The playoff picture is starting to take shape as some teams have dropped out of contention after Week 9. The AFC and NFC division winners are all the same, but there have been some shakeups in the wild card races. The Jets and Panthers are now in the driver seat of the last wild card spots in their conferences, though they have a host of teams right behind them, looking to steal their seat at the dance.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West leader) (9-0)
2. New England Patriots (AFC East leader) (7-2)
3. Indianapolis Colts (AFC South leader) (7-2)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (AFC North leader) (6-3)
5. Denver Broncos (Wild Card) (7-1)
6. New York Jets (Wild Card) (5-4)
With the Broncos on bye, the AFC's second-best team got a break in Week 9. However, their division rivals were busy as the Chiefs extended their nine-game undefeated streak and a Redskins victory knocked the Chargers out of the current playoff lineup. The Chiefs maintain the top seed after a dominating defensive performance against a young Bills team.
The Bengals fell a bit in the standings after a Thursday night loss to the Dolphins, but still sit atop the AFC North and are in control of their playoff destiny as it stands now. However, the Bengals' loss has given the Dolphins a realistic chance of stealing a wild-card spot. A wild card may be the way to go for Miami as the Jets and Patriots are both ahead in the standings. Both New York and New England made their stock on the standings rise with wins over the likes of the Saints and Steelers, respectively.
AFC Wild Card Race
A win by the Titans on Sunday has Tennessee in the contention for the AFC South and/or a wild card slot. At 4-4, the Titans are one of three teams on the outside, looking in on a playoff spot. All three are nipping at the Jets' heels. The Browns are currently 4-5, so they are also right on the cusp of contention for the final AFC spot.
The Browns will likely have to make some serious strides to stay even with the Titans, Dolphins and Chargers. The Dolphins and Titans can still play for their division so that could make for added incentive down the stretch. The Chargers' most realistic shot at the playoffs is solely through the final Wild Card spot.
NFC Playoff Picture
1. Seattle Seahawks (NFC West leader) (7-1)
2. New Orleans Saints (NFC South leader) (6-2)
3. Green Bay Packers (NFC North leader) (5-2)
4. Dallas Cowboys (NFC East leader) (5-4)
5. San Francisco 49ers (Wild Card) (6-2)
6. Carolina Panthers (Wild Card) (5-3)
Just missed: Detroit Lions at 5-3.
The Seahawks lead the NFC by one game, following a comeback win against the Buccaneers. With the Saints losing to the Jets, New Orleans is now behind Seattle for home-field advantage in the playoffs. To make matters worse for the Saints, if the Packers win their Monday Night Football showdown against the Bears, Green Bay would be neck-and-neck with New Orleans at 6-2. Also, the Panthers are just one game behind the Saints for the NFC South title.
The 49ers were on bye in Week 9, so their spot as the fifth seed stays idle. With the now-successful Panthers collecting wins, San Francisco could have competition shortly. While Carolina is on a run, they still have to hold off a hungry Lions team that was on a bye, much like the 49ers.
The Cowboys remain in control of the NFC East, but with wins on Sunday, the Eagles and Redskins are staying close to Dallas. With a showdown with the Saints scheduled for Week 10, the Cowboys could lose major footing with a loss. Philadelphia is a game behind Dallas, but their next matchup is just as daunting with a trip to Green Bay to face the Packers.
NFC Wild Card Race
The Lions, Panthers and 49ers are still in contention for their divisions but are still the trio in prime position for wild card berths. The Lions and Panthers are tied but are just in front of the likes of the Bears and Cardinals for the last playoff spot. The Eagles are also just a 1.5 games behind the Lions and Panthers.
As it sits now, the Lions, Panthers, 49ers, Bears, Cardinals and Eagles are in a six-team race for the final two spots in the NFC playoff picture. While all of these teams still have a shot at their divisions, it is important for them to have a backup plan. If one or two can get real separation from the others, they may lock up their postseason plans earlier than expected.