CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 11: T.J. Yates #13 of the Houston Texans gives instructions to his team during the Texans 20-19 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

NFL Playoff Picture: Tracking Who's In And Who's Out

The AFC and NFC playoff pictures are becoming clearer by the week but plenty of questions remain.

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20 Total Updates since November 21, 2011
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NFL Playoff Picture: Falcons In Control Of Wild Card Spot

The Atlanta Falcons drubbed the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, to the tune of a 41-14 final score. That the Falcons won wasn't surprising, but the result was significant in that it secured the team's path to the playoffs. With the victory, Atlanta put itself in total control of an NFC Wild Card spot. 

At 9-5, the Falcons simply need to win out to make the playoffs. Of course, with the New Orleans Saints on tap next week, going unscathed through Week 17 won't be easy. Should the Saints lose this week against the Minnesota Vikings (as unlikely as that may be) next Monday Night's game would have major implications on the NFC South, giving the Falcons a chance to make a late grab at the Division title.

The 8-5 Detroit Lions control their destiny as well for the second NFC Wild Card spot. The 7-6 Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys need some help but are also in the running for the playoffs. Further back, the 6-7 Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals still hold slim hopes that the chips may fall their way.

For more on the Falcons, head over the SB Nation blog The Falcoholic. Visit our StoryStream for more on the 2011 NFL Playoff picture.

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NFL Playoff Picture 2011: New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints Can Clinch In Week 15

The NFL playoff picture runs directly through this week’s marquee matchup between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos. The Patriots can lock up the AFC East for the third consecutive season and eighth time in nine seasons with a win in Denver. A Jets loss to the Eagles would also seal the deal for the Patriots.

In the AFC North, both the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers can each clinch a playoff berth with wins this week. Baltimore plays at San Diego in prime time on Sunday night. The Steelers have a tougher matchup against in San Francisco on Monday night. If they do come out on the wrong side of that game, a loss by Oakland, Tennessee, Denver or the Jets would still give Pittsburgh a playoff spot. Barring a total collapse by the Ravens, the Steelers will have one of two wildcard spots.

Green Bay has one more hurdle left to clear before locking up all the chits they can on their march toward inevitability. A win this week in Kansas City gives them home field throughout the playoffs.

The New Orleans Saints can clinch the NFC South with a win over the Vikings and an Atlanta Falcons loss or tie to the Jaguars. With both the Saints and the Falcons favored, the NFC South picture may hinge on a Week 16 Monday Night Football game between those two teams.

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NFL Playoff Picture 2011: Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens Fighting For AFC North

The Steelers and Ravens are battling it out for the NFC North crown and both seem destined to make the playoffs.

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NFL Playoff Picture: Denver Broncos Lead Oakland Raiders In AFC West

The Denver Broncos lead the AFC West, holding a one-game advantage over the Oakland Raiders.

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NFL Playoff Picture: New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys Battle For NFC East

The New York Giants hold the NFC East tiebreaker over the Dallas Cowboys and would be the No. 4 seed if the playoffs started this weekend.

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NFL Playoff Picture 2011: Houston Texans Clinch AFC South

The Houston Texans have clinched their first playoff bid and the NFC South.

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NFL Playoff Picture: Green Bay Packers Already Have NFC North Locked Up

The Green Bay Packers already have the NFC North locked up and are well on their way to claiming the No. 1 seed in the conference.

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NFL Playoff Picture: New England Patriots Close To Clinching AFC East

The Patriots have the inside track to the AFC East crown, with the Jets currently holding down the second wildcard spot.

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NFL Playoff Picture: New Orleans Saints Clinch Spot, Battle For NFC South

The New Orleans Saints have clinched a playoff bid and currently hold the No. 3 seed in the NFC.

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NFL Playoff Picture 2011: NFC West Belongs To San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers are the NFC West champions, but have a battle on their hands for a bye in the playoffs.

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NFL Playoff Scenarios: Three More Divisions Can Be Clinched In Week 14

Entering Week 14 of the 2011 NFL season, we've seen two divisions already wrapped up. The Green Bay Packers have clinched the NFC North title while the San Francisco 49ers have secured the NFC West crown. Those are the teams with the two best records in the NFL so clinching the division isn't a big surprise.

There are three more divisions that can be claimed in Week 14, according to a few playoff scenarios.

The Saints can lock down the NFC South if they beat the Titans and the Atlanta Falcons lose to the Carolina Panthers. The Saints can also clinch a playoff spot by beating the Titans and a loss from either the Detroit Lions or the Chicago Bears.

