NFL playoff picture: Who's in, who's out with six weeks left to play


1. New England Patriots (10-0): The Patriots weren’t quite as dominant as usual but still got it done with a 20-13 win over Buffalo on Monday night. The Patriots now hold a commanding five-game lead in the AFC East with an eye toward another undefeated regular season.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (8-2): The Bengals fought Arizona to the final seconds but came up just short in a 34-31 loss in the desert. Cincinnati still hangs on to the No. 2 seed by virtue of its winning percentage against AFC foes.

3. Denver Broncos (8-2): Escaping Chicago with a 17-15 win, the Broncos ended their two-game losing streak and might have found enough in quarterback Brock Osweiler to help out a Super Bowl-caliber defense.

4. Indianapolis Colts (5-5): The Colts dug themselves out of a big hole against Atlanta even without quarterback Andrew Luck and managed to sneak away with a 24-21 win that allows them to keep hold of their lead in the AFC South.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4): The Steelers enjoyed the last of the bye weeks and will return to action next week with a difficult road matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

6. Kansas City Chiefs (5-5): The Chiefs won their fourth consecutive game Sunday, dominating San Diego 33-3. They’re one of four AFC wild-card contenders with a 5-5 record but would be in based on their record against AFC foes.

Best projected matchup: Kansas City at Denver – The AFC West rivals have a long history together, including Denver’s 14-10 playoff win in 1998. The Chiefs probably should have won both games against the Broncos this year but either way, a rubber match would be fun for the two historic franchises.

On the rise: Kansas City Chiefs (5-5). ESPN’s Football Power Index now gives Kansas City a 73 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Chiefs can add an important tiebreaker next week at home with a win over Buffalo.

On the decline: New York Jets (5-5). A loss to the Texans gave the Jets their second consecutive defeat and fourth in five games. The schedule down the stretch is manageable, but losses in two winnable games the past two weeks could make it hard for New York to recover.


1. Carolina Panthers (10-0): The Panthers looked every bit the best team in the NFC in a convincing 44-16 win against Washington. Quarterback Cam Newton & Co. look poised to dance their way to the No. 1 seed in the conference.

2. Arizona Cardinals (8-2): The Cardinals won their fourth consecutive game by knocking off the Bengals 34-31 on Sunday night. In terms of opponent, it was Arizona's best win of the season and the Cardinals now hold a three-game advantage in the NFC West.

3. Green Bay Packers (7-3): The Packers got back on track with an impressive 30-13 win against the division-rival Vikings and reclaimed their spot at the top of the NFC North in the process by virtue of this head-to-head victory. The teams meet again in Week 17.

4. New York Giants (5-5): The Giants were on bye this week but gained ground as their closest NFC East rivals, Washington and Philadelphia, both lost. New York now sits alone atop the division.

5. Minnesota Vikings (7-3): Minnesota’s five-game win streak came to a bitter end at the hands of the Packers, dropping the Vikings into a tie with Green Bay in the NFC North. Things only get more difficult with Atlanta, Seattle and Arizona the next three weeks.

6. Atlanta Falcons (6-4): The Falcons blew a sizable lead against Indianapolis to drop their third consecutive game and make their spot here tenuous at best.

Best projected matchup: Minnesota at New York Giants. Any game featuring Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is must-see TV. There’s a potential preview on the schedule, too, as these teams meet on Dec. 27 in Minneapolis.

On the rise: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5). Don’t look now, but Jameis Winston and the Bucs have won two in a row and three of their past four, and Sunday they did it in convincing fashion against Philadelphia. Aside from a season-ending trip to Carolina, Tampa has only a home game against Atlanta remaining against a team with a winning record. And by the time they meet the Panthers, Carolina could have its spot wrapped up.

On the decline: Atlanta. Three consecutive losses to Indianapolis, San Francisco and Tampa Bay doesn’t bode well for a team that started the season with five consecutive wins. Atlanta has two games left against Carolina, making its job of hanging on to the sixth seed all the more difficult.