One of the most unpredictable weeks of the 2017 season left the NFL with new leaders for both conferences and the prospect for three massive Week 15 showdowns. Let’s take a closer look at the current playoff picture.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)
A wild victory Sunday night over the Ravens, combined with the Patriots’ stunning loss in Miami on Monday night, allowed the Steelers to clinch the AFC North and grab a one-game lead for the top seed in the conference. If they can defeat the Patriots this week at Heinz Field, they can put themselves in strong position for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
2. New England Patriots (10-3)
You wonder whether the one-game suspension of tight end Rob Gronkowski will end up deciding the AFC race. The Patriots failed to convert a single third down (0-for-11) in a 27-20 loss to the Dolphins on Monday, and have allowed the upper hand in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC to slip away. But, a win against the Steelers this coming week would give the teams identical records and flip the tiebreaker to the Patriots with two weeks remaining in the season.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4)
An impressive victory over the Seattle Seahawks, combined with the Titans' loss to the Arizona Cardinals, have returned the Jaguars to the AFC South lead. It's the latest point of the season they've been atop the division since 2009, and they're five games above .500 for the first time since 2007. But unless the Tennessee Titans collapse, there isn't an obvious tie-breaking path to clinching the division before the teams' Week 17 showdown.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)
If the Chiefs have stopped the bleeding, it couldn't have come at a better time. They ended a four-game losing streak Sunday, essentially putting two games between themselves and the Oakland Raiders. Kansas City can cement its head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chargers with a victory over L.A. next week at Arrowhead Stadium. Long story short: Despite a massive midseason slump, the Chiefs remain in total control of the division and thus their spot in the playoffs.
5. Tennessee Titans (8-5)
The Titans trail the Jaguars but could still clinch the division title by winning out. (They would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.) We'll see if quarterback Marcus Mariota's knee injury will hamper that push. They also have a tough schedule, facing the resurgent San Francisco 49ers in Week 15 and the Rams in Week 16. But they still hold a strong advantage in the wild-card race.
6. Buffalo Bills (7-6)
After further figuring, the Bills did in fact leapfrog the Ravens after Sunday night's game at Heinz Field. Buffalo owns the tiebreaker over Baltimore based on strength of victory and is holding off the Chargers based on a better record in conference games, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Chargers' victory over the Bills earlier this season isn't relevant because the head-to-head tiebreaker counts in a three-way tie only if it can be applied to all teams. The Chargers and Ravens haven't played.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-2)
Has a division title ever felt emptier? The Eagles clinched the NFC East and regained control for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with Sunday's 43-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. But projections for the rest of their season must be recalibrated to having Nick Foles replace quarterback Carson Wentz, who has a torn ACL in his left knee and will miss the rest of the season. The Eagles might well be able to hold to the NFC's top seed. Their remaining games are against the New York Giants (2-11), Raiders (6-7) and Dallas Cowboys (7-6). But it's difficult to envision Foles leading them to the Super Bowl.
2. Minnesota Vikings (10-3)
Their eight-game winning streak ended at Carolina, and they suffered a handful of injuries to be monitored. But the Vikings might have emerged from Week 14 as the team to beat in the NFC. The Eagles' post-Wentz future is cloudy at best, and already the Vikings have defeated the New Orleans Saints and Rams. The Vikings will have another, and more likely, chance to clinch the NFC North by defeating the Bengals at home next week. (It would also happen if the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers both lose.) It's possible the Vikings could pass the Eagles outright. If not, they still have a chance to clinch either the conference record or strength of victory tiebreaker.
3. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
The Rams missed on a chance to lessen the pressure on their Week 15 matchup with the Seahawks. Sunday's loss to the Eagles means that the winner of next week's game will hold the division lead with two games to play. The Rams would lead by virtue of record, but the Seahawks would win the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Rams would still be in decent shape for a wild-card spot. FPI is giving them an 85 percent chance of making the playoffs, one way or the other.
4. New Orleans Saints (9-4)
Even after Thursday's loss to the Falcons and the Carolina Panthers' victory over the Vikings on Sunday, the Saints are atop the division because of the head-to-head tiebreaker with Carolina. They might need to win out in order to win the NFC South, but their schedule is favorable for it. They'll host the Jets, and possibly backup quarterback Bryce Petty, on extra rest. They'll follow with the Falcons and finish up with the 4-8 Buccaneers.
5. Carolina Panthers (9-4)
The Panthers won the first game of a three-week homestand on Sunday, closing their gap with the Saints and remaining ahead of the Falcons. Their goal should be to make the Week 17 game against the Falcons irrelevant.
6. Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
The Seahawks' loss to the Jaguars allowed the Falcons to jump back into the No. 6 spot. As that position remains in play, it's worth noting the Falcons hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Seahawks, Packers, Lions and Cowboys. That gives them a great chance to reach the postseason, even if the can't overcome the Saints and Panthers. That's presuming they keep winning, of course. They've won five of their past seven.