Current NFL playoff picture: This is how things look after the Cowboys’ win over the Saints

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Your update on NFL playoff photos Thursday night for Week 13, after the Cowboys-Saints game, looks a bit like this:

  • The Cowboys will almost certainly win the NFC East, whether you think they are good or bad, in disarray or meet, balanced or with glaring holes. They took care of business on Thursday night against an exhausted Saints team, winning 27-10 and getting a losing streak in two games.

  • The Saints missed a great opportunity to get back in the playoff picture and now face high odds of returning for the off-season.

This weekend’s matches will not really change the current course for any of the teams. When Week 13 is over, the Cowboys will still be in a leading spot in their division, and the Saints will look up to too many teams in the NFC wild-card race. The following is a look at where the NFL stands with six weeks left until the playoffs begin. As always, we set out the possibilities and the probabilities. Our next update will be sent after Sunday night’s game between the Broncos and Chiefs, and then again after an important Patriots-Bills game on Monday night.

Jump to: AFC | NFC

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AFC

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The quarterback from the AFC’s topseed threw four interceptions on Sunday night – and his team still won. You can see it as a sign of strength for Lamar Jackson’s Ravens. Their presence at the top of the rankings reflects a conference that is truly on high among half a dozen teams. Can the Ravens really keep the Patriots, Titans, Chiefs and Bills away? We do not often say this because of the competitiveness of the rivalry, but the Ravens have a great chance of advancing their quest when they play the settling Steelers on Sunday.

Next: at the Steelers


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The Patriots keep giving us reasons to believe they’re one of the best teams in the NFL. They have won six in a row and with at least 18 points in five of them. And overall, they lead the NFL with a points difference of plus-144. It’s also wild that it all came with rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who plays well but is not among the league’s top 10 in Total QBR. Incredibly, at least for some, the Patriots can begin the process of locking AFC East down in Week 13 when they travel to Buffalo. The FPI does not like their chances of winning the division, much less earning home advantage, but they are all legitimate options for the Patriots.

Next: at Bills


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The good news for the Titans is that a losing streak of two games has not really hurt their position in AFC South, where they have a two-game lead with five games left to play. They will have a goodbye in week 13 and then return to play the Jaguars and Steelers, two teams going in the wrong direction. The question with the Titans is not whether they will make it to the playoffs, but rather – given their health and the results of their last two games – whether they can be considered likely to make a deep run. At the moment, the answer is very much in doubt.

Next: vs. Jaguars (week 14)


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The Chiefs return from their farewell week with their playoff placement unchanged. But they now have full combat leadership in AFC West, where the other three teams all have 6-5. That said, the division remains very much in play. Four of the Chiefs’ last six games will be against AFC West enemies, including two against the Broncos and one each against the Raiders and Chargers.

Next: vs. Broncos


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The Bengals look like a different team than the one that lost consecutive games on their way into their week 10 farewell. Since then, they have defeated the Raiders and Steelers by a total of 57 points. They have reached the point where the FPI likes their chances of at least getting into the playoffs, and they have a roughly one-to-four chance of winning the AFC North.

Next: vs. Chargers


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The Bills should rather hope that they have figured things out, for they are about to go into a brutal stretch of their schedule. They will play against the Red-hot Patriots twice in four weeks, with a game of the Buccaneers mixed there as well.

Next: vs. Patriots

Game

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Dianna Russini and Bart Scott preview the AFC East showdown between the Patriots and Bills on Monday Night Football.


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The Week 12 loss to the Broncos was the Chargers’ fourth defeat in their last six games. They are clearly heading in the wrong direction after a 4-1 start, but so far they are still among the AFC’s top seven thanks to their head-to-head victory over the Raiders in Week 4. As for whether they can stay here, a second story. All in all, the Chargers have not played consistent football at the playoff level since mid-October. They tilt on the edge.

Next: at Bengals


In the AFC hunt

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Las Vegas Raiders (6-5)

We can do nothing but tip our cap to the Raiders, whose roller coaster after Jon Gruden seemed to be well underway during a three-game losing streak that went into Thanksgiving’s game with the Cowboys. But they went into AT&T Stadium and won a war of attrition and now have a winning home game against Washington.

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Denver Broncos (6-5)

The Broncos came out of their farewell with a dominant performance against the Chargers, their third win in their last four games. It pulled them straight with the rest of the AFC West and set them up for at least having a chance down the stretch. Four of the Broncos’ remaining six games are against division rivals starting Sunday at the Chiefs.

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Indianapolis Colts (6-6)

The Colts’ three-game winning streak ended in an odd home loss that included 27 consecutive passes from their offense, presumably in part to beat a Buccaneers defense geared to stop tailback Jonathan Taylor. We found out, without any surprise, that quarterback Carson Wentz can not carry this team. However, they will have a chance to get back on track against the Texans.

