The loopy epic Monday night between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks wasn’t a playoff game — but it sure felt that way. With 10 weeks down and the stretch run here, more and more games are going to reshape the playoff picture.
How will the league standings look when the regular season ends? Here is how the playoff field might shake out, based on remaining schedules:
How they’ll finish (with current record):
1. New Orleans Saints, 7-2
Remaining schedule: at Bucs, Panthers, at Falcons, 49ers, Colts, at Titans, at Panthers
2. Seattle Seahawks, 8-2
Remaining schedule: bye, at Eagles, Vikings, at Rams, at Panthers, Cardinals, 49ers
3. Minnesota Vikings, 7-3
Remaining schedule: Broncos, at Seahawks, Lions, at Chargers, Packers, Bears
4. Dallas Cowboys, 5-4
Remaining schedule: at Lions, at Patriots, Bills, at Bears, Rams, at Eagles, Redskins
5. Green Bay Packers, 8-2
Remaining schedule: bye, at 49ers, at Giants, Redskins, Bears, at Vikings, at Lions
6. San Francisco 49ers, 8-1
Remaining schedule: Cardinals, Packers, at Ravens, at Saints, Falcons, Rams, at Seahawks
In the hunt:
Philadelphia Eagles, 5-4
Remaining schedule: Patriots, Seahawks, at Dolphins, Giants, at Redskins, Cowboys, at Giants
Carolina Panthers, 5-4
Remaining schedule: Falcons, at Saints, Redskins, at Falcons, Seahawks, at Colts, Saints
Los Angeles Rams, 5-4
Remaining schedule: Bears, Ravens, at Cardinals, Seahawks, at Cowboys, at 49ers, Cardinals
Chicago Bears (4-5)
Technically alive, but not happening:
New York Giants (2-8), Washington Redskins (1-8), Detroit Lions (3-5-1), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6), Atlanta Falcons (2-7), Arizona Cardinals (3-6-1)
The 49ers still have control of the conference after their first loss Monday night, but their schedule — with games remaining against the Packers, Ravens, Saints, Rams and Seahawks — makes keeping it an arduous task. Seattle has it easier, but not by much, and the boost they’ll get from Josh Gordon’s arrival could be mitigated by the potential loss of Tyler Lockett, who sat out the end of Monday’s victory and has quietly been an all-pro caliber target for Russell Wilson. A Week 17 rematch in Seattle could decide the division.
That opens a path for the Saints, who laid an egg last Sunday but still have a loaded roster and a Super Bowl coach-quarterback tandem. They also get to play the 49ers at home, which could be pivotal for seeding.
The Vikings get to play the Packers at home, and with a plus-80 point differential (fifth in the NFL), they have played like a powerhouse. If Kirk Cousins’ win Sunday night gets him over a mental hurdle, the Vikings could take the division from Green Bay by winning a Week 16 showdown in Green Bay.
The NFC East should come down to Week 16, too, with the Eagles hosting the Cowboys. Both teams have underachieved, the Eagles mostly owing to health and the Cowboys for losing close games they should have won. The Jets loss could doom them and they have to play in Philadelphia, but the Eagles’ injuries and secondary will help Dallas squeeze into the field.
For the rest of the NFC, there’s too much ground to make up and too many flaws. The quality is there — the Rams and Panthers would likely breeze into the AFC playoff field, and even the Bears may have a chance to make a run. But the six playoff teams seem set already.
How they’ll finish:
1. New England Patriots, 8-1
Remaining schedule: at Eagles, Cowboys, at Texans, Chiefs, at Bengals, Bills, Dolphins
2. Baltimore Ravens, 7-2
Remaining schedule: Texans, at Rams, 49ers, at Bills, Jets, at Browns, Steelers
3. Houston Texans, 6-3
Remaining schedule: at Ravens, Colts, Patriots, Broncos, at Titans, at Bucs, Titans
4. Kansas City Chiefs, 6-4
Remaining schedule: Chargers, bye, Raiders, at Patriots, Broncos, at Bears, Chargers
5. Pittsburgh Steelers, 5-5
Remaining schedule: at Bengals, Browns, at Cardinals, Bills, at Jets, at Ravens
6. Oakland Raiders, 5-4
Remaining schedule: Bengals, at Jets, at Chiefs, Titans, Jags, at Chargers, at Broncos
In the hunt:
Buffalo Bills, 6-3
Remaining schedule: at Dolphins, Broncos, at Cowboys, Ravens, at Steelers, at Patriots, Jets
Indianapolis Colts, 5-4
Remaining schedule: Jags, at Texans, Titans, at Bucs, at Saints, Panthers, at Jags
Tennessee Titans, 5-5
Remaining schedule: bye, Jags, at Colts, at Raiders, Texans, Saints, at Texans
Hanging on: Cleveland Browns (4-6), Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5)
Technically alive, but not happening:
Los Angeles Chargers (4-6), Denver Broncos (3-6), New York Jets (2-7), Dolphins (2-7), Bengals (0-8)
The Patriots have a one-game lead over Baltimore for the top overall seed, and that should be enough for New England to keep the Ravens at bay, even if they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. No coach uses the season to improve his team better than Bill Belichick, and the Patriots get to close the season with likely walkovers against the Bengals, Bills and Dolphins, the latter two coming at home.
The Ravens’ schedule presents a series of potholes — their only easy win comes against the Jets in Week 15 — and if the Texans topple them Sunday in Baltimore, it would put Houston in position to steal a first-round bye.
Both the Texans and Chiefs should hold off challengers in the South and West on the strength of their quarterbacks. Deshaun Watson is the best player in his division, and the same goes for Patrick Mahomes. The Texans beat the Chiefs head-to-head, so they hold a tiebreaker over the Chiefs for seeding.
The Bills could have solidified their wild card chances by holding off the Browns on Sunday. Even though they remain in the race, they might not have the talent to maintain a spot while facing the Cowboys, Ravens, Steelers and Patriots in a four-week stretch.
Who takes Buffalo’s place? The Steelers and Raiders are in the best position. Injuries to Jacoby Brissett and T.Y. Hilton, their two most indispensable players, have slowed the Colts, whose losses to the Raiders and Steelers could be especially harmful in tiebreaker scenarios. The Steelers, whose defense has played as well an any in the league since the arrival of Minkah Fitzpatrick, play only one team with a winning record between now and Week 17. With David Carr back playing at his highest level, the Raiders are just good, and play a relatively soft schedule.
Even if the Ryan Tannehill-led Titans don’t make the playoffs, they’ll have a significant say over who does. In the season’s final five weeks, they play the Jaguars and Colts and the Texans twice. If the Browns can beat the Steelers on Thursday at home, they would improve to 4-6 and preserve the faintest playoff hope. The Browns still play the Bengals twice and host the Dolphins. They’ll also get another chance to knock off the Steelers.
The Jaguars get quarterback Nick Foles back this week coming off their bye, and their remaining schedule includes no teams currently holding a playoff spot. Foles has performed playoff-run miracles before.