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Analyzing the NFL Playoff Chase After 12 Weeks

Chiefs-Eagles, NFL Playoffs
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It may be a cliche, but it does seem like just yesterday we were discussing the Lions’ upset of Kansas City on the opening Thursday of the 2023 NFL season. In the intervening 82 days since, we have come to learn that indeed wound up being no fluke, as the Lions have emerged as one of the league’s best teams. We have also established the true contenders, the pretenders, and the teams who cannot wait for this season to end and begin their offseason plans.

With just six full weekends of football left before we set the playoff field, the picture has become clear as to who will be fighting for home-field advantage in both conferences, the fight for seeding, and who will most likely be competing in the season’s final weeks for one of the three wild card spots in both conferences.

AFC Playoff Picture: Seeds 1-7

#1 Seed: Ravens (9-3)

#2 Seed: Chiefs (8-3)

#3 Seed: Jaguars (8-3)

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#4 Seed: Dolphins (8-3)

#5 Seed: Steelers (7-4)

#6 Seed: Browns (7-4)

#7 Seed: Colts (6-5)

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In the Hunt

Texans (6-5)

Broncos (6-5)

Bills (6-6)

Bengals (5-6)

Raiders (5-7)

Analysis

The AFC is going to be a fight all the way to the end of the regular season, from top to bottom. All four of the AFC’s present division leaders are effectively tied for the No. 1 seed and the all-important home-field advantage through the postseason. With the Ravens on bye this upcoming week, all four teams at the top may end up with identical 9-3 records headed into Week 14. 

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Furthermore, the Ravens play the Jaguars in Week 15 and will also have to play against the Dolphins in Week 17. The Chiefs have already beaten Miami and Jacksonville this season, and their remaining schedule is a tad more favorable than the other three with their toughest opponents being the Bills and Bengals, both of whom find themselves in a tailspin.

Eight teams sit within two-and-a-half games of the three Wild Card slots. The teams currently holding down the spots are the Steelers, Browns, and Colts. Behind them, the other teams in the hunt include the Texans, headed by rookie sensation C.J. Stroud, and the Denver Broncos, who have turned their season around in a huge way following their historic loss to Miami in Week 3. 

Two of these teams, the Browns and Bengals, have lost their starting quarterbacks for the season and will have an undeniably shaky road ahead as they fight for their playoff lives. The Raiders, who were the first to fire their coach this season, lost to Kansas City on Sunday and have the most work to do of anyone to claw back into the hunt. History would be on their side, however, as after having fired Jon Gruden in 2021, the Raiders rallied to make the playoffs. 

NFC Playoff Picture: Seeds 1-7

#1 Seed: Eagles (10-1)

#2 Seed: 49ers (8-3)

#3 Seed: Lions (8-3)

#4 Seed: Falcons (5-6)

#5 Seed: Cowboys (8-3)

#6 Seed: Seahawks (6-5)

#7 Seed: Vikings (6-6)

In the Hunt

Packers (5-6)

Rams (5-6)

Saints (5-6)

Buccaneers (4-7)

Analysis

The NFC field, by comparison, is clearer than its much more competitive counterpart. Philadelphia prevailed over Buffalo on Sunday in overtime and is likely one more weekend from being the first to clinch a playoff spot. Their closest rivals for the No. 1 seed are division-rival Dallas, San Francisco, and Detroit, all a full two games behind. Philadelphia just needs to keep on winning, and that can start by taking down the 49ers this weekend. 

The 49ers likely dealt a deathblow to any hope Seattle had of dethroning them in the NFC West on Thanksgiving, while Detroit must still play the Vikings–their closest NFC North competitors–twice in these final six weeks.

The NFC South race is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a mess once again. The Saints and Falcons share the lead at 5-6, the same record the Buccaneers held last season after 12 weeks. This year, Tampa has done themselves one worse at 4-7. All three clubs will have to play each other one more time before this season is over, and for the second consecutive year, we must entertain the idea that the Cowboys will most likely have to play a sub-.500 NFC South champion on Wild Card Weekend.

In the Wild Card race itself, Dallas will most likely have to take the No. 5 seed once again. Seattle and Minnesota, the two teams immediately behind Dallas, both lost in Week 12 while the Rams and Packers both won. Seattle’s season now sits on very shaky ground with three consecutive matchups against the Cowboys, 49ers, and Eagles upcoming, while the Packers’ most difficult opponent remaining is Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, whom they will welcome to Lambeau Field this Sunday. Los Angeles’ two most difficult games remaining will see them play the Ravens in Week 14 and the 49ers at home to close out the season.

AFC Playoff Predictions After 12 Weeks

#1 Seed: Chiefs

#2 Seed: Ravens

#3 Seed: Dolphins

#4 Seed: Jaguars

#5 Seed: Steelers

#6 Seed: Texans

#7 Seed: Broncos

NFC Playoff Predictions After 12 Weeks

#1 Seed: Eagles

#2 Seed: 49ers

#3 Seed: Lions

#4 Seed: Saints

#5 Seed: Cowboys

#6 Seed: Packers

#7 Seed: Vikings


Main Image Credit:

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