The 9-3 New England Patriots can clinch the AFC East if they beat the Washington Redskins this weekend and the 7-5 New York Jets lose to the Kansas City Chiefs. That would bring the Patriots lead to three games, with three to play, and they own the tiebreaker by virtue of their season sweep of the Jets.

The Houston Texans can also wrap up the AFC South crown on Sunday. They need to beat their Week 14 opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Tennessee Titans, who trail the Texans by two games, would need to lose to the New Orleans Saints.

That's it for the division clinching scenarios but the Pittsburgh Steelers can clinch a playoff spot by beating the Cleveland Browns this weekend plus one of the following: Losses by the Bengals, Jets and Titans or losses by the Bengals Jets, Broncos and Raiders or losses by the Bengals, Titans, Broncos and Raiders.

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NFL Playoff Picture: Bears, Falcons, Lions And Giants In NFC Wildcard Race

The NFC playoff picture isn't quite as complicated as the AFC but there are a few spots to fill in the final month of the season. We've played 13 weeks and right now all we really know is that the Packers and 49ers will be in the playoffs. The Saints should win the AFC South up two games with four to play while the Cowboys hang onto a one-game lead over the Giants in the NFC East.

The wildcard spots are getting interesting because you have, essentially, four teams vying for two spots and three of those four teams have identical records.

If the playoffs started today, the NFC seeds would be: 1.) Packers 2.) 49ers 3.) Saints 4.) Cowboys 5.) Bears 6.) Falcons.

That's where things stand right now but the Lions and Giants will be involved, too. Detroit has the same 7-5 record as the two current wildcards (Chicago and Atlanta) so tiebreakers could factor in there. The Giants are a game behind both the Bears and Falcons for the final wildcard spot.

NFC East: Cowboys (7-5), Giants (6-6), Eagles (4-8), Redskins (4-8)

The NFC East continues to be one of the most interesting divisions in the NFL. Just a few weeks ago it looked like the Giants were en route to wrapping up a division title but a four-game skid now has the Cowboys atop the division. Dallas lost last Sunday but New York did, too, which means the Cowboys remain in first place. The Giants are one game behind three others fighting for the final wildcard spot.

Prediction: Cowboys win the division, no wildcard.

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NFC North: Packers (12-0), Lions (7-5), Bears (7-5), Vikings (2-10)

The Packers have already wrapped up the NFC North division title so they're in. The only thing they're playing for now is home field advantage throughout the playoffs (besides the perfect season) which they shouldn't have a problem doing. The intrigue in this division comes from the Lions and Bears, who are both 7-5 and vying for a playoff bid. Who has the tougher road? The Bears play the Broncos, Seahawks, Packers and Vikings while the Lions play the Vikings, Raiders, Chargers and Packers. Chicago's road may be a little tougher considering their quarterback situation with Caleb Hanie.

Prediction: Packers win the division, Lions get the wildcard.

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NFC South: Saints (9-3), Falcons (7-5), Bucs (4-8), Panthers (4-8)

Four games remain and the Saints, who are among the league's hottest teams, hold a two-game lead. We expect New Orleans to pull in the division title by Week 17 but they're not the only team involved in the playoff picture in the NFC South. The Falcons would have the final seed in the NFC if the playoffs started today. They need to hold off the Bears and/or Lions down the stretch for a wildcard spot.

Prediction: Saints win the division, Falcons get the wildcard.

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NFC West: 49ers (10-2), Seahawks (5-7), Cardinals (5-7), Rams (2-10)

Not much to say here. The 49ers will be one of the top four seeds as the division winner and the Seahawks and Cardinals, admittedly playing better lately, will likely be watching from home.

Prediction: 49ers win the division, no wildcard.

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NFL Playoff Picture: Broncos, Bengals In AFC Race; Jets, Titans Trailing

The NFL playoff picture is becoming clearer week by week but the AFC is a lot more muddled than the NFC right now as 10 of 16 AFC teams can legitimately claim a realistic chance at making the playoffs. The Patriots are the only team I feel good about predicting as division winners as the Ravens and Steelers continue to battle in the AFC North, the Texans hold a two-game lead but are missing their top two quarterbacks and the AFC West is as confusing as ever after the Broncos tied the Raiders for the division lead.

If the playoffs started today, the AFC seeds would be: 1.) Patriots 2.) Ravens 3.) Texans 4.) Broncos 5.) Steelers 6.) Bengals.

Those aren't the only teams with realistic shots to make the playoffs, though. The Jets are tied with the Bengals (by record) for the final spot, as are the Titans. The Raiders are tied with Denver for the AFC West lead and the Chiefs are two games back and play both Oakland and Denver in the final two games of the season.

