The halfway point of the 2016 NFL season has come and gone, and while the league’s playoff race is far from settled, a few teams look like safe bets to compete for the Lombardi Trophy after Week 17.
In the AFC, the Patriots, Chiefs, Raiders, and Broncos all hold a lofty status as the only teams in the conference with at least seven wins. For those four, everything but their playoff seeding seems predetermined. While New England appears locked in for its 13th AFC East title in the past 14 years, the hornet’s nest known as the West will be much less predictable.
Kansas City, Oakland, and Denver are all battling for a spot at the top of the NFL’s toughest division. The Raiders are currently on top of the AFC West — and the AFC -- after their win over the Texans on Monday Night Football.
Winning the West crown will have major playoff ramifications. The champion gets a likely first-round bye and home-field advantage in the divisional round of the playoffs. The runners-up will have to slog through a wild card game and wouldn’t even have the chance to host a postseason showdown until the AFC Championship.
The NFC has a similarly defined pecking order at the top, with the Cowboys and then the Seahawks. The Giants and Washington hold the other two wild card spots, but a competitive NFC East and a wide open NFC North will give the final six weeks of conference play all the drama and urgency the league needs to boost flagging television ratings.
Here’s a look at this week’s games and whose playoff standing improved, or took a hit in Week 11.
All times listed are Eastern, and all games are on Sunday unless listed otherwise.
Panthers 23, Saints 20 (Thursday)
The Panthers and Saints are now tied at 4-6 in the NFC South, just two games back of the Falcons.
Bills 16, Bengals 12
The Bills snapped a three-game losing streak and inserted themselves back in the wild card race with a .500 record — though they’re two games behind in the AFC’s final playoff spot. The Bengals fall further back in the AFC North race, but even at 3-6-1, they aren’t out of it just yet.
Steelers 24, Browns 9
Pittsburgh moves to 5-5 on the season and is now tied with the Ravens after their loss to the Cowboys. Baltimore is still in first place by virtue of a Week 9 win over the Steelers, which makes a Week 16 tilt between these teams extremely important to the playoff picture.
And the Browns are now 0-11 and officially limited from the postseason.
Cowboys 27, Ravens 17
The Cowboys retain first place in the NFC by two games. Get ready to host some playoff games, AT&T Stadium. The Ravens are still in first in the AFC North, but the Steelers are now tied with them at 5-5.
Lions 26, Jaguars 19
Detroit remains at the top of the NFC North, though the Vikings’ win over the Cardinals has them tied with the Lions at 6-4.
Colts 24, Titans 17
Indianapolis takes Tennessee’s spot as second in the AFC South’s pecking order and is only one game behind the Texans.
Buccaneers 19, Chiefs 17
Jameis Winston improves his team to 5-5. With some help — i.e. losses from the four teams in front of Tampa Bay in the standings — the Bucs could be only half a game away from the NFC’s second wild card. The Chiefs lost their spot atop the AFC West, but still retain a wild card spot.
Vikings 30, Cardinals 24
The Vikings stopped their four-game freefall and keep pace with the Lions atop the NFC North. The Cardinals fall further back in the NFC West.
Giants 22, Bears 16
New York is still behind Dallas in the NFC East, but has a good grip on one of the conference’s wild card teams.
Dolphins 14, Rams 10
Miami continues its march back from a 1-3 start and moves one game out of a wild card spot. The Rams fall further behind the Seahawks, but closer to that inevitable 7-9 record.
Patriots 30, 49ers 17
New England holds on to the top spot in the AFC East and still controls its destiny for a first-round bye. The 49ers still aren’t out of the race for the top draft pick.
Seahawks 26, Eagles 15
Seattle solidifies its claim on the NFC’s No. 2 spot by improving to 7-2-1. Even a loss keeps the team securely in first place in the NFC West. At 5-5, the Eagles fall behind the rest of the NFC East.
Washington 42, Packers 24
Kirk Cousins retains his playoff spot and solidifies Washington’s hold on a wild card bid with a 6-3-1 record. The Packers are now two games back in the NFC North.
Raiders 27, Texans 20 (Monday)
Derek Carr and the Raiders moved to 8-2 on the season, and are tied with the Patriots for the best record in the AFC. They win the tiebreaker over the Patriots based on best win percentage in common games, and are atop the AFC standings. The Texans are still in the lead in the AFC South, but now by just one game.
Here’s what the standings look after Week 11:
- Raiders (8-2, AFC East)
- Patriots (8-2, AFC West)
- Texans (6-4, AFC South)
- Ravens (5-5, AFC North)
- Chiefs (7-3, Wild Card)
- Broncos (7-3, Wild Card)
- Cowboys (9-1, NFC East)
- Seahawks (7-2-1, NFC West)
- Lions (6-4, NFC North)
- Falcons (6-4, NFC South)
- Giants (7-3, Wild Card)
- Washington (5-3-1, Wild Card)