NFL playoff picture: Giants delay Cowboys' clinching party

How were Giants able to slow down Cowboys' offense? (1:01)

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The Seahawks were once viewed as the Cowboys' biggest threat in the NFC. But Seattle is just another average team -- at best -- on the road. And the Cowboys have a legitimate, full-fledged nemesis in their own division.

The Lions, Falcons and Buccaneers don't appear to be going away anytime soon. The AFC South, as sorry as it might be, could be headed for a fantastic finish. And the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos are in real danger of missing the playoffs.

Here's a look at the NFL's playoff picture at this moment.


1. Dallas Cowboys (11-2). A win Sunday night would have clinched the NFC East and a first-round bye for the Cowboys. They still seem likely to earn both, but they have to wait at least one week. And if they face the Giants in the playoffs, there will be legitimate questions about whether that's the matchup that could derail their Super Bowl dreams.

2. Detroit Lions (9-4). Another week, another comeback victory for banged-up Matthew Stafford and the Lions, who move into position for a bye thanks to Seattle's loss. The Lions go to New Jersey to play the Giants next week, then to Dallas the following week before finishing at home against the Packers. So it's not going to be easy to hold this spot. But the Lions don't seem to like to do things easy, do they?

3. Seattle Seahawks (8-4-1). Yet another hideous road performance by Russell Wilson and a Seattle team that has now lost in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Green Bay and tied in Arizona. Sunday's loss dropped the Seahawks into a position that would require them to play three games to reach the Super Bowl. They still can clinch the division with a win or an Arizona loss next week. Two of their remaining three games are at home, where they're 6-0 and clearly a different team. But here's the bad news: It looks increasingly likely that they'll have to play at least one road game in January.

4. Atlanta Falcons (8-5). Who needs Julio Jones? Not the Falcons to beat the Rams. After laying waste to Jeff Fisher's crew in Los Angeles, the Falcons keep the slightest of edges over Tampa Bay in the NFC South. They have identical overall records, identical conference records and went 1-1 against each other. The only thing keeping Atlanta in first place right now: its 6-3 record against opponents it has in common with the Bucs. Tampa Bay is 5-4 in such games. This will remain super tight throughout the rest of the regular season. And neither is out of the picture yet in terms of a first-round bye.

5. New York Giants (9-4). Sunday night's game was huge for the Giants' psyche, coming off a tough loss in Pittsburgh and the loss of one of their best defensive players, Jason Pierre-Paul due to injury. They are the only team to beat the Cowboys this year and they've now done it twice. They also maintain a two-game lead on a playoff spot and, depending on the way the games break, could clinch their first playoff appearance since 2011 as early as next week.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5). That's five wins in a row for the Bucs, who are right on the tails of Atlanta and the Giants in the division and wild-card standings. The Bucs have won in Kansas City and in San Diego during their current streak, so don't assume they can't go to Dallas next week and give the Cowboys a game. Then they finish with the Saints and Panthers.

Surging: The Green Bay Packers (7-6) have won three in a row to move onto the cusp of the NFC wild-card race. They're two games behind Detroit in the division race, which may be too much to overcome, even though they finish the season in Detroit. Green Bay is right behind Tampa Bay and Washington and even with Minnesota. Aaron Rodgers suggested "running the table" not long ago, and if the Packers do that and reach 10-6 ... who knows? They're at Chicago and home to Minnesota the next two weeks.

Slipping: The Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) started the season 3-0 and stood at 4-2 after dealing the Vikings their first loss of the season in Week 7. But the Eagles have lost six of their past seven, and after Sunday’s tough loss to Washington, they’re turning their attention to next season. Carson Wentz has shown enough in his rookie season to encourage the Eagles about their future. But if the other three teams in the NFC East have really improved this much, the Eagles have some work to do before next season kicks off.

Worth noting: The Buccaneers have not reached the playoffs since 2007, and they really haven't come all that close. This is the first time since 2010 that they've won as many as eight games in a season, and this season will end the Bucs' streak of five straight fourth-place finishes in the NFC South.


1. New England Patriots (11-2). The Patriots are alone in first after beating the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) on Monday night, but they still haven't clinched the AFC East.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3). Thursday night’s victory over Oakland moved the Chiefs into a first-place tie in the AFC West, but their 2-0 record over the Raiders this season gives them the tiebreaker. Kansas City has home games left against the Titans and Broncos and a road game in San Diego.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5). Pittsburgh stands alone by a game in the AFC North after the Ravens' loss. The AFC North race still could come down to the Dec. 25 game between the Ravens and Steelers in Pittsburgh.

4. Houston Texans (7-6). The Texans' victory in Indianapolis kept them in a first-place division tie with the Tennessee Titans, but Houston has the tiebreaker because of a head-to-head victory. And the Texans' 4-0 division record gives them a strong tiebreaker edge over the Titans’ 1-3 division record. So even if the Texans lose in Nashville in Week 17, they’d still win the division on the tiebreaker if those two teams had the same record.

5. Oakland Raiders (10-3). A tough loss Thursday night knocked Oakland out of a bye and into a wild-card spot. But Denver’s loss in Tennessee on Sunday helped the Raiders, who can lock up a playoff spot next week even as they still hope to capture one of those first-round byes. They’ll have to beat the Chiefs outright to win the division. The Raiders have road games in San Diego and Denver and a home game against the Colts still to go.

6. Denver Broncos (8-5). They hold the slightest tiebreaker advantage over the 8-5 Dolphins, because they have identical 5-4 records against AFC opponents, but Denver is 2-2 and Miami is 1-2 in games against common opponents.

Surging: The Tennessee Titans (7-6) suddenly look like a real factor in both the AFC South and wild-card races. A victory over the Super Bowl champion Broncos on Sunday stamps Marcus Mariota & Co. as legitimate playoff contenders who now own a head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver. And the Titans get a shot at Houston at home in Week 17. The AFC South tiebreakers don’t favor the Titans, but if they win out, they’ll be division champs. They have road games in Kansas City and Jacksonville before the intra-division finale.

Slipping: Sunday’s game was something like a playoff for the Indianapolis Colts (6-7). Indy is in serious danger of missing the playoffs for the second season in a row. They're in third place in the AFC South, and they're 0-2 against the Texans. On top of that, the Colts have tough road games coming up in Minnesota and Oakland before the layup home finale against the Jaguars.