In other words, things are far from settled in the AFC playoff picture. Here's where things stand right now:

AFC East: Patriots (9-3), Jets (7-5), Bills (5-7), Dolphins (4-8).

We're starting to get a better idea of what's going on in the AFC East. The Patriots, with a two-game lead and four games to play, will more than likely win the division (again). I don't see them losing multiple times down the stretch. The Jets and Bills were fighting for a wildcard spot but it looks like Buffalo is no longer in that race. That leaves New York, at 7-5, hoping to catch the Bengals for the final wildcard spot in the final month.

Prediction: Patriots win the division, Jets get the wildcard.

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AFC North: Ravens (9-3), Steelers (9-3), Bengals (7-5), Browns (4-8).

The NFC North continues to shape up as we thought it would -- Ravens and Steelers on top. The only question with those two teams is which one wins the division and which one secures the wildcard -- they're both making the playoffs. Where things get interesting is the Bengals. If the playoffs started today, they would get in over the Jets but we have four more games to play so that could easily change. 

Prediction: Ravens win the division, Steelers get the wildcard.

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AFC South: Texans (9-3), Titans (7-5), Jaguars (3-8), Colts (0-12).

Well, I'll tell you I didn't expect the Texans to win two in a row without their starting (or backup) quarterback. They have a two-game lead with four to play so they'll probably win this division but that's a tough bet to make with a rookie quarterback starting. The Titans, meanwhile, are getting hot at the right time, as is Chris Johnson. Tennessee is in consideration for the AFC South title, as well as a wildcard.

Prediction: Texans win the division, no wildcard.

***

AFC West: Raiders (7-5), Broncos (7-5), Chiefs (5-7), Chargers (4-7).

Don't look now but Tim Tebow's Broncos are now tied with Oakland for the division lead. Looking at the schedules, I'm not sure either has a big advantage. The Raiders play the Packers, Lions, Chiefs and Chargers down the stretch while the Broncos play the Bears, Patriots, Bills and Chiefs. And don't count the Chiefs out just yet -- they play both Oakland and Denver in the final two weeks of the season.

Prediction: Broncos win the division, no wildcard.

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NFL Playoff Picture: Packers, 49ers Can Clinch Division Titles In Week 13

The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers once again have the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot in this weekend's set of games. Both teams can actually clinch the division titles and they'll need a little help to do it this weekend.

The Packers, who hold a four-game lead in the NFC North over both the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, can clinch the division title with a win and a Detroit loss or tie. They can also clinch even if they lose as long as both the Bears and Lions lose. The Packers travel to play the New York Giants while the Bears host the Kansas City Chiefs and the Lions go on the road to the New Orleans Saints.

The 49ers can also clinch their division, the NFC West, this weekend. The 9-2 49ers have a five-game lead over both the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. San Francisco can win the division this weekend just by winning or tying their game against the St.  Louis Rams. If they lose, they can still clinch with a Seattle loss or tie and an Arizona loss or tie. The Seahawks host the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night while the Cardinals play the Dallas Cowboys

At this point, clinching a playoff berth is simply a formality for both teams. They're dominating their respective divisions and hold the two best records in the NFL.

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NFL Playoff Picture 2011: After Patriots, Ravens And Steelers, AFC Is A Mystery

The AFC playoff picture has several more teams involved than their NFC counterparts. We can count 10 teams that still have (somewhat) realistic playoff hopes following Week 12. 

If the playoffs ended today, the AFC seeds would be: 1.) Texans 2.) Patriots 3.) Ravens 4.) Raiders 5.) Steelers 6. Bengals.

Unlike the NFC, the AFC has a lot of teams that are still alive. The Jets, Titans and Broncos are a game out of the wildcard race while the Bills are two games out. The Patriots, Ravens and Steelers all seem very likely to make the playoffs. The Texans have a two-game lead and are currently slotted for the No. 1 seed but their top two quarterbacks are now injured putting their season in question. The AFC West continues to be a mystery with Tim Tebow and the Broncos leading a comeback  and sitting just one game behind the first place Raiders. 

Here's a look at where we stand with the AFC playoff picture after Week 12:

AFC East: Patriots (8-3), Jets (6-5), Bills (5-6), Dolphins (3-8).

The Patriots are starting to look like the best team in the AFC. The offense has put up over 30 points in three straight games and the defense, while giving up a lot of yards, seems to make a lot of big plays at key times. They're on pace to win the division and it'd be hard to see anyone catching them. The Jets and Bills played on Sunday and New York got a big boost with the victory, moving them one game ahead of the Bills. The Jets are right in the middle of the wildcard race, a game behind the Bengals. They've been here before and I think they can finish strong down the stretch.

