It was a wild Sunday afternoon and evening for the NFL's playoff picture. The Seattle Seahawks laid an egg in Tampa and now find themselves looking behind them in the standings rather than ahead. The top two seeds in the AFC had to come back in the final two minutes to keep their grip on their spots. The Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs beat each other up in a prime-time overtime divisional classic. And the AFC got a surprise party crasher in the No. 6 spot.
One game left in Week 12, and then five more weeks to go after that. So there's a lot that still needs to sort itself out. But we've reached the point in the season in which all of these results seem to matter to the postseason picture. So here's a look at that picture as it stands right now.
1. New England Patriots (9-2): Yes, Oakland was No. 1 and New England was No. 2 as of Sunday morning, and yes, they both won. But the Patriots' win was a conference win, which means they have a 7-1 conference record. Oakland's victory over NFC opponent Carolina kept its conference record at 6-1. For the time being, the Patriots have the tiebreaker edge and would be the No. 1 seed if the season ended right now. Of course, it does not.
2. Oakland Raiders (9-2): The Derek Carr finger injury scare had Raider Nation hyperventilating for a little while Sunday. But their MVP candidate came back and looked just fine, so Oakland remains ahead of the feisty AFC West pack. The win ensures that the Raiders will finish the season with a winning record for the first time since 2002. Odd scheduling upcoming: The Raiders have one game left against each of their division opponents, and all are on the road.
3. Baltimore Ravens (6-5): Sunday’s victory over Cincinnati was big, as the Ravens not only hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) but also own a 4-0 division record, which currently bests Pittsburgh’s 2-1 in the second tiebreaker, should that be necessary. The Ravens and Steelers meet in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day.
4. Houston Texans (6-5): This looks like another white-knuckle finish in an AFC South that the Texans should have put away long ago. The surprising Tennessee Titans are only a half-game back, at 6-6, and the Indianapolis Colts (5-6) aren’t out of this thing yet. Tiebreakers favor Houston, which has beaten both Tennessee and Indy head-to-head and is 3-0 in division games. Tennessee has lost twice to Indy and is just 1-3 in the division. The Titans probably would need to win this free and clear.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (8-3): Huge comeback win in overtime Sunday night in Denver. Not only do the Chiefs stay within one game of the division-leading Raiders, they improve their record in division games to 3-0 while dropping the Broncos' to 1-3. That's huge for potential tiebreaker purposes down the road in the league's most competitive division.
6. Miami Dolphins (7-4). Miami has won six games in a row, and if the season ended right now, the Dolphins would be in the playoffs. They have the same record as the Broncos (7-4), but they hold this spot for now thanks to the second tiebreaker -- conference record. The Dolphins are 5-3 against AFC opponents, while the Broncos are 4-3.
Surging: The Buffalo Bills (6-5) have won two games in a row and kind of won't go away. Theirs is a season of streaks -- lose two, win four, lose three, win two. They have a lot of teams to climb over if they want to end a 16-year streak of not making the playoffs. But if they can steal one in Oakland next week, we'll have to take them seriously.
Slipping: Now two-and-a-half games out of the first-place AFC North tie and with head-to-head losses against both of the teams in that tie, the Cincinnati Bengals (3-7-1) will need a string of miracles (not to mention five wins of their own) to extend their streak of five straight playoff appearances.
Worth noting: The last time a team other than the Colts or Texans won the AFC South was 2008, when the Jeff Fisher/Kerry Collins Titans went 13-3.
1. Dallas Cowboys (10-1): Rinse and repeat. The Cowboys’ 10th straight win, coupled with Seattle’s flop in Tampa Bay, gave Dallas a 2.5-game lead in the race among division leaders for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. At this point, if the Cowboys stumble, it’s more important to watch the Giants, who are only two games back in the division and handed Dallas its only loss of the season in Week 1.
2. Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1): A brutal clunker of a loss in Tampa Bay not only resurrected early-season questions about the Seahawks’ porous offensive line but also severely damaged their chances to run down the Cowboys for the No. 1 seed. At this point, Seattle needs to worry about the two NFC division leaders that sit a half-game behind it in the conference standings -- and worry more about protecting its first-round bye than securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
3. Detroit Lions (7-4): The standings don’t care that you trail in the fourth quarter in every game. They care how many games you win. Right now, the inexplicable Lions are one game up on the Minnesota Vikings (6-5) and 2-0 in head-to-head matchups.
4. Atlanta Falcons (7-4): It sounds crazy, but the Falcons’ victory Sunday over Arizona was a big one to help them stay in front of ... Tampa Bay (6-5). Once the Falcons get through next week’s game against Kansas City, they don’t face another team that currently has a winning record.
5. New York Giants (8-3): Sunday’s victory over the winless Browns was the first game the Giants have won by more than a touchdown, and it’s still crazy that a team can be 8-3 with a minus-5 turnover differential for the season. But their defensive playmakers are making plays when it counts, and the Giants head into a tough final stretch with the second-best record in their conference and a two-game lead on a playoff spot.
6. Washington (6-4-1): Just barely ahead of the Vikings and Bucs in the hunt for that final wild-card spot, Washington has road games the next two weeks in Arizona and Philadelphia that could help tell this story.
Surging: Those Buccaneers have won three in a row -- the previous two against Kansas City and Seattle -- and five of their past seven. One game behind Atlanta in the NFC South, the Bucs have already split the season series with the Falcons, and their division record (2-1) is only a half-game worse than Atlanta’s (3-1). They’re also right on Washington’s tail. Yes, three of their final five games are road games, but the Bucs are 4-1 on the road. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds.
Slipping: The Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1) have won only one of their past five games and sit two games behind the second wild-card spot and three games behind division-leading Seattle. If this was your preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, this is a hard blurb to read -- or type, as the case might be.
Worth noting: The Green Bay Packers (5-6) desperately needed that victory Monday in Philadelphia to stay on the fringes of their division race and the wild-card race. Green Bay has made the playoffs each of the past seven seasons, which ties New England for the longest active streak in the NFL.