The NFL is approaching the end of the regular season and it's crunch time for the teams fighting for a playoff spot. We have a solid idea of which teams are legitimate playoff threats, although there could still be a few surprises. This list accounts for team's schedules as well as their divisions, unlike standard Power Rankings. With that in mind, here are my projections for the NFL Playoffs after 12 weeks.
The Patriots have finally lost. It took a snowy game against the Broncos with questionable calls from the officials, but the Patriots are no longer undefeated. Injuries are starting to mount for this team and that's worrisome. However, it's still Super Bowl or Bust for New England.
The Bengals have looked great so far this season. Losses to the Texans and Cardinals sting, but the Bengals bounced back with an impressive win over the Rams. At 9-2, the Bengals are in the race for a bye. A late December game against Denver could determine who gets the No. 2 seed.
Denver's defense is worthy of a No. 1 seed and the offense is much better with Brock Osweiler at the helm. The Broncos, Bengals and Patriots will all compete for the No. 1 seed and a bye. Someone will have to take the No. 3 seed, and it will likely be the loser of the Bengals-Broncos matchup in December.
The Colts are 6-5, tied with Houston for the division lead. The division might come down to the Texans visiting the Colts in late December, but the Colts have an easier schedule. That gives them the advantage, and I think they'll beat Houston head-to-head as well.
Ben Roethlisberger has battled through injuries and with him at the helm, the Steelers should be a playoff team. However, the Steelers are now 6-5 and have a difficult schedule. The wild card spots are going to come down to the wire in the AFC and the Steelers aren't in as great of shape as they were earlier this season.
This last AFC wild card spot likely won't be decided until the final week. The 6-5 Chiefs have won five straight, including a key win over the Bills. That game could be a tiebreaker. The Chiefs have an incredibly easy schedule, as they don't play a team with a winning record the rest of the year. Their toughest games are against the 5-6 Raiders. The Jets, Raiders, Bills and Texans are all within striking distance.
The 11-0 Panthers are the clear NFC South favorite. Cam Newton is doing a ton for this team, as is the defense. Ending with 13 (or more) wins is a serious possibility for Carolina, because their schedule isn't too challenging. I doubt they go undefeated, but it could happen.
The Cardinals picked up where they left off last season before Carson Palmer was injured. Arizona hasn't been perfect this year, but they are 9-2 with a three-game lead in the NFC West. Their win over Cincinnati was impressive.
I'm not sure what to make of this Packers' team. They beat the Vikings in a critical game, but followed that up with a loss to the Bears. This division will come down to the final week of the season, when the Packers host Minnesota. For now, the Packers get the nod because of a slightly easier schedule and a win over the Vikings.
This No. 4 seed is wide open, because the NFC East is just awful. The Giants could have taken a stranglehold on the division, but laid an egg and lost to the Redskins. I don't trust Washington, but they have an easier schedule than the Giants. They play one team with a winning record and get the Tony Romo-less Cowboys twice. Dallas is out of the race and while the Eagles could turn things around, I don't see that happening.
The Vikings are 8-3 and serious contenders. A loss to the Packers keeps them in the wild card spot for now, but that could change in the coming weeks. Their defense is incredible and no one will want to play them in playoffs. They'll finish with a better record than the NFC East winner.
The Seahawks are back in my projections, thanks to an impressive win over the Steelers. Seattle has a tough game against the Vikings up next, but then have three winnable games before visiting the Cardinals. Nine wins might be enough for the No. 6 seed. The Falcons dropped out because they have lost five of their last six games. The Falcons can still make the playoffs, but they need to start winning games. The Bears and Buccaneers are the other top contenders for this spot.
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