2010-11 NFL playoff picture

NFC

They're In . . .

Falcons (12-3)

They have a playoff spot secured but squandered a chance to clinch the NFC South title and the top playoff seed in the NFC when they let a late lead evaporate Monday night and lost at home to the Saints. They still get the top postseason seed in the NFC if they beat the Panthers at home Sunday. But even if they have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, Monday's defeat showed they're not invincible in the Georgia Dome.

Bears (11-4)

There's something not quite trustworthy about this team. There have been a few inexplicable outings this season, like a loss at home to the Redskins and a virtual no-show performance in a lopsided defeat by the Patriots at a snowy Soldier Field. Yet the Bears have clinched the NFC North and, thanks to the Eagles' defeat Tuesday night to the Vikings, they are the second seed in the NFC playoffs.

Eagles (10-5)

They lost to the Vikings in Tuesday's snowstorm-delayed game and now have to turn around and get ready for the regular season finale Sunday. They've clinched the NFC East, but their hopes of overtaking the Bears for the No. 2 playoff seed ended Tuesday.

Saints (11-4)

The defending champs looked magical again Monday night when QB Drew Brees threw two fourth-quarter interceptions to Atlanta defensive linemen but shrugged them off to lead a winning, 90-yard TD drive. Monday's victory sealed a playoff spot. They still could do better, but they'll probably have to settle for a wild-card berth.

They're Looking Good . . .

Rams (7-8)

They reach .500 and save the dignity of the NFC West if they win Sunday night at Seattle. That would give the Rams the division title and prevent a team with a losing record from reaching the postseason. The woes of the NFC West have overshadowed their nice rebuilding story. The Rams have ridden the play of rookie QB Sam Bradford back to respectability after totaling six wins in the previous three seasons.

Packers (9-6)

They're coming off an impressive triumph over the Giants, and they don't need help from anyone else to reach the postseason. The Packers clinch a wild-card spot if they beat the Bears Sunday at Lambeau Field.

They're Still Hoping . . .

Giants (9-6)

They need to beat the Redskins and have the Packers lose to the Bears. It's certainly possible. But they've faltered of late, losing to the Eagles despite having a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, then succumbing to the Packers. If the Giants don't reach the playoffs, there surely will be plenty of talk, justified or not, that Coach Tom Coughlin's job is in jeopardy.

Buccaneers (9-6)

The Buccaneers must win in New Orleans and both the Packers and Giants must lose. It's been a fine turnaround season for the franchise, even if it doesn't result in a playoff appearance.

They're Still Hoping . . .
(Special NFC West category)

Seahawks (6-9)

They've lost three straight and five of their past six games. All five defeats in that six-game span have been by at least 15 points. Their lone victory in those six games has been over the Panthers, who are 2-13. Yet the Seahawks win the NFC West if they beat the Rams, which would make them the first team with a losing record to reach the NFL playoffs in a non-strike season.

AFC

They're In . . .

Patriots (13-2):

The question early in the season was whether a dominant team would emerge. It has. And it's the Patriots, who have the league's highest-scoring offense and have clinched the top seed in the AFC playoffs as they seek a fourth Super Bowl title under Coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady. Brady is playing almost flawlessly. The potential downfall? They're ranked 30th in the league in pass defense and 27th in total defense.

Steelers (11-4)

They've secured a playoff spot and are in good position to wrap up the AFC North title and the No. 2 postseason seed, which would mean a first-round bye and a conference semifinal at home. The Steelers get that with a victory Sunday at Cleveland or a Ravens loss to the Bengals. Winning on the road isn't a problem. They're 6-1 away from Heinz Field this season.

Ravens (11-4):

The Ravens probably are the AFC's third-best team but they likely are headed to a first-round playoff game on the road. They avoid that only if they beat the Bengals and the Steelers are upset by the Browns. In that case, the Ravens get the AFC North title and a first-round bye. Either way, though, they'll be dangerous in the postseason, with marquee players on defense and their offense's ability to run the ball with RB Ray Rice or throw it with QB Joe Flacco.

Chiefs (10-5)

So many kept waiting for the Chargers to overtake them in the AFC West, but it never happened. The Chiefs were — and are — for real. They lead the league in rushing offense, and QB Matt Cassel has thrown 27 TD passes and only five interceptions. They're 7-0 at home, and Coach Todd Haley has Belichick's former championship-winning coordinators — Charlie Weis on offense and Romeo Crennel on defense — at his disposal.

Jets (10-5):

They got a wild-card spot last weekend, thanks to the Jaguars' overtime loss to the Redskins. But there are reasons to fret for the Jets. They've lost three of their past four games since a 9-2 beginning. The defense couldn't stop the Bears last weekend. Perhaps the seemingly ceaseless string of controversies has taken its toll. The chances of this team living up to its considerable advance billing seem increasingly remote.

They're Looking Good . . .

Colts (9-6):

It has been a struggle, for sure. But QB Peyton Manning and the Colts have delivered in crunch time this season, winning their past three games to reach the doorstep of another AFC South title. The Colts clinch the division crown with a victory at home over the Titans or a Jaguars loss at Houston.

They're Still Hoping . . .

Jaguars (8-7):

They've lost two straight after the division was theirs for the taking. They still can reach the postseason and, sure, they can beat the Texans. But they'll have to count on the Titans to win in Indianapolis.

- Mark Maske


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