Prediction: Patriots win the division, Jets get the wildcard.

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AFC North: Ravens (8-3), Steelers (8-3), Bengals (7-4), Browns (4-7).

As of now, the AFC North is on pace to send three teams to the playoffs -- the division winner and both wildcards. The Ravens or Steelers will likely win the division and the other should pick up the wildcard. The Bengals are the, uh, wildcard in all of this -- they have just a one-game lead over the Jets and Titans in the wildcard race. Cincy has three games coming up against division leaders (Steelers, Ravens and Texans) and two very winnable ones (Rams and Cardinals). While Cincy is right there, I'm not sure nine wins would do it.

Prediction: Ravens win the division, Steelers get the wildcard.

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AFC South: Texans (8-3), Titans (6-5), Jaguars (3-8), Colts (0-11).

Houston is your No. 1 seed in the AFC at the moment but their path to the playoffs are far from secure. The Texans are down to their third quarterback, rookie T.J. Yates, after injuries to both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart. They might need two more wins out of him -- can he do it? The Titans are tied with the Jets a game behind the Bengals in the wildcard race right now. 

Prediction: Texans win the division, no wildcard.

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AFC West: Raiders (7-4), Broncos (6-5), Chargers (4-7), Chiefs (4-7).

The two teams who have won the last five AFC West titles, Chargers and Chiefs, now sit at the bottom of the division with all playoff hopes essentially gone. The Raiders are on track to win the division but one intriguing angle is Tim Tebow and the resurgence of the Broncos. Count me among the doubters that the Broncos can keep this pace up so, for now, we'll take the Raiders winning the division but this will be a fluid division down the stretch.

Prediction: Raiders win the division, no wildcard.

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NFL Playoff Picture 2011: Eight Teams Vying For Six Playoffs Spots In NFC

The NFC playoff picture is starting to take shape after Week 12 and realistically there are only eight teams fighting for six playoff spots. Teams like the Packers and 49ers will definitely be in the playoffs but after that the race is a mystery with five games to play.

If the playoffs ended today, the seeds in the AFC would be: 1.) Packers 2.) 49ers 3.) Saints 4.) Cowboys 5.) Bears 6.) Falcons.

There's not as much competition for a playoff spot in the NFC as there is in the AFC. The Giants and Lions are really the only other teams in the NFC (other than the ones listed above) who have realistic playoff hopes. 

NFC East: Cowboys (7-4), Giants (6-4), Eagles (4-7), Redskins (4-7)

The NFC East is getting a lot more interesting with the Cowboys winning four straight games. I had the Giants as the leader in the clubhouse last week to win the division but I'm changing my tune. The Giants have a huge game against New Orleans on Monday Night Football and, if they lose that (as the odds say they will), they'll stand one game behind Dallas with five games to play. Another collapse on the horizon for New York? It's possible. The Eagles, meanwhile, lost to the Patriots effectively ending any playoff talk for them.

Prediction: Cowboys win the division, no wildcard.

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NFC North: Packers (11-0), Lions (7-4), Bears (7-4), Vikings (2-9)

The Packers are obviously going to walk away with this division but it's what's happening with the Lions and Bears that will make this race interesting. Last week we predicted both Detroit and Chicago end up with wildcards but events in the last two weeks has us changing our minds. The Lions might be without Ndamukong Suh for a game or two (or more) thanks to his Thanksgiving Day stomp and the Bears are now starting Caleb Hanie with Jay Cutler out. Methinks Chicago can't get to 10 wins without Cutler which means they'll be watching the playoffs from home.

Prediction: Packers win the division, Lions get the wildcard.

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NFC South: Saints (7-3), Falcons (7-4), Bucs (4-7), Panthers (3-8)

The NFC South is coming down to the Saints and Falcons. The Saints are the Saints -- they're one of the best teams in football and they should win the division. The Falcons, though, started the season inconsistently but have rebounded to win five of their last six. In our latest playoff picture, the Falcons have an edge over the Bears and we're predicting they pull out the wildcard. I see three more wins from Atlanta -- Panthers, Jaguars and Bucs -- and they might have to steal another one between the Texans and Saints.

Prediction: Saints win the division, Falcons get the wildcard.

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NFC West: 49ers (9-2), Seahawks (4-7), Cardinals (4-7), Rams (2-9)

This is still the most obvious playoff picture in the league. The 49ers will win the division and no wildcards will come from the NFC West.

Prediction: 49ers win the division, no wildcard.

So if our predictions came to light, it would look like the current playoff picture above except Detroit in the playoffs instead of Chicago. 

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NFL Playoff Picture: 49ers Can Clinch NFC West; Packers Can Secure Playoff Spot

We're entering Week 12 and already a pair of teams can clinch playoff spots. The 9-1 San Francisco 49ers can actually clinch the NFC West title while the 10-0 Green Bay Packers can clinch a playoff spot.

For the 49ers to clinch the NFC West two things need to happen. First, they need to beat the Baltimore Ravens, which comes on Thanksgiving night. Second, the Seattle Seahawks need to lose to the Washington Redskins on Sunday. NFL odds say neither of those will happen this week -- 49ers are three-point underdogs to the Ravens and the Seahawks are a 3.5-point favorite over the Redskins.

If the 49ers can clinch the NFC West this week, they'll become the sixth team since 1978 to clinch the division after 11 games joining the 2009 Colts (11-0), 2007 Patriots (11-0), 2004 Eagles (10-1), 1997 49ers (10-1) and 1985 Bears (11-0).

For the Packers to clinch a playoff spot, they to win. If Dallas loses or ties, they can get in with a Falcons loss or a Saints loss. They can also get in with a Falcons loss and a Giants loss or tie. The Cowboys are seven-point favorites over the Dolphins on Thanksgiving Day.

Both these teams will eventually make it in, whether it's this week or not. The only real question is whether they'll be seeded No. 1 and No. 2 entering the postseason.

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Long-Shot NFL Playoff Picture: Make-Believe For The Mathematically Living

11 weeks into the NFL season, only one team has been mathematically eliminated. Teams such as the Rams, Vikings, and Panthers are still technically alive. Here, we plot out the ridiculous methods by which they can reach the postseason.

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NFL Playoff Picture 2011: Packers, 49ers Lead Race For Top Seeds In NFC

The 2011 NFL playoff picture is a little clearer in the NFC than it is the AFC. There are two clear-cut best teams in the Packers and 49ers, who hold big leads in their division. The NFC East and NFC South are the only two divisions that feature a division race within one game and the NFC North, like its AFC counterpart, could be set to send three teams to the postseason.

If the playoffs started today, the seeds in the NFC would be: 1.) Packers 2.) 49ers 3.) Saints 4.) Cowboys 5.) Lions 6.) Bears.

NFC East: Cowboys (6-4), Giants (6-4), Eagles (4-6), Redskins (3-7)

The NFC East is a long way from seeing a clear leader. The Cowboys and Giants are tied for the division lead and they'll play each other twice in the regular season's final four games so those games will go a long way to determining a winner. As for Philly, if they were any other team we'd probably be counting them out but we know they have the talent to get it done -- it's just a matter of actually putting that to use. They would probably have to run the table to get it done, which isn't likely. The Redskins aren't yet mathematically eliminated but they will be soon.

Prediction: Giants win the division, no wildcard.

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NFC North: Packers (10-0), Lions (7-3), Bears (7-3), Vikings (2-8)

The NFC North has a strong case for the best division in football. The Packers are obviously going to make the playoffs and it would be a major upset if they didn't win the NFC North, too (or even go undefeated). That leaves the Lions and Bears fighting over one or two wildcard spots. I think one of those teams almost assuredly gets in, if not both. The Bears chances may take a hit with Jay Cutler's injury but they have a relatively easy stretch in their next five.

Prediction: Packers win the division, Lions and Bears get the wildcard.

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NFC South: Saints (7-3), Falcons (6-4), Bucs (4-6), Panthers (2-8)

The Saints are playing like the best team in the division and they should end up with an NFC South title by the end of the year to prove it. As of this week, the Falcons are a game behind two NFC North teams for the wildcard and the Bucs are three back. After New Orleans, Atlanta has the best shot at qualifying for the postseason. The Bucs, along with the Panthers, have long odds of making it.

Prediction: Saints win the division, no wildcard.

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NFC West: 49ers (9-1), Seahawks (4-6), Cardinals (3-7), Rams (2-8)

This is the clearest playoff picture of any division in the league. The 49ers will win the division and likely pick up the No. 1 or No. 2 overall seed in the NFC. The Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams are not realistically in the playoff race anymore.

Prediction: 49ers win the division, no wildcard.

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If our predictions hold true, the NFC playoff seeds would look like this: 1.) Packers 2.) 49ers 3.) Saints 4.) Giants 5.) Lions 6.) Bears

This scenario would have the Packers and 49ers with a first round bye while the Saints host the Bears and the Giants host the Lions.

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NFL Playoff Picture 2011: AFC North On Pace To Send Three Teams To Playoffs

Through 11 weeks, we're starting to get a better idea of the playoff race in both the AFC and NFC. Both North divisions look the strongest and both could send three teams to the playoffs.

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