2018 NFL season: The playoff run-in, scenarios and what is up for grabs
Last Updated: 03/12/18 5:34pm
Thanksgiving is done and dusted for another year. The turkey carved (just about by Jeff Reinebold) and eaten.
But as well as signalling the start of the Christmas season, Thanksgiving also triggers the business end of the NFL regular reason - now just five weeks away, as we are, from the playoffs.
So, who is in contention for those all important postseason places? We've asked you to form your own playoff picture but, here, we break down the run-in and the various scenarios for the teams jostling for position...
Pick YOUR AFC Playoff Picture
With the end of the NFL regular season approaching, it's over to YOU to pick your end-of-season AFC playoff line-up...
Pick YOUR NFC Playoff Picture
With the end of the NFL regular season approaching, it's over to YOU to pick your end-of-season NFC playoff line-up...
No more byes
One of the reasons why this point of the season marks the real beginning of the playoff push is because there are no more teams due a bye week - the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs the last to have theirs in Week 12, over the Thanksgiving holidays, following on from their 54-51 Monday-night epic encounter.
It means that all 32 teams have now played 11 games each, and will all be involved week to week through to the regular season's conclusion on Sunday, December 30.
Not only does that make selection easier for all you NFL fantasy football die-hards out there, it also gives a clearer image of the over playoff picture, which is:
Importance of the No 1 seed
It has often been debated over how truly important the No 1 seed, and therefore home-field advantage through the playoffs, truly is. For example, between the St Louis Rams' Super Bowl win in 1999 and the Seattle Seahawks' in 2013, only one No 1 seed won the Super Bowl in the intervening years - the 2009 New Orleans Saints.
The trend has dramatically changed in recent years, however. Of the past five Super Bowls, nine of the 10 participating teams have been No 1 seeds - the 2016 Dallas Cowboys the only exception, as they made way for the No 2 Atlanta Falcons in the NFC.
As one of the top two seeds from the AFC and NFC you're awarded a bye, affording your battle-weary roster an extra week's recovery from a gruelling 17-week season, while the other four teams from each conference duke it out on Wild Card weekend.
Currently the Rams (10-1) and Saints (10-2) occupy those spots in the NFC - New Orleans edged out by the lads from Los Angeles due to their shock 13-10 defeat to the Cowboys on Thursday night that ended a 10-game win streak. In the AFC, it's the Chiefs (9-2) holding the ace card, with the New England Patriots (8-3), as they tend to, also sitting pretty in the top two.
Fighting for top spots
That said, it could all still change at the top. The Saints and Patriots might yet leapfrog the Rams and Chiefs, respectively, and secure that all-important home-field advantage. Conversely, all could still drop from first-round bye positions with a late-season slump.
The Rams, Saints and Patriots do at least look assured of their respective division titles, guaranteeing them a playoff place and an initial home game at the very least. The Carolina Panthers (6-5) sit four wins back from the Saints in the NFC South, same for the Seahawks (6-5) trailing the Rams in the NFC West. In the AFC East, the Patriots hold a three-game advantage over the Miami Dolphins (5-6).
For the Chiefs, however, there is still some work to do. The Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) are hot on their heels in the AFC West, and face-off against the current conference front-runners in Week 15, in Kansas City. Defeat(s) could see the Chiefs slip as low as the No 5 seed.
Play the NFL Challenge
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Still up for grabs
As well as the general jostling for position among the six seeds, there are still a few divisions up for grabs, none more so than the NFC East, with just one game separating the top three teams.
The Washington Redskins (6-5) were the runaway leaders, only for a devastating season-ending injury to quarterback Alex Smith to cast doubt over their playoff credentials and open the door to the Cowboys (7-5), who have now pipped them to top spot courtesy of winning their Thanksgiving Day meeting, and then subsequently the Saints on Thursday.
But don't yet sleep on the defending-champion Philadelphia Eagles (5-6), despite their struggles so far in 2018. They play both Washington and Dallas in the next two weeks, as well as the Redskins once more in what could prove to be a crucial final-weekend meeting.
Elsewhere, there is still chance for the Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1) to overhaul the Chicago Bears (8-3) in the NFC North, and the Chiefs, Houston Texans (8-3) and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1) aren't all yet assured of their respective division titles in the AFC.
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Wild Card chaos
The real battle to be had is over those final couple of postseason places, the wild cards, for those teams who don't win their division.
While, as mentioned above, the Chargers, Indianapolis Colts (6-5) and Baltimore Ravens (6-5) can all still harbour hope of toppling the Chiefs, Texans and Steelers, respectively, their more-likely route into the playoffs is with a wild card berth.
The Chargers are in pole position, currently holding the No 5 seed, while the Ravens currently edge out the Colts into the final No 6 spot due to a better conference record. But, as well as Indianapolis, the Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans (all 5-6), and even the Cleveland Browns (4-6-1), lie in waiting ready to pounce should anyone stumble to a finish.
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In the NFC, the Vikings and Redskins are precariously placed at No 5 and No 6. The Seahawks look like a good shout to force their way in, with two games against the San Francisco 49ers and one against the Arizona Cardinals still to come down the stretch in a weak NFC West division.
The Panthers are similarly on 6-5 for the season, but have lost three straight including, crucially, a potential tie-breaker with Seattle last Sunday. Further back, there's the Eagles and, with even fainter hopes, Aaron Rodgers and his faltering Green Bay Packers (4-6-1).
Week 13 fixtures
|Saints 10-13 Cowboys - Thu|
|Browns @ Texans - 6pm, Sun|
|Ravens @ Falcons|
|Broncos @ Bengals|
|Rams @ Lions|
|Cardinals @ Packers|
|Colts @ Jaguars|
|Bills @ Dolphins|
|Bears @ Giants|
|Panthers @ Buccaneers|
|Chiefs @ Raiders - 9.05pm, Sun|
|Jets @ Titans|
|Vikings @ Patriots - 9.25pm, Sun|
|49ers @ Seahawks|
|Chargers @ Steelers - 1.20am, Mon|
|Redskins @ Eagles - 1.15am, Tue|