NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Patriots miss chance to overtake Broncos in AFC race

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The playoff race continues to take shape. Here's a look at where everything stands through the early Week 15 games.

UPDATE: Here are is the latest NFL playoff projection following the set of late afternoon games.

Although there are still a lot of moving parts, the playoff pictures in the AFC and NFC are beginning to round into form. The early games in Week 15 helped solidify some things while putting pressure on a few teams yet to play. The race atop the conferences remains close and the AFC race only got tighter on Sunday.

Here's a look at the latest playoff standings following the early wave of Week 15 games.

(X) - clinched playoff berth (Y) - clinched division

AFC playoff standings

No. 1 - (X) Denver 11-3

No. 2 - New England 10-4

No. 3 - Cincinnati 9-4

No. 4 - (Y) Indianapolis 9-5

No. 5 - Kansas City 10-3

No. 6 - Dolphins 8-6

In the hunt: Baltimore (7-6), San Diego (7-7), New York Jets (6-7), Tennessee (5-8), Pittsburgh (5-8)

New England could have clinched the AFC East with a win against Miami, but instead it's the Dolphins staying alive in the playoff race. The Patriots also missed a prime opportunity to take control of the race for home-field advantage. With a win, New England would have tied Denver for the best record in the AFC while holding a tiebreaker over the Broncos. The Patriots can still secure a first-round bye, but may have missed out on home-field advantage. At 8-6, Miami is currently holding the No. 6 seed in the AFC. There is now considerable pressure on the Ravens to win on Monday to keep pace.

The rest of the early games didn't have a lot of impact on the AFC standings. Indianapolis improved to 9-5 with a win against Houston and is still in contention for the No. 3 seed.

Miami's win over the Patriots puts the Dolphins into the sixth seed for now. They lost to the Ravens earlier in the season, and if the Ravens win on Monday in Detroit, they would move back into the sixth spot.

There could be some more movement with the late games. Kansas City can clinch a playoff spot and tie the Broncos in the AFC West with a win against Oakland. The Bengals can take another step in securing the AFC North with a win against Pittsburgh. With Miami winning, Tennessee and Pittsburgh must win or they will be eliminated from contention.

NFC playoff standings

No. 1 - (X) Seattle 12-2

No. 2 - New Orleans 10-3

No. 3 - Philadelphia 8-6

No. 4 - Chicago 8-6

No. 5 - San Francisco 10-4

No. 6 - Carolina 9-4

In the hunt: Arizona (8-5), Detroit (7-6), Dallas (7-6), Green Bay (6-6-1)

Seattle maintained its lead at the top of the NFC and moved one step closer to clinching home-field advantage with a win against the New York Giants. Seattle improved to 12-2 with the win. The Seahawks could have clinched the NFC West with a 49ers loss, but will now need one win in their final two games, or a 49ers loss or tie in their final two to do so.

The Seahawks win puts the pressure on New Orleans, who now must beat St. Louis to stay in the race for home-field advantage. A Saints loss would mean the NFC will run through the NFC West.

San Francisco's win against Tampa Bay temporarily moved the 49ers to the No. 5 seed in the NFC. If Carolina wins on Sunday, San Francisco would drop back to No. 6. The 49ers can clinch a playoff berth if Arizona and either Dallas or Philadelphia lose.

Chicago's win in Cleveland gives the Bears a temporary bump to the top of the NFC North. The Lions and Bears were tied with identical 7-6 records prior to this week, but Detroit was on top of the division after sweeping Chicago in two games this season. The Lions host the Ravens on Monday night. A win will put them back on top of the NFC North and in the fourth seed for the playoffs. A loss keeps the Bears on top, for this week anyway.

Dallas' playoff hopes are still alive after Philadelphia lost in Minnesota on Sunday. If Dallas can beat the Packers without Aaron Rodgers on Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys will take the lead in the NFC East thanks to a tiebreaker because of a Week 7 win over Philadelphia. Depending on what each team does in Week 16, the NFC East could come down to a Week 17 showdown between the Eagles and the Cowboys in Dallas.

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