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NFL playoff picture: Cowboys pushing Bears; Chiefs pulling away in AFC

Sporting News logo Sporting News 12/10/2018 Vinnie Iyer
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) © The Associated Press New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

What is the NFL playoff picture looking like after the Thursday and Sunday games of Week 14? Who improved their positions and seeding with positive results, and who is headed in the wrong direction during the stretch run?

Here's the NFL playoff picture update with fewer than four weeks left in the 2018 regular season.

MORE: NFL standings | Week 14 scoreboard

NFL playoff picture

AFC

Who would be in:

1. Chiefs (11-2), first in AFC West

How big was the Chiefs’ comeback win over the Ravens, beyond it clinching at least an AFC playoff berth? Instead of almost falling behind the Patriots, the Chiefs ended up opening a two-game lead for home-field advantage. The biggest threat to the top seed is now in their own division, where they need to beat the Chargers at home Thursday night. What's left: vs. LAC, at SEA, vs. OAK

2. Patriots (9-4), first in AFC East

The Patriots snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as they let the Dolphins become sharks in yet another frustrating road setback, their fourth of the season. They need the AFC playoffs to go through New England now more than ever. They also need to worry about losing their bye with a tough trip to Pittsburgh next week. What's left: at PIT, vs. BUF, vs. NYJ

3. Texans (9-4), first in AFC South

The Texans saw their nine-game winning streak end at home against the Colts, the team against which it began. With that result, Houston blew a big chance to put the division all but out of reach and jump the New England, too. What's left: at NYJ, at PHI, vs. JAX

4. Steelers (7-5-1), first in AFC North

The Steelers have now lost three straight games after falling late against the Raiders, with four of their five losses coming against the entire AFC West. They blew chances to make ground on both the Patriots and Texans, and they failed to create some separation from the Ravens in the division race. They will find it hard to get back on track with the Patriots and Saints next on the schedule. What's left: vs. NE, at NO, vs. CIN

5. Chargers (10-3), wild card

The Chargers are set with at least this top AFC wild card with a three-game lead after beating the Bengals, but they’re thinking bigger with a chance to catch the Chiefs in the West on Thursday night. What's left: at KC, vs. BAL, at DEN

6. Ravens (7-6), wild card

The Ravens lost in Kansas City while the Titans, Colts and Dolphins all won to match their record. Baltimore lost its full-game lead for this spot but still holds the tiebreaker with its good conference play. The four teams’ schedules are about even, so anything can happen in the final three games. What's left: vs. TB, at LAC, vs. CLE

Who's knocking on the door:

7. Dolphins (7-6)

8. Colts (7-6)

9. Titans (7-6)

10. Broncos (6-7)

11. Browns (5-7-1)

The Dolphins and Titans have had admirable seasons with ever-changing identities, but the Colts, armed with Andrew Luck and an overachieving defense, are the most dangerous should they get in over the Ravens. The Broncos failed to join that group in getting upset by the 49ers.

Who's just about out:

12. Bengals (5-8)

The Bengals, who once looked good for an AFC wild-card spot, are alive by mathematics only.

Who's out:

13. Bills (4-9)

14. Jaguars (4-9)

15. Jets (4-9)

16. Raiders (3-10)

The Raiders played impressive spoiler against the Steelers but in the process hampered their chances for the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2019.

NFC

Who would be in:

1. Saints (11-2), NFC South champions

The Saints had a rough start in Tampa Bay but got their groove back in time to clinch the division, further stamped by the Panthers, their next opponent, losing. In the process, the Saints also jumped back over the Rams in the race for home-field advantage. Now they finish with two of the coldest contenders in league in their final three games. What's left: at CAR, vs. PIT, vs. CAR

2. Rams (11-2), NFC West champions

The Rams have taken care of the division, but after losing to the Bears on Sunday night, they fell behind the victorious Saints, against whom they suffered their other loss. They are, however, well positioned to win out and keep the pressure on New Orleans. What's left: vs. PHI, at ARI, vs. SF

3. Bears (9-4), first in NFC North

The Bears are a long shot to finish anywhere other than No. 3 or No. 4 as probable North champions, but they kept some hope alive for a bye by beating the Rams and also keeping the surging Cowboys behind them. What's left: vs. GB, at SF, at MIN

4. Cowboys (8-5), first in NFC East

The Cowboys opened a full two-game lead in the division with an overtime win over the Eagles, also for the season sweep. The remaining schedule says they should at least hold down the East title and this seed at worst, with a chance to jump the Bears. What's left: at IND, vs. TB, at NYG

5. Seahawks (7-5), wild card

The Seahawks would sit pretty with a possible two-game cushion for a wild card should they beat the Vikings on Monday night. What's left: vs. MIN, at SF, vs, KC, vs. ARI

6. Vikings (6-5-1), wild card

The Vikings need some help from the Rams and a win over the Seahawks on Monday night to get back into the North race, which would at least improve their wild-card chances. What's left: at SEA, vs. MIA, at DET, vs. CHI

Who's knocking on the door:

7. Redskins (6-7)

8. Panthers (6-7)

9. Eagles (6-7)

These three teams keep going in the wrong direction to make everyone ahead of them feel more comfortable. The Redskins have lost four straight games, and the Panthers have lost five straight games.

Who's just about out:

10. Packers (5-7-1)

11. Buccaneers (5-8)

12. Lions (5-8)

13. Giants (5-8)

14. Falcons (4-9)

Credit the Packers for playing hard for interim coach Joe Philbin, and the Giants and Lions for saving some face for first-year coaches Pat Shurmur and Matt Patricia with wins on Sunday.

Who's out:

15. Cardinals (3-10)

16. 49ers (3-10)

The 49ers played impressive spoiler against the Broncos but in the process hampered their chances for the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2019. The Cardinals are now back in the running for that selection.

Related slideshow: NFL season (provided by USA Today Sports)

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