NFL Playoff Picture: Looking ahead after Week 9

Saturday says Eagles have no weaknesses (0:52)

Jeff Saturday says coach Doug Pederson has everyone in the Eagles' locker room buying in and that the team's commitment to the run is paying off. (0:52)

Time flies when players are kneeling and the president is tweeting and owners are meeting and ratings are dropping and, in between it all, you somehow play nine weeks of games that have built exceptional playoff drama for the next two months. Phew.

As of Sunday evening, NFL teams had played more games (131) than they have remaining (125) in the 2017 regular season. That means it's time to start focusing on the playoff push, one that realistically includes more than half of the league.

Below, you can see how the playoff seeds -- six per conference -- would stand if the season were complete. The NFC is particularly competitive at the moment, and the AFC race still has time to heat up. In some cases, we'll use live playoff probabilities from ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) to help project the race.


1. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)

The Steelers hit their stride heading into this week's bye, winning three consecutive games -- two of them away from Heinz Field -- to put a stranglehold on the AFC North race. They have a 2.5-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens (4-5) in the AFC North, and are the only team in that division with a winning record. FPI gives them a 96.9 percent chance to win the AFC North. Soon, if not already, the Steelers' focus will turn toward a pursuit of home-field advantage. They currently hold the edge because they have the AFC's best record in conference games (4-1), a key tiebreaker.

2. New England Patriots (6-2)

The AFC East is surprisingly competitive, with only one team below .500. And the Patriots still have five of their six divisional games remaining. They'll all come during the final six games of the season. So while we can reasonably ascribe them a good chance to win the AFC East -- FPI sees it at 89 percent -- the fact is that most of the crucial games have yet to be played.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (6-3)

Losses in three of their past four games, after a 5-0 start, have raised questions about what kind of team the Chiefs will be at the end of the season. Fortunately, like the Steelers, they play in a division packed with teams under .500. (The gap would be wider were it not for a loss on the final play of a Week 7 game at Oakland.) The Chiefs have a chance to get back on track in Week 11 at the hapless New York Giants, and will have three consecutive games at Arrowhead Stadium in Weeks 14-16 -- a homestand that should help them clinch the division.

4. Tennessee Titans (5-3)

The Titans held on for a victory Sunday in one of the NFL's most significant playoff leverage games of the week. According to FPI, the Titans now have a 55 percent chance of making the postseason after their 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Had they lost, and absorbed a fourth conference loss, their chances would have fallen to 26 percent. At the moment, their Week 2 victory at Jacksonville looms large; it separates the Titans and Jaguars in these standings. The drama already is building for a Week 17 game between the teams in Nashville.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3)

The Jaguars last made the playoffs in 2007. Between 2008-2016, they lost 102 games -- only four fewer than the Cleveland Browns. So this season's performance, featuring the stingiest defense in the league, has been quite a turnaround. All five of their victories have come in the AFC -- remember that if they're involved in wild-card tiebreakers -- but a home loss in Week 2 to the Titans could prove an obstacle toward winning the division title. Still, it's a relative accomplishment for the Jaguars to be in this conversation.

6. Buffalo Bills (5-3)

The Bills would have been leapfrogged if the Miami Dolphins had won Sunday night. As it is, they've had a strong first half but have a brutal stretch coming up. They'll host the New Orleans Saints next weekend, followed by games at the Los Angeles Chargers and at the Chiefs. Then in Week 13, they'll host the Patriots. If they can make it through that obstacle course, the Bills will deserve to be in the playoff race.

In the hunt: Dolphins (4-4), Ravens (4-5), New York Jets (4-5), Oakland Raiders (4-5)


1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)

If the Eagles hadn't already opened your eyes, then I suggest you check their performance Sunday against one of the NFL's best defenses. Their 51 points was the most allowed by the Denver Broncos in seven years. They've won seven consecutive games and already have amassed six conference wins, a key tiebreaker for home-field advantage. The Eagles' only loss came to an AFC team, in Week 2 at Kansas City. As crazy as it sounds, they might need just two more wins -- in their final seven games -- to make the playoffs. Their remaining schedule isn't easy, most notably with consecutive West Coast games in Weeks 13 and 14. But they could catch a break in arguably their most difficult remaining game, Week 11 at the NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys, if tailback Ezekiel Elliott is under NFL suspension.

2. New Orleans Saints (6-2)

Few could have imagined the Saints in this position after their 0-2 start. But here they are, atop the NFC South with the NFL's best record since that point. They've already won arguably the most difficult division game they'll face this season, at the Carolina Panthers in Week 3, and their 5-1 conference record puts them in position to compete for a first-round bye. Their stingy defense -- 15 points per game since Week 2, second best in the NFL -- will be of particular advantage if it continues during the playoff push.

3. Minnesota Vikings (6-2)

The Vikings will emerge from their Week 9 bye with a two-game lead in the NFC North over the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, both of whom are 4-4. The Packers are 0-3 since quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, so the Vikings' biggest challenge could be the Lions -- who have accounted for the Vikings' one division loss. The Lions will host the rematch at Ford Field on Thanksgiving, a game to keep an eye on if they can close the gap in the next few weeks.

4. Los Angeles Rams (6-2)

If the Saints are the biggest surprise team on this list, the Rams are right behind them. Sunday's results put them a full game ahead of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. The biggest question is whether their offense, currently scoring 29 points per game, can keep pace against a second-half schedule that includes a number of tough defenses. That list includes the Vikings, Saints, Seahawks and Eagles. A Week 2 home loss to the Seahawks could loom in divisional tiebreakers.

5. Carolina Panthers (6-3)

All three of the Panthers' losses have come in the NFC, a number to keep in mind during the second half of the season. But in context, the Panthers are emerging as a quite competitive team. They have one bad loss, 17-3 to the Chicago Bears, but their other two came against the 8-1 Eagles and 6-2 Saints. They're right in the thick of it with seven games remaining.

6. Dallas Cowboys (5-3)

The Cowboys have won five of eight games with tailback Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup and are now at a crossroads. There is little doubt they are a playoff team with Elliott. But what will happen if and when he runs out of legal options to delay a six-game suspension? That could happen as early as this week. They need to win five or six of their remaining eight games, in all likelihood. Can they do that if Elliott is suspended for six of them?

In the hunt: Seahawks (5-3), Packers (4-4), Atlanta Falcons (4-4), Washington Redskins (4-4), Arizona Cardinals (4-4), Detroit Lions (4-4).