We have reached the juncture in one of the most compelling NFL seasons when we begin looking ahead to the postseason and sport’s best single-elimination tournament.
If you’ve watched even one week of the regular season, you know what a wonderful, wild jumbled mess the playoff picture presents.
AFC Division Leaders
East – New England Patriots
Not only are the “rebuilding” Patriots in first place in the AFC East — a division they’ve won 17 of the last 20 years — New England is currently the top seed in the conference. They have a two-game lead on second-place Buffalo, with a chance to sweep the season series (thereby owning the tie-breaker) the day after Christmas. They currently have a decent lead on the AFC East odds board at -240 ahead of the Bills at +165.
North – Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are one game ahead of Cincinnati, whom they visit in a couple of weeks. There’s not really a clear favorite in this division, as first-to-last (6-6 Cleveland) are separated by just two games. Baltimore is going to have to earn an AFC North title, with NFC stalwarts Green Bay and the LA Rams coming to town before season’s end. Still, the NFL odds for the Ravens to ship the division is -150, well ahead of the Bengals’ current price of +250.
South – Tennessee Titans
On the strength of their two wins against the Colts, the Titans, ahead of Indianapolis by a game-and-a-half, are primed to win the AFC South. Tennessee has the luxury of one more game each against division doormats Houston and Jacksonville, though the Titans did lose to the Texans earlier this season.
West – Kansas City Chiefs
For all of the gnashing of teeth at the beginning of the season, the Chiefs are on a five-game winning streak, atop the division they’ve won each season since 2016. The Raiders won the division five straight years in the early 1970s, the Broncos won it from 2011-2015 and a win by Kansas City this season would make them the first-ever, six-time consecutive AFC West. champion.
AFC Wild Card
As of this writing, the three wild-card teams would be the LA Chargers, Bengals and Bills, in that order.
Pittsburgh is just a half-game behind the Bills as are Colts, though a Pittsburgh tie complicates things, at least for the moment. Important games left include the Bills taking on both the Bucs and Patriots (both on the road), the Steelers have the Chiefs and Ravens (both on the road), and the Colts play New England (home) and Arizona (away).
NFC Division Leaders
East – Dallas Cowboys
At one time, the Cowboys seemed to be cruising to an easy division title. Now, Washington is just two games back and these teams play twice in the next three Sundays. This week the Football Team is catching four points at home on the NFL point spread odds. The Eagles, a half-game behind Washington and with their bye this week, play the Football Team twice and the Cowboys once before the conclusion of their season.
North – Green Bay Packers
The Packers, presumptive champs here, can actually clinch the division this week with a win (hosting Chicago Sunday night), providing the Vikings lose to the Steelers at home Thursday night. The Packers are currently -10000 to ship the NFC North based on the BetUS Sportsbook’s current lines.
South – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have also reached the clinching portion of the program, doing so with a victory over Buffalo and non-wins by the Saints and Panthers. For anyone brave enough to take a flier on the other divisional teams, they’ll be doing so against the Buccaneers’ -40000 price on the NFC South odds board.
West – Arizona Cardinals
The West won’t be won this weekend, but if the Cardinals beat the Rams, they would be three games ahead with four to play and possessing the tiebreaker. A Rams win and it’s game-on for the four-game sprint to the end.
NFC Wild Card
The current NFC wild card teams are the Rams, Washington and 49ers. While the AFC has 13 teams all slugging it out for playoff berths at .500 or better, the NFC has only seven teams at break-even or better.
The sub-.500 teams still in the playoff chase include the 6-7 Eagles along with the 5-7 contingents in Minnesota, Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans.
So, if you’re even close to sniffing mediocrity, you’re not eliminated from playoff contention, at least for now.