How they will finish (with current record):
1. San Francisco 49ers, 10-2
Remaining schedule: at Saints, Falcons, Rams, at Seahawks
2. New Orleans Saints, 10-2
Remaining schedule: 49ers, Colts, at Titans, at Panthers
3. Green Bay Packers, 9-3
Remaining schedule: Redskins, Bears, at Vikings, at Lions
Remaining schedule: at Bears, Rams, at Eagles, Redskins
5. Seattle Seahawks, 10-2
Remaining schedule: at Rams, at Panthers, Cardinals, 49ers
6. Minnesota Vikings, 8-4
Remaining schedule: Lions, at Chargers, Packers, Bears
Remaining schedule: Giants, at Redskins, Cowboys, at Giants
Remaining schedule: Seahawks, at Cowboys, at 49ers, Cardinals
Not happening: Carolina Panthers (5-7), Chicago Bears (6-6), New York Giants (2-10), Washington Redskins (3-9), Detroit Lions (3-8-1), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7), Atlanta Falcons (3-9), Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1)
The 49ers-Saints clash Sunday in New Orleans will likely decide the top seed in the NFC playoffs. The stakes are even higher for the 49ers, who currently trail Seattle based on tiebreakers and would be at risk of falling to the fifth seed if they lose.
The Rams host Seattle in a game Sunday that will either save or effectively end Los Angeles’s season. Per the New York Times’s playoff odds calculator, the Rams will have a 32 percent chance to make the playoffs if they win and only a 7 percent shot if they lose.
Green Bay’s schedule will allow it to make a run at a first-round bye, but it would probably have to win out, and even if it does, a bye wouldn’t be assured.
1. Baltimore Ravens, 10-2
Remaining schedule: at Bills, Jets, at Browns, Steelers
2. New England Patriots, 10-2
Remaining schedule: Chiefs, at Bengals, Bills, Dolphins
3. Kansas City Chiefs, 8-4
Remaining schedule: at Patriots, Broncos, at Bears, Chargers
Remaining schedule: Broncos, at Titans, at Bucs, Titans
Remaining schedule: Ravens, at Steelers, at Patriots, Jets
Remaining schedule: at Raiders, Texans, Saints, at Texans
Remaining schedule: at Cardinals, Bills, at Jets, at Ravens
Remaining schedule: Titans, Jaguars, at Chargers, at Broncos
Remaining schedule: at Bucs, at Saints, Panthers, at Jaguars
Hanging on: Cleveland Browns, 5-7
Not happening: Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8), Los Angeles Chargers (4-8), Denver Broncos (4-8), New York Jets (4-8), Miami Dolphins (3-9), Cincinnati Bengals (1-11)
The Patriots have earned a first-round bye in nine consecutive seasons, but it should not be viewed as a given this year, even if they stand at 10-2. If they lose Sunday’s showdown in New England against the Chiefs, it would open the door for the Chiefs — who have a cakewalk schedule the final three weeks — to steal a bye. The Bills would also control their own future in passing the Patriots, even if the Ravens beat Buffalo on Sunday. The Patriots have a lead, but if they don’t improve their performance against contending teams, it could vanish quickly.
The Texans’ victory over the Patriots gave them needed cushion against the onrushing Titans, whom they face twice in the season’s final three weeks. The Steelers are the best story in the AFC wild-card race, but the Titans are the better team. Even if they don’t topple the Texans — which they could — they’ll find a way to sneak past Pittsburgh.
The Raiders’ past two weeks, in which they’ve been throttled by a combined 74-12, destroyed their playoff chances. They could revive them by upsetting the Titans on Sunday, thanks to three very winnable games thereafter.