid stumbling themselves (with games left against Seattle, Arizona, Baltimore, Washington and the Rams, so it’s doable).

The 49ers and Lions are each three games up on their divisional rivals, and thus virtually locked into the top three, though if the latter falls apart a red-hot Green Bay (with an easy run home) could potentially catch them.

Speaking of which, the weekly growth of Jordan Love into the Packers’ apparent third-straight long-term star quarterback has the NFC North side the clear favourite in the messy wildcard race (Dallas-not-included-division). Their Week 17 clash with Minnesota will be important for seeding but, after upsetting Kansas City on Sunday night, the Packers get a cruisy run into the playoffs – at Giants, vs Buccaneers, at Panthers, at Vikings, vs Bears – which should give them at least nine wins, if not 10.

The Vikings, currently the No.6 seed despite a loss to Chicago last time out, have a trickier path with games left at the Raiders and Bengals, the aforementioned Packers showdown plus two meetings with divisional leader Detroit.

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The New York Times’ model actually has the Packers and Los Angeles Rams favoured to claim the No.6 and No.7 seeds, after Sean McVay’s side knocked off Cleveland for a third straight win on Sunday.

While trips to Baltimore and San Francisco are scary, the Rams would be right in the mix for a wildcard if they beat the Commanders, Saints and Giants.

Divisional rivals Seattle, while arguably a better team, have already lost the season tiebreaker to the Rams by losing to them twice – and need to face San Francisco and Philadelphia over the next two weeks, before finishing with Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Arizona.

We wouldn’t be shocked to see the Rams and Seahawks both finish on nine wins allowing the former to claim the No.7 seed.

The only other sorta-realistic contenders would be New Orleans (games left: vs Panthers, vs Giants, at Rams, at Buccaneers, at Falcons) or Tampa Bay (games left: at Falcons, at Packers, vs Jaguars, vs Saints, at Panthers). They’d probably need to win four of five to claim a wildcard, and maybe the Saints could get there, but that’s generous.

The much more likely scenario would be Atlanta falling apart to let one of them win the South, and they play the Buccaneers and Saints over the last five weeks (plus the Panthers, Colts and Bears), so an 8-9 divisional champ… or dare we say a 7-10 champ… is well and truly alive.


1. Miami Dolphins (9-3) [Tiebreak over Baltimore via conference win percentage]

2. Baltimore Ravens (9-3)

3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) [Tiebreak over Jacksonville via head-to-head]

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4)

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) [Tiebreak over Indianapolis via wins in common games, Cleveland via divisional record, Houston via Indy’s head-to-head]

6. Cleveland Browns (7-5) [Tiebreak over Indianapolis via head-to-head, Houston via Indy’s head-to-head]

7. Indianapolis Colts (7-5) [Tiebreak over Houston via head-to-head]

8. Houston Texans (7-5)

9. Denver Broncos (6-6) [Tiebreak over Cincinnati via conference win percentage, Buffalo via head-to-head]

10. Cincinnati Bengals (6-6) [Tiebreak over Buffalo via head-to-head]

11. Buffalo Bills (6-6)

12. Los Angeles Chargers (5-7) [Tiebreak over Las Vegas via head-to-head]

13. Las Vegas Raiders (5-7)

14. New York Jets (4-8) [Tiebreak over Tennessee via strength of victory]

15. Tennessee Titans (4-8)

16. New England Patriots (2-10)

Current Week 1 Playoff Schedule

1. Miami BYE

7. Indianapolis at 2. Baltimore

6. Cleveland at 3. Kansas City

5. Pittsburgh at 4. Jacksonville

The good news is we don’t have one bad division in the AFC – and the top contender from the worst of the bunch is actually leading the charge.

Miami, without a victory over a team with a winning record as it stands, sits atop the conference at 9-3, but while their defence is improving you still suspect they’ll be exposed against the top teams in the last few weeks of their schedule – Cowboys on Christmas Day, Ravens and Bills after that – just like they were against Buffalo, Philadelphia and Kansas City before this.

We suspect the best team in the conference is actually Baltimore, sitting second via a tiebreaker, and their Week 17 clash with the Dolphins shapes as a top seed decider. They’ve also got a mouth-watering clash with the 49ers on Boxing Day; in fact, none of their remaining opponents have a losing record.

Typically this is the time of year when they fall apart due to injuries, and they’ve already copped a few bad ones, but as long as Lamar Jackson and that excellent defence are healthy they’ll have an excellent chance of finally pushing through to the AFC title game (and maybe beyond) with the former MVP.

Kansas City’s surprise loss to Green Bay, their third in five games, has them still in the mix for the top seed but needing to bank wins. Buffalo next week is playing for its season, while the Bengals and Chargers over the final fortnight won’t be easy-beats (even if both are flawed sides in their current states).

The New York Times’ model gave Jacksonville a 29% chance of claiming the No.1 seed if they had held on against Cincinnati, plus 93% to win the South – instead, after their overtime loss, they’re 8% and 77% respectively… and that’s with a healthy Trevor Lawrence.

Instead the young superstar’s ankle injury should at least see him miss a couple of weeks, potentially more – but either way the Jaguars will be in a reduced form in their two toughest remaining games, at Cleveland and hosting Baltimore.

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For once though their divisional race is a belter, with Indianapolis and Houston both a stunning 7-5, the former without their promising rookie quarterback and the latter led by theirs, with CJ Stroud a dark horse for the MVP in a remarkable first season.

The Colts have won four straight against a cruisy part of their schedule, but it’s not like things get a lot tougher with the Bengals, Steelers, Falcons, Raiders and Texans to come – none of them are easybeats but none are dominant forces either. Meanwhile the Texans get the Jets next week plus the Titans twice more, so if they can pinch one against Cleveland on Christmas Day and/or against the Colts in the final week, they look playoff-bound.

Any of the three could still win the division, though the Colts would have the tiebreaker over the Texans with a Week 18 win, but the Jaguars have the tiebreaker over the Colts.

Pittsburgh and Cleveland are both in the playoffs as it stands but neither has a quarterback – though even when Kenny Pickett is healthy we’d argue the Steelers don’t have one. With just a one-game lead on sides like Denver, Cincinnati and Buffalo, neither of them are safe, though the Browns’ defence might do enough to get them into January.

That 6-6 trifecta doesn’t have much room for error – but the Broncos are red-hot, dropping their first game in six weeks last time out to Houston. They’re not quite as good as that streak suggests but with a pair of games left against the Chargers, plus the Raiders, Lions and Patriots, a playoff spot is certainly reachable.

Virtually nothing has gone right for the Bills this year, with six losses by a combined 26 points, and unfortunately they get the Chiefs and Cowboys over the next two weeks. Maybe there’s a world where they sneak in at 9-8, but it feels like the AFC is just too good for that, so unless everything falls their way in other match-ups they’re gonna need to upset one of those two.

The Bengals kept themselves in the mix with the away upset of Jacksonville, with Jake Browning particularly impressive, and it would give their fans hope he can lead them through a winnable few weeks – vs Colts, vs Vikings, at Steelers – before finishing at Kansas City and home to Cleveland. Again, nine wins is gettable, but they may need 10 and they can’t afford to stumble if so.

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