NFL Playoff Picture Week 12: AFC and NFC playoff race after Monday’s game

It's Week 11 of the 2021 NFL season, and nearly every game impacts the playoff picture for either the NFC or AFC this week.

The start of the NFL playoffs is just two months away and the picture in both the NFC and AFC is starting to come into focus. If you say with any great conviction that you know how the AFC and NFC fields will shake out, your nose is growing. Of the NFL’s 32 teams, 24 of them have a legitimate path to the postseason.

NFL Playoff Picture for Week 12

The most impactful games in the afternoon window of Week 11 are Cowboys-Chiefs and Bengals-Raiders, but the matchup between the Cardinals and Seahawks could also have major ramifications for the number one seed. All but one of Sunday’s 13 games will impact the NFL playoff race. The NFL legislates parity for just this kind of scenario.

Current AFC Playoff Picture

1. Tennessee Titans (8-3)
2. Baltimore Ravens (7-3)
3. New England Patriots (7-4)
4. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
5. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)
6. Los Angeles Chargers (6-4)
7. Buffalo Bills (6-4)

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1)
9. Indianapolis Colts (6-5)
10. Cleveland Browns (6-5)
11. Las Vegas Raiders (5-5)
12. Denver Broncos (5-5)

Are the New England Patriots the AFC’s team to beat?

We should have seen this coming. Even in many of their best years, the New England Patriots started slowly, only to figure it out, turn it on, and leave the rest of the AFC in their wake as they stamped their mark on the NFL playoff picture. That blueprint seems to work as well with Mac Jones as it did for two decades with Tom Brady.

The Patriots have now won five straight and six of seven — including a 25-0 throttling of the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night. Now comes the real test — showdowns with the Titans, Colts, and Bills twice between now and Boxing Day. New England should have plenty of time to prepare, however. They’re three days into a 37-day stretch that includes just three games.

Colts stun Bills to tighten up the AFC playoff picture

Maybe the Buffalo Bills simply don’t have that extra gear we’re all expecting them to hit. After a second terrible showing in three weeks, they’ve now given away their AFC East lead to the New England Patriots and aren’t even a sure bet to make the playoffs.

The Indianapolis Colts, meanwhile, will fly under the radar no longer after thumping Buffalo 41-15. The Colts have now won five of their last six games after a 1-4 start.

Ravens put themselves in the frame for the number one seed despite the absence of Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson vs. Justin Fields? Nah. Try Tyler Huntley vs. Andy Dalton when the game was on the line. Jackson didn’t play due to illness, and Fields was knocked from the game with banged-up ribs.

The game ended up being a thriller. Dalton connected with Marquise Goodwin on a 49-yard touchdown to give the Bears a late lead. But Huntley directed a late touchdown drive to pull off a gutty Ravens win and keep them in control of the AFC North.

Bengals move back into the playoff standings while the Raiders continue to struggle

Sell hard on the Las Vegas Raiders. They’ve lost three straight and have been noncompetitive in back-to-back weeks against teams they probably needed to beat to reach the playoffs.

The latest to smack the Raiders around? The Cincinnati Bengals, who controlled the ball basically the entire game thanks to over 150 yards on the ground in a 32-13 road victory. The Bengals won for the first time since October to stay within shouting distance of the AFC North-leading Ravens.

Chiefs take control of AFC West and leave Cowboys with questions to answer

How ‘bout them …Chiefs? Kansas City is for real because its defense is no longer horrendous. Kansas City now has to be the front-runner to win the AFC West — if not the entire conference — after a 19-9 win against the high-powered Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys’ hopes of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs have dimmed significantly with losses in two of their last three games.

Current NFC Playoff Picture

1. Arizona Cardinals (9-2)
2. Green Bay Packers (8-3)
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3)
4. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)
5. Los Angeles Rams (7-3)
6. Minnesota Vikings (5-5)
7. New Orleans Saints (5-5)

8. San Francisco 49ers (5-5)
9. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)
10. Carolina Panthers (5-6)
11. Washington Football Team (4-6)
12. Atlanta Falcons (4-6)

Packers drop to the third seed, while Vikings boost playoff hopes

Supporting the Vikings is not for the faint of heart. Every week, it seems their game comes down to the final moments. That was the case again Sunday — and this time, the Vikings sealed the deal. Greg Joseph booted a field goal through at the gun to stun Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, who gave up the No. 1 seed one week after they seized it from the Arizona Cardinals.

Saints spiraling, Eagles soaring after Week 11

The New Orleans Saints are dunzo. Yes, the math is still there for them to make a run, even after Sunday’s 40-22 thumping delivered by the Philadelphia Eagles. But no one who has watched them since Jameis Winston got hurt thinks they are a threat to anyone. The Saints have lost three straight and face the Bills, Cowboys, and Buccaneers in the next three weeks.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have won consecutive games for the first time this season, and have just one game left on their schedule against a team with a winning record (the Cowboys in Week 18).

Cam’s homecoming is a disappointment but Washington keep their hopes alive

Cam Newton was more Clark Kent than Superman late, and the Panthers’ playoff hopes took a big hit because of it. With their game on the line against the Washington Football Team Sunday, the Panthers gave the ball over on downs on their last two possessions to give up the seventh seed. WFT now has postseason life, which is just bonkers.

Los Angeles Rams locked into fifth seed this week

It’s been a rough November for the Los Angeles Rams. They’ve been outscored 69-26 this month and watched as the Arizona Cardinals have built upon their division lead even without Kyler Murray in the lineup.

The Rams are off this week but are guaranteed to wake up Tuesday with the same positioning in the NFL playoff picture as they did when they went to bed Saturday: fifth in the NFC. That’s a tough break, considering that only five teams have a better record in the entire NFL. Unless the Cardinals go into a prolonged slump, the Rams look likely open the playoffs on the road.

Adam Beasley is the National NFL Analyst and Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.

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