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Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1)

Yeesh. The Steelers do not look like anything near a playoff team. The road will not be easier on Sunday towards the ravens.

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Cleveland Browns (6-6)

The Browns are saying goodbye to losses in two of their last three games and they will face the Ravens when they return in Week 14.

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NFC

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The Cardinals presumably return quarterback Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins back in the lineup. They must have full strength. Their strength of their remaining schedule ranks as No. 18 in the NFL, based on the FPI, but the eyeball test suggests it’s harder than that. Three of the five games are away and two are against teams that currently have winning records (Rams and Cowboys). In addition, their opponent in Week 16 (Colts) will also be a tough match. Luckily for the Cardinals, they have the league’s best record on the road (6-0) through week 12.

Next: at Bears


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The Packers are right on the heels of the Cardinals, with whom they own head-to-head tiebreaker. And of their five remaining games, three will be at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are 5-0 this season. One of the two road races will be at Ford Field, where they will play against the undefeated Lions. The Packers are very much involved in becoming NFC’s top team, both on the field and in the playoffs.

Next: vs. Bears (week 14)

Game

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Domonique Foxworth and Tim Hasselbeck claim they trust Aaron Rodgers to lead the Packers to the Super Bowl more than Tom Brady with the Buccaneers.


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The Buccaneers have now won consecutive games and scored 68 points in the process since a two-game losing streak panicked everyone around the NFL. It’s hard to argue that the Buccaneers are not back on track. Their remaining strength in the program ranks as No. 22, and currently it includes only one opponent with a winning record (Bills, Week 14).

Next: at Falcons


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It was not pretty, but the Cowboys got a losing streak in two games Thursday night in New Orleans and took another step toward locking the NFC East title. Although the Eagles, Giants and Washington all win this weekend, the FPI would still put the Cowboys’ chances of winning the division at 92.4%. There will be many things about the way the Cowboys played, including an erroneous two-minute practice at the end of the first half to a mistake in shutting the game out as they took possession midway through the fourth quarter. But we should probably refrain from judging anything other than the final result given the absence of five coaches – including head coach Mike McCarthy – and two players due to COVID-19 protocols.

Next: in Washington


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At this point, it’s fair to ask if the Rams get to the playoffs at all. They have now lost three games in a row, with quarterback Matthew Stafford throwing a pick-six in each of them, appearing in considerable disarray. The Rams will have the best chance they could, to regroup on Sunday, with a home game against Jacksonville, but overall, their remaining schedule is the fourth-most difficult in the league.

Next: vs. Jaguars


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The 49ers are figuring things out at just the right time. They have won three games in a row and four of their last five, and Week 12’s victory over the Vikings will provide them with an important head-to-head tiebreaker should the need arise at the end of the regular season. The strength of their remaining schedule ranks as No. 24, and it can be argued that they are playing better right now than all of their last six opponents except one (the Bengals in Week 14). At this rate, they will overtake the Rams in NFC West and the playoffs in a matter of weeks.

Next: at the Seahawks


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Yes, you read that right. Washington’s victory Monday night over the Seahawks allowed it to replace the Vikings for the last wildcard spot, thanks to the best conference record (5-2) of the NFC’s three 5-6 teams. The win was Washington’s third in a row, and its remaining schedule is quite interesting. After playing the Raiders on Sunday, it will end the season on five games against NFC East opponents: two games against the Cowboys, two against the Eagles and one with the Giants.

Next: at the Raiders


In the NFC hunt

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Minnesota Vikings (5-6)

The Vikings are lucky to meet the Lions on Sunday, a match they play without Dalvin Cook.

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Atlanta Falcons (5-6)

The Falcons started 1-3 and then went on another 1-3 bend before holding on to a seven-point victory in Week 12 over the Jaguars. As unlikely as it may seem, the Falcons are barely out of the sloppy NFC wildcard situation, thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Saints. Strange things have happened, but they have a pretty significant obstacle on Sunday when they host the Buccaneers.

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Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)

There is no way to sugar coat it. The Eagles got a pretty basic test of playoff worthiness in Week 12, scoring just seven points in a loss to the equally anemic Giants. It’s fair to ask if they will waste one of the NFL’s easiest remaining schedules, which continues on Sunday with the Jets.

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Carolina Panthers (5-7)

The Panthers have now lost seven out of nine games since a 3-0 start. Their fades from the playoff picture are almost complete, but they get a goodbye week followed by a winning game in week 14 against the Falcons to delay the inevitable a little longer.

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New Orleans Saints (5-7)

Thursday night was a game with high leverage for the Saints, who would have moved into No. 7 spot and raised their chances of a playoff spot to 54.2% according to the FPI. Instead, they lost a match that could be won, and the FPI now puts their playoff chances of 20% on their way into a week 14 match at the Jets.

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