The NFL will reach its midseason Monday night, with every team having played at least eight games, but the postseason picture has already begun to take shape. And there might be more clarity than you’d think for Week 9.

The Philadelphia Eagles won again, pushing their record to 8-1 and giving them a 2.5-game lead in the NFC East. The Kansas City Chiefs also should cruise to the AFC West crown despite Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The same goes for the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFC and AFC North, respectively.

The other divisions may be in play, but the wild-card spots are not. In fact, using each team’s talent level — which takes into account a team’s actual record and what their record should be based on points scored and allowed — to simulate the season 1,000 times shows only a few playoff spots are still up for grabs.


The Jacksonville Jaguars join the Steelers, Patriots and Chiefs among the projected AFC division winners, thanks in large part to a pass defense that has been lights out. Opposing quarterbacks have a league-low 63.5 passer rating against the Jags — the league average is 88.3 — with four touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Since 2002, the year the league expanded to 32 teams, only nine other squads have held opponents to as low of a passer rating during the first nine weeks of the season.

The wild-card spots are expected to be filled by the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, two teams projected to win nine or 10 games in 2017.

AFC Projected wins in 2017 Projected playoff seed
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) 12.0 1
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3) 11.5 2
New England Patriots (6-2) 11.5 3
Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) 11.2 4
Buffalo Bills (5-3) 9.6 WC1
Tennessee Titans (5-3) 9.5 WC2

At the bottom of the conference sit the winless Cleveland Browns, an Indianapolis Colts team without quarterback Andrew Luck, a Denver Broncos team that was so fed up with its quarterback play they decided to give Brock Osweiler another chance. (A terrible idea: He completed 19 of 38 passes for 208 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, giving him a 53.4 passer rating.) None of them projects as solid playoff candidates.

The teams a little closer to the playoff pack, but still outside the picture, are the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Houston Texans — three teams that aren’t expected to break .500.

Houston had a chance, of course, with rookie phenom Deshaun Watson under center, but now those playoff hopes are fading fast.

Before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in practice, Watson completed 62 percent of his passes en route to a 19-to-8 touchdown ratio and 103 passer rating. He also was — and still is — the most valuable passer per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating. His replacement, Tom Savage, has completed 82 of 149 passes (55 percent) for 869 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 71.7 passer rating during his career. Any playoff hopes the Texans had went out the window as soon as Watson was ruled out for the remainder of the season.

Miami was the second-worst rushing team in the league before trading away Jay Ajayi to the Eagles. More indicative of its lackluster playoff chances: Miami’s gamble on Jay Cutler hasn’t worked out. His passer rating in a clean pocket is average (98.2) and becomes worse than average under pressure (63.6). He is ranked 26th out of 33 passers per ESPN’s QBR rating, which does not build confidence the Dolphins can outperform their projected win total of 7.2.

The silver lining for the Jets, who some thought wouldn’t win a game this year, is that their offense isn’t the worst in the NFL. But it still isn’t playoff-caliber, scoring 1.6 points per drive (22nd) and being forced to go three-and-out 43 percent of the time. Only the Colts and Titans are worse in this regard.

That leaves the Baltimore Ravens as the only true bubble team in the conference. The Ravens lost, 23-20, to the Titans on Sunday, yet are projected to win eight games by the end of the regular season, one or two wins shy of qualifying for a wild-card spot. If they do make an end-of-season push, look for it to come late — they face the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals during the last three weeks of the season.

AFC Projected wins in 2017 Projected playoff seed
Buffalo Bills (5-3) 9.6 WC1
Tennessee Titans (5-3) 9.5 WC2
Baltimore Ravens (4-5) 8.2
Miami Dolphins (4-4) 7.2
New York Jets (4-5) 6.9
Houston Texans (3-5) 6.7
Los Angeles Chargers (3-5) 6.5
Cincinnati Bengals (3-5) 6.3
Oakland Raiders (4-5) 6.2
Denver Broncos (3-5) 6.1
Indianapolis Colts (3-6) 4.7
Cleveland Browns (0-8) 0.7


The Los Angeles Rams — this year’s surprise team — will likely earn a playoff berth, their first since 2004, alongside the Eagles, New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings as the NFC’s division winners. The Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys look poised to be the two wild-card teams.

The Cowboys’ fortunes could hinge on the availability of running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is in a court battle over a six-game suspension. Elliott has 783 rushing yards — the second-most in the NFL this season — with a share of the league lead for rushing touchdowns (seven). The game charters at Pro Football Focus rate him as this year’s fourth-best back, illustrating how integral he is to the Cowboys’ chances. However, Dallas has already faced the tough part of its season in terms of rush defenses, so — should he ultimately be suspended — that could help offset the decline in talent from Elliott to backups Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith.

NFC Projected wins in 2017 Projected playoff seed
Philadelphia Eagles (8-1) 13.5 1
New Orleans Saints (6-2) 11.7 2
Los Angeles Rams (6-2) 11.6 3
Minnesota Vikings (6-2) 11.5 4
Carolina Panthers (6-3) 10.1 WC1
Dallas Cowboys (5-3) 9.7 WC2

Not too far behind the Cowboys are the Seattle Seahawks, fresh off a shocking home loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday, and the Green Bay Packers, a team trying to stay afloat without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Of the two, the Seahawks are the better bet to chase down the Cowboys for a wild-card spot. Despite the hiccup in Washington, Seattle is allowing just 1.52 points per drive, the sixth-lowest scoring rate this season — while forcing opponents into three-and-out situations more than a third of the time (38.1 percent), ninth-highest in the league. The Seahawks also boast the second-best coverage unit in 2017. Led by shutdown corner Richard Sherman, Seattle’s secondary is allowing opposing receivers to catch just 58 percent of their targets, the third-lowest rate behind the Chiefs and Ravens; league average is 62.5 percent.

The Redskins and Detroit Lions are close behind but figure to be on the outside looking in once the regular season ends.

The pessimism for Washington starts with its next two opponents: the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. The Vikings rank fifth in points allowed per drive (1.48) with the ninth-lowest passer rating allowed (81.2) and the Saints prevent first downs at an above-average rate (69 percent of the time, sixth-best in 2017) with the league’s seventh-lowest passer rating against (79.3).

Detroit’s remaining schedule ranks as the seventh-toughest against the run, per Sharp Football Stats, with games against the Browns (2.9 yards allowed per carry, No. 1 in the NFL this season), Vikings (3.5, third-best) and Bengals (3.8, 11th best) still on the docket.

NFC Projected wins in 2017 Projected playoff seed
Carolina Panthers (6-3) 10.1 WC1
Dallas Cowboys (5-3) 9.7 WC2
Seattle Seahawks (5-3) 9.6
Green Bay Packers (4-3) 9.1
Washington Redskins (4-4) 8.2
Detroit Lions (3-4) 8.0
Atlanta Falcons (4-4) 7.3
Arizona Cardinals (4-4) 6.7
Chicago Bears (3-5) 6.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6) 4.3
New York Giants (1-7) 2.7
San Francisco 49ers (0-9) 0.8

Read more on the